We’re putting free downtown parking in the wrong place

Cars dominate downtown GNV’s streetscape.

Idea 4: Address and simplify parking.

Wandering San Francisco’s Mission District, I grabbed a bite in a space where a car once sat.

That single car’s worth of footage accommodated an open air pavilion comfortably seating nearly a dozen diners.

I didn’t have to ask the owner of that cafe if business had been hurt by the loss of a single parking space. That curbside eateries are popping up all over San Francisco is answer enough.

This space in San Francisco’s Mission District will seat a dozen diners…or store one car.

You can even see them in Gainesville. Looseys and Crane Ramen are doing a brisk business on SW 1st Avenue street surfaces once reserved for the exclusive use of cars.

All of which helps illustrate an important point that most downtowns have yet to come to grips with.

“The American city is wasting valuable real estate on parked cars,” reports Slate. “Worth billions but given away for free, the curb is arguably the single most misused asset in the American city.”

Yes, you can feed a lot of people in the same square footage given over to a single car. You can also put a dozen bicycles or a like number of those e-scooters that are popping up all over town in that space.

And you can better accommodate ride sharing, on-demand delivery, robo-buses and all manner of stop-and-go services. “Where curb space is tight, both people and goods tend to be picked up or dropped off from double-parked vehicles,” Slate notes.

No surprise that consultants working on a downtown strategic plan say that making the district more bike-ped-and-transit friendly should be priority No. 2, right after adding more businesses.

Parking comes in a distant 4 in downtown priorities

Car parking came in 4th.

That’s why MKSK consultants recommended that the city charge for on-street parking in order to create more turn-over, that downtown employees park outside the core, and that long term parking take place in – surprise! – the parking garage.

All of which runs counter to the City Commission’s current reluctance to “right-price” downtown’s “free” curbside parking.

Yes, commissioners said, we shall have metered parking.

But maybe not just now.

Later perhaps.

Frankly it smacks of an election year timidity that is getting to be embarrassing.

I get that downtown businesses fret about losing customers if there isn’t a free parking space within 10-20-50 feet of the front door. That certainly works in strip malls.

But a lot of curbside parking is taken up by people who work downtown. How does that help get a potential circling customer – a George (I don’t pay for parking) Costanza type – into your store?

Cars used to be stored on NE 1st Avenue. Now it’s for people.

Eventually, if they are going to take the notion of a thriving downtown seriously, city officials will have to come to grips with the fact that valuable curb space can’t be squandered. In the future, if we make the right decisions, downtown will have far too many competing demands to keep donating its most valuable real estate for free car storage.

But maybe what’s needed is a transitional phase, if only to help ease reluctant downtown business owners into the brave new world of micro-mobility that surely lies ahead.

It is possible that City Hall is giving away the wrong parking spaces?

One way to encourage people – especially those who work downtown – to park in the city garage is to make it free.

One way to discourage those same people from commandeering valuable curbside parking is to change for it.

What would George (I can’t park in a garage) Costanza make of that?

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at ron@freegnv.com

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