public comment on downtown parking

This is my comment for the city’s request for public comment about parking:

I was unable to attend the public meeting asking for comments but would like to submit my thoughts on the future of parking in Bloomington.Parking is an important issue in our community because, as we can see in the present, it has huge implications for how the downtown is used, how the downtown will grow, and whether Bloomington moves in a direction towards a more sustainable, ecologically conscious community, or in a more consumptive, less beautiful and liveable direction.

Since moving to Bloomington 3 years ago, I have already seen a number of parking garages and other parking facilities created. I am disappointed at the trend towards building these structures as it not only changes the visual character of the downtown, but it also encourages irresponsible automobile use in a city which has its small size and the easy pedestrian access that such smallness affords as one of its greatest assets. What is the point of making the downtown more accessible if the result is the more beautiful and historic buildings being overshadowed by new construction, or the enjoyment of walking around downtown Bloomington, dining at outdoor restaurants, or enjoying the many downtown public spaces is tarnished by increased automobile traffic. I think that new parking construction should be seen as a failure in the imagination of our community to seek solutions to an accessible downtown, especially when many alternative visions exist.

First, I think it is important to understand whether parking scarcity is a physical reality, or a perception. If it is largely an issue of public perception, then even if more spaces are created, the public may not actually feel an improvement in their downtown parking experience.

So, regardless of the final parking solutions developed by the city, education of people using our downtown must be a primary component.  I recently attended a workshop in downtown Bloomington at the city center building on 7th St. Parking was a concern for many of the attendents as nearly all of them drove, and most of them were somewhat unfamiliar with parking in the downtown area. All were able to find parking eventually, but the stressfulness and confusion of finding parking was mostly due to lack of knowledge as to the location of parking (garages, metered street parking, parking lots) being unclear and the regulations regarding parking (for instance, time limits, street sweeping days). Many of the perceptions about parking in downtown could be addressed through really simply measures like making less ambiguous signage designating no-parking zones and regulations on street parking.

Also, parking maps locating and describing downtown parking options, their restrictions, and pricing, could be erected in downtown Bloomington, especially at high-usage areas such as the Monroe County Public Library. Such signs would help users of the downtown more easily find parking options. This knowledge would easily be spread through word of mouth, making a fast and dramatic change in how people perceive the difficulty in finding parking downtown.

Growth in the city of Bloomington is happening, inevitable, and, as some would argue, desireable. This growth, however, demands solutions that are scaleable and sustainable with future growth. Considering car-centered solutions to downtown use puts the city in a dangerous cycle. As it becomes possible to have more cars in the downtown, it becomes more difficult, less pleasent, and less desireable for people to use non-automobile transportation in the downtown. More car traffic undeniably effects the experience that cyclists, walkers, and public-transportation riders have in their travel. If these transportation options become less desireable, or possible, these transportation users will have to resort to driving, thereby increasing any parking crunch that is felt by the city. The city must seriously pursue efforts which will reduce the number of cars in the downtown.

Bicycle parking is not a huge issue, but the accessibility of downtown streets to bicycles remains a challenge, and a deterrent for many who would otherwise consider it as an alternative to driving downtown.  More bicycle lanes and other efforts to make cyclists more visible, safe, and comfortable riding downtown would be one way to reduce the load on existing parking infrastructure. BT ridership is at an all-time high, but still restricted to certain segments of the population. Keeping parking space limited, but expanding bus services would be a good way of directing transportation users towards more sustainable transportation options. Forcing and enabling Bloomingtonians to challenge their perceptions and prejudices about public transporation is important for building a community-wide, diverse transportation infrastructure. Finally, the city could encourage car-sharing businesses to start operation in Bloomington. This would allow an increasing number of downtown residents to have access to cars, but in proportion to their actual usage needs. Alleviating parking issues has been one of the documented effects of car-sharing availability with one study showing that each shared car eliminated 14.9 privately owned cars! As downtown residence becomes more prevalent in Bloomington, this becomes a neccessary factor to address.

With so many options for improving access to downtown Bloomington available beyond new parking construction, it would be irresponsible for the city to choose to implement only construction-based solutions.

These solutions would be less costly, have environmental benefits or lessened environmental impact, and preserve the character of our downtown. Pursuing such options should be our transportation priority.

transportation issues on wfhb’s interchange

One of the things that’s nice about living in a town as small as Bloomington is that the connection between different dynamics and forces is much more clear.  Two development plans that will really affect Bloomington in coming years are Finelight’s proposal for a new headquarters downtown.  Finelight is requesting that the city help provide parking for it’s employees, claiming that parking downtown is scarce.  A local group conducted a study questioning perceptions of parking scarcity downtown and this study has become central in the debate around Finelight’s plans.  I’ve also been paying attention to bike issues and the proposal for the B-Line bike path on the old railroad grade that runs north/south through Bloomington.  Tonight on WFHB’s interchange, they had guests from Bloomington Transportation Options for People, the group that conducted the parking study as well as a transportation planner from Portland, Oregon.

Two new strategies or tools regarding shared use of roads that I had never heard of: “bicycle boulevards” and “sharrows”.

Link to WFHB’s programming archive where this episode of interchange should be available for download soon.