FETISH for free parking


I’m sure City Council did not need a petition to tell them that free parking is really, really popular. They know how politically toxic the subject of parking is and I commend them for having the courage to take on the issue.  Our on-street supply is poorly managed, our off-street supply is overbuilt and expensive to maintain, and our downtown will never reach its full potential until these problems are solved.

Few people realize that we have been spending over $1 million a year in urban renewal money to maintain “free” parking downtown.  In the most recent budget this subsidy has grown to $1.4 million.  This money would be much better spent on toolbox loans and grants, implementing the Core Master Plan, Vision 2020, the North Downtown Housing Investment Strategy, Bike and Walk Salem, the Central Salem Mobility Study, or any of the visionary plans that have been sitting on the shelf for decades.  If we had the same commitment to these plans as we have had to subsidized car storage, downtown Salem would be a much more livable, vibrant and multimodal community than it is today.

Even with all we have spent and sacrificed to appease our fetish for free parking, the complaints about parking persist.  According to the 2010 Parking Study, 68% of the on-street supply in the core retail area is over-parked, with a utilization rate of over 90%.  A utilization rate over 85% means that new customers are having trouble finding convenient parking. In a well-managed parking district, one or two spaces would be open on every block so that customers can spend their time shopping instead of cruising for underpriced curb parking.

Following the 2010 recommendations and metering just this core area would generate more revenue than the parking tax.  Thebusinesses on these blocks would have more convenient parking available for their customers and businesses outside this area, like Cascade Baking, would not have meters on their street, nor would they have to pay a parking tax.

What the anti-meter petitioners are proposing is the opposite of sound parking management. They wish to ban paid parking from the street, where demand is high, and charge for parking in the garages, where demand is low.  If the parking tax is kept in place, this might help the revenue problem but it would be a disaster for on-street parking. If 20% of parkers now using the garages move into the street, that would push utilization up to 95% across the entire parking district.  On-street parking would be free but mostly unavailable to the average person.  Instead of being able to pay for convenient parking on the street, new visitors will be forced to pay for the inconvenience of parking in a garage.
How ironic would that be?

Curt Fisher is Vice President of SCAN Neighborhood Association, chair of the SCAN Land Use and Transportation Committee, and a member of the Citizens Advisory on Traffic Commission.  He is active on a variety of transportation and land use issues and a self-described Shoupista.

4 thoughts on “FETISH for free parking”

  1. I am a casual user of downtown parking. Not withstanding the reports referenced in this article, I can only report on the parking situation as I see it as a user. If I go downtown and cant park on the street I leave. I belong to groups that usually meet downtown but with higher parking fees we are meeting later.
    Garages should be used for people who work downtown and so need to park all day. From where I sit increased parking fees, and widening the metered area is helping to kill downtown. It appears to me like the city council has made a conscious decision to do this. Many longtime business are moving out and its ever harder to park. How can downtown merchants compete with free parking along the commercial corridors in south and east Salem and at the mall. Who really wants to set an alarm to drop whatever they are doing and go feed the meter, as often as not they just leave.

  2. Hi Curt,
    Quit your comfy government job and borrow $250,000 and mortgage your house. Open a business downtown. Take a huge risk and fight every single day for your paycheck or maybe no paycheck in a given month.
    Then someone might be interested in your opinion of downtown parking.
    Folks that have no money on the table are sure welcome to put forth ideas and opinions, but they are worth the paper they’re typed on if you aren’t a knowledgable, at-risk stakeholder in the downtown ecosystem.

  3. Nobody has a good vision for downtown parking.

    Salem is interesting because you have no housing near downtown so the viability of downtown is heavily dependent on parking those cars.

    I say let’s just keep Salem nice and sleepy. Not much to do but not much crime either.

    Portland is only 45 minutes away if you want arts, music, culture or great restaurants/bars.

  4. Paul,

    You are right. The Weekly asked me to write an opinion. I was hesitant. But I decided that I had nothing to lose by speaking my mind, for many of the reasons you cited.

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