If the city is truly committed to giving Professorville and other residents living in homes adjacent to downtown some protection from the daily invasion of workers seeking a free parking space, it will take much more than the trial run that was unveiled last week.
For years residents of the Professorville neighborhood just south of downtown have been calling for a residential permit parking program that would convert their streets to permit parking only, with the majority of the permits given to residents.
But instead of developing a plan for the entire neighborhood, the city staff's proposed six-month experiment covers only a few blocks, an approach that accomplishes almost nothing and just kicks the can down the road.
The affected area is roughly bounded by Emerson Street on the west, Waverley Street to the east and Addison and Lincoln avenues to the north and south. It also includes the Bryant Street block between Addison and Channing avenues, according to a map sent to residents.
Under the plan, each household would receive one free permit and the right to purchase another for $50.
But with all-day parkers needing only to relocate outside the trial area, it is hard to imagine any useful information coming out of this test other than the obvious: permit parking shifts the problem to other streets.
Professorville resident Ken Alsman, who has tried to stop the invasive parking for years, worked on a committee of residents, downtown property owners and city officials to come up with the pilot plan, which he grudgingly supports.
"We've got to go forward with it. I am a strong advocate of the pilot parking plan because it is the best we can get with the people involved," he said this week.
In order for the trial to take effect, at least 60 percent of the residents in the affected area must support the six-month test by responding to a city survey sent out last week.
At this stage, the city apparently has no intention of addressing the actual crux of the problem: the fact that there is available parking in downtown garages but workers aren't choosing to buy permits to use them.
A key part of this problem is encouraging and assisting the employers of low-wage workers (retail, restaurants and hotels) to defray the cost of parking permits for their employees and to be able to hold the permits as a business. Currently, the city only issues permits to individual workers, a strategy that all but forces low-paid, high turnover employees to park in the neighborhoods.
A far more interesting, and less punitive, approach to testing possible solutions to the downtown parking mess would be to establish a trial program of selling greatly reduced-price permits to retailers, restaurants and hotels so they could then provide them to their employees. Doing so would enable us to see how much the current permitting system is responsible for the neighborhood parking problems.
If parking is unilaterally taken away on some neighborhood streets without addressing the parking garage permit problems, employees will simply relocate to and impact other streets.
And, with more under-parked development coming downtown, the city needs to being doing much more than trying to appease a small group of Professorville residents. One example: remaking Casa Olga into an 85-unit luxury hotel will have a significant impact on parking but is only required to have 28 parking spaces, hardly enough to serve the parking needs of employees and guests.
Last year, a city study showed that of the more than 3,000 parking spaces downtown, including 1,200 that are open to the public at any time, there are hundreds of permit spaces that sit empty in all the city's parking garages. The survey showed there is a huge surplus of space at the 688-space Bryant Street garage, with only 16 percent of spaces occupied from 8 to 10 a.m. And only 53 percent occupied during the lunch hour, from noon to 2 p.m. During this period, the survey showed, there are more than 300 empty spaces in the Bryant Street garage alone.
If the city wants to truly find answers to its parking problem it will take much more than a tiny trial in the Professorville neighborhood. Downtown businesses must acknowledge that they are at least in part responsible for many of their employees clogging residential neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.
And the city needs to be actively experimenting with permit pricing and creating improvements in the permitting system.
Alsman and others have said for years that it is extremely unfair for his neighborhood to bear the burdens of downtown's employment growth. We agree.
But a successful solution will take a better effort among all the stakeholders, not a small piece-meal approach from which we will learn nothing.