July 9, 2014 | BY MEGAN HENDERSON | TRANSFORMING & PRESERVING
OK, so I’m as guilty as the next person of using empty catch-phrases to sum up larger, more complicated problems. ”Growing Pains” could refer to anything development-related that is perceived as a frustration: parking, construction, having to wait in line. For me at least, the phrase is most often uttered in association with something I’d rather not have to dissect, so I can gripe about it without being overly negative – or, more importantly, without having to wrestle with complexities or contradictions or problems that have no immediate solution.
Parking downtown is one of those growing pains. These are our awkward “tween” years, gangly and all knees and elbows, when nothing fits us exactly right. We have outgrown the easy parking that went long with low demand, when we could park anywhere downtown we wanted because we were the only ones who wanted to park there. We have not yet grown into mature downtown parking: demand is still not high enough to justify parking garages, and people have not gotten used to the idea of having to walk two blocks from their cars to their destinations. So in this in-between stage, when there are technically enough spaces but they aren’t right in front of the businesses we’re visiting, we have a period of time that doesn’t feel like anything is a good fit.
Among the imperfect fits is the renewed enforcement of two-hour parking. Anecdotally, I hear lots of people talking about how much easier it is to park and shop or dine on Austin Avenue now than it was, when downtown workers were accustomed to leaving their vehicles in prime customer spots for eight-hour stretches. The Public Improvement District Board and its committees debated how to respond to the problem of long-term tying-up of street spaces, and over several meetings ruled out stickers and merchant vouchers and other more complicated programs on the grounds that any change would be embraced by some and opposed by others and that the simplest and most legitimate approach would probably be to simply enforce what was already the law. After observation of how that worked, any changes would be informed by real experience.
One thing I am pleased to see is that the City and its partners are not only looking at enforcement, but also offering positive alternatives. The PID – as well as Baylor and other partners – is sponsoring the Dash, which will carry students and staff from Baylor into downtown where they can dine, shop, drink coffee and study in our local establishments. Current proposals, if funded, would increase advertising for this service – hoping to increase the number of downtown customers who would have neither parking needs nor two-hour limits. Other positive alternatives include using TIF funding to increase
public-parking options when possible, continued availability of free parking on City-owned lots, and a priority to replace parking if it’s taken up with development.
Cold comfort? Perhaps, but two warming thoughts remain. First, the tween years don’t last forever. And second, I’ll still walk fewer steps than I would at the mall – and while doing so, I’ll probably get to check out construction of my soon-to-be next favorite downtown destination.