The goal for public parking in any downtown commercial area is to promote turnover while providing space for business employees.
The more vehicles that can occupy a single parking place during business hours, the more potential customers for businesses.
Free parking does nothing to promote turnover. In fact, if turnover is the goal, free parking is antithetical. What happens is that people who work in that zone will use them for the entirety of the day. Technically, they are fully within their rights, since there is no restriction.
Ah, you say, what about two-hour parking?
Two-hour parking has drawbacks. The first is that people will simply move their vehicle a half a block every two hours. The second is that while the parking is free to motorists, it is expensive for the municipality because it requires monitoring with no corresponding income to offset the cost.
Zones? Same thing.
So, what's a town to do.
Last week, a committee formed to study Warren's downtown parking situation came back with a proposal, to wit: Everyone who parks in the downtown business district between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday will pay to park. No more free zones or even time-limited free zones.
The cost to park on a downtown street will be $1 per hour, or $8 a day if you are so inclined. We assume that the first 30 minutes in the Midtown Municipal Lot will continue to be free. An important part of the proposal, however, is the incentive for those who work downtown to use the Clark Street Garage (sometimes known as Big Blue). Currently, it costs $40 a month to lease a space in Big Blue. Based on an average of 20 days of employment a month, that is still only $2 a day. The proposal calls for the fee to be lowered to $30 a month to fill up the under-utilized garage, prorating the fee to about $1.25 per workday.
It's still not free, and for someone who works downtown and makes $9 an hour, that's a week's net pay a year.
There are no easy answers for downtown parking.
There are, and there will continue to be under almost any plan, frustrated, disappointed and even angry drivers who will make multiple trips around the block to try to find a space reasonably close to the business they will spend 20 minutes inside. And, as often as not, they will either grudgingly walk a couple blocks or give up and take their retail dollars outside the city.
Another problem not addressed adequately in the city's proposal is the impact on residential neighborhoods, which already see all-day parking on streets by downtown employees looking to avoid a fee or beat the fee in a game of Musical Cars. One wonders what the effect will be on private lots whether those owners will be able to keep them free of cars not owned by people using their businesses. The Market Street Plaza comes to mind.