Tuesday, October 17, 2023

What to do about the Hassle and Cost of Parking Downtown

by Rod Williams, Oct. 12, 2023- I like downtown Nashville but not as much as I did ten years ago. Ten years ago, I knew several secret spots downtown where I could find unmetered on-street parking. If by chance, for some really big event, those had been discovered, I knew of a spot on state property that said if I parked there, I was subject to being towed, but I did park there and was never towed.  Even if I had to pay to park, it was not an excessive fee.

My favorite place to park and where I can usually find parking is the downtown library garage.  Back when First Tuesday met at the offices of Waller Law at 511 Union Street, which is across 5th Ave. from the Hermitage Hotel, I always parked at the library. It was about a two block walk to 511 Union but that was not too bad.  If parking at the library, if you get your parking ticket stamped by the library, you get the first hour of parking free. 

Now, when I go downtown, I sometimes walk. From my house a roundtrip walk to Lower Broad is 4.2 miles. I try to get exercise daily and walking, competing with gardening, is my main source of exercise. Usually, when I go downtown, I Uber. From my house Uber may cost between $9 to $24, depending on demand.  That is not bad, especially if you are splitting the fee with someone else. I prefer it to the hassle of traffic and parking. 

The current issue of The Scene has an article titled, One-Fifth of Downtown Nashville Is Devoted to Parking. Is That a Good Thing?  It is well written and informative. The article does point out a logical function of pricing. Quoting someone from a group called The Parking Reform Network, the article points out that if parking is priced too low, more drivers are incentivized to stay in spots longer, reducing the availability of spots for drivers arriving downtown. Anyone who has studied economics or even thought about it much knows that is a function of prices. Higer prices reduce waste and proper pricing leads to greater efficiency and the market sets the optimal price. 

The article's author, however, seems to think price gouging is going on downtown and seems to think parking rates should be regulated saying, "There are few if any examples of American city governments regulating rates in privately owned parking lots. Tennessee has state laws against price gouging, but they apply to a limited number of food, medical and emergency goods during “abnormal economic disruption” and certainly don’t include parking."

As pointed out in the article also, about ten years ago Nashville eliminated mandatory parking minimums based on a building’s square footage, occupancy, and use. If such was still in place, we would not have seen the growth downtown that we have witnessed. I was glad to see that parking minimums eliminated. Ever since about the late fifties, zoning in most cities, including Nashville, required minimum parking for commercial buildings. That resulted in the shaping of our cities where buildings are all separated from each other with a parking lot in front or office buildings in office parks surrounded by acreage of surface parking lots. Modern zoning also led to a shortage of affordable housing and urban sprawl, but that is a topic for another post. 

So, what is to be done to make Nashville more accessible. First of all, don't do much. Let the market figure it out. 

Secondly, don't stand in the way of innovation. Can you imagine what Nashville would be like without Uber?  What would the need for parking be? Yet, Nashville tried its very best to stop ridesharing services when they first came to Nashville. You can read about it here, here, and here. One does not know what the next innovation will be before it is here, but government often thinks of its job as to protect people from innovations. 

Thirdly, embrace smart parking and technology and privatization of on-street parking.  Nashville has upgraded many of its parking meters so one can pay at a kiosk with a credit card but that is not really "smart meters."  Privatization was proposed once before and went over like a lead balloon, but I think it is time to try it again. If there is too much opposition to privatizing the parking, then Metro should institute modern parking technology on its own if the debt service will support it. With smart technology, one can add money to the parking meter from your smart phone. This would be a good service. If you have ever had to leave an enjoyable meal early or rush a business meeting because your parking meter was going to expire, you can see how convenient this feature would be. Also, with smart parking technology, when searching for a parking space, smart parking can tell you where there is an available parking space. With smart parking technology, the price of parking can vary with demand. With variable parking rates, supply and demand works in real time.  At times a parking space is more valuable than at other times; the price one pays to park should reflect this. 

Fourth, make riding a bus more user friendly. I live on a street four houses off of 8th avenue. The bus runs up 8th ever 40 minutes.  I have never ridden a bus in Nashville but thought I would try it. Unfortunately, the bus does not take credit cards and if paying by cash one must have the exact fare.  I am pretty much cashless. I can go in almost any bar or coffee shop and tap my credit card and get a beverage. Riding a bus should be that easy. 

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