Downtown stakeholders need to learn about issues pertaining to parking, and stakeholders shouldn’t allow the city to conduct this discussion in secret.

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“The goal here is to create a virtuous feedback loop, where parking fees are used to improve the downtown, an improved downtown draws more patrons, and those patrons generate more parking fees. This is how we turbocharge downtown development.”
— Charles Marohn

I mentioned this topic just last week.

What’s a Parking Benefits District? DNA needs to pay more attention to matters that pertain to merchants.

In the essay linked below, Marohn touches on several sub-topics pertaining to the larger issues of downtown parking. His Brainerd and our New Albany are not directly comparable, but it doesn’t mean that aren’t parking universals applicable to either city, or both.

Give yourself 10 minutes, pour a coffee and read the whole article. I can’t summarize it in a short, glib way, although the quote at the top comes close.

The first paragraph sets the mood, and points to something we’re NOT doing in New Albany: having a “healthy conversation.” Currently all discussions about parking are occurring within the limited confines of the Redevelopment Commission, so as to be kept safely in-house and controlled by the powers that be.

This is the exact OPPOSITE of how the conversation should be proceeding — and couldn’t Develop New Albany play a valuable role in making the discussion public?

Here’s How to Build a Parking Garage, by Charles Marohn (Strong Towns)

In my hometown of Brainerd, Minnesota, we’re having a healthy conversation about parking. I’m calling it healthy not because we’re all agreeing, but because we’re starting to question things that have long been taken for granted. That is an important first step.

A big part of this conversation is the realization that tearing down buildings to add parking destroys the tax base, makes the city less desirable a destination, and, ironically, makes the parking less necessary. Here parking is having the opposite of the Yogi Berra effect. (“Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”) Here, all the parking lots make it seem so desolate that not enough people want to go there. We’re starting to grasp that parking has become a liability.

That doesn’t mean the parking isn’t needed. Most patrons of our local businesses arrive by automobile and thus have a need to park. Most business owners and employees likewise drive to work. While it is clearly a winning strategy long-term to have more people living downtown and to improve walking/biking connections with the surrounding neighborhoods—both strategies that would add patrons without adding parking—that is not a viable short-term reality.

As cities (including ours) have a tendency to do, there is a push to skip to what everyone knows is the ultimate end condition: a parking garage (or parking ramp, as we call them here in Minnesota). I italicized “what everyone knows” there because I don’t actually agree with this conclusion. But many people in this conversation do, especially the ones who live outside of the city and drive in. For them, it’s obvious that we need a parking ramp, and so the process of justifying more debt to a struggling population in an already highly-indebted city is underway.

Those advocating for big action on parking ramps closely correlate to those calling for big action on a local initiative called River to Rail, a plan to spend millions on a reimagined city (to instantly make it more appealing to those who don’t live here). This past summer, I wrote about this initiative and identified three truths related to parking:

Truth #1: If we ask people who drive to Brainerd whether there is enough parking, they will say no.

Truth #2: If we ask downtown business owners whether the city of Brainerd should provide more free parking, they will say yes.

Truth #3: Whenever I go downtown—which is multiple times per week—there are always plenty of places to park within a block of my destination. Always.

As I wrote in that piece, I can agree with the eventual need for a parking ramp, I just think we have a lot of work to do to get there. Along those lines, I’m going to offer three phases of action that we can take, steps that will be applicable to far more places than my own …

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