At about 10:30 this morning, I stepped out of my office a block from Main St. in Ventura to get a cup of coffee. Almost immediately, I noticed something different.
The parking lot on Oak Street, usually two-thirds empty in the morning, was mostly full. And the on-street parking spaces along Oak and Main Street, which are mostly occupied on a typical morning at this time, were mostly vacant.
Why the switch? The paid parking portion of our downtown parking management program had gone into effect at 10 a.m., and it was already showing results. People who park all day downtown had moved into the lots and the upper levels of the parking garage. Spaces on the street became available for shoppers, diners, and others who were running short-term errands. In other words, only 30 minutes after we instituted the parking management program, it was working.
In all the discussions around town this summer about paid parking, the emphasis has always been on the "paid" part. Why is the city charging for parking downtown? Are we just being greedy? Where will the money go? Why would anyone go downtown if they have to pay to park?
These are all fair questions. (And they all have good answers -- for example, all the parking revenue money is going to benefit downtown and not being spent elsewhere in the city.) But the questions have obscured an important goal of the paid parking, which has nothing to do with revenue. The goal is to encourage employees and other long-term parkers downtown in order to free up space on the street for shoppers. And I was stunned at how quickly our "parking management" goal was achieved.
In the months leading up to the inauguration of paid parking, I kept hearing stories about how downtown employees were hogging the onstreet spaces. I heard that some merchants told their employees to park on the street -- but a block away, so as not to take up parking in front of the store. I heard that some businesses and employees erase the chalk marks that our parking enforcement folks put on their tires. I heard that some business owners give their employees a few minutes off every two hours to move their cars.
Frankly, I wasn't sure if I believed all these stories. After all, why would any merchant park in front of their own store? Why would you deal with all the hassles to park on the street -- erasing chalk, moving cars -- when there's free parking in city lots a half-block away? It seemed ridiculous to me. But the lesson from today is that it's not ridiculous. Obviously, what's been happening is that employees have been parking on the street and now they are parking in the lots.
Anybody's first impulse, I think, is that paying for parking is a bad thing. But upon reflection, a lot of folks -- merchants and shoppers alike -- have come around to the idea that it can be a good thing.
Main Street merchants have come to see that paid parking can help them too by opening up short-term spaces close to their store. As the owner of Jersey Mike's told me today, her customers used to have to circle the block three times looking for a space or park in a faraway parking lot. Now they can park right in front of her shop for a quarter -- or a dime -- or a nickel -- while they pick up their order. Because even though it's $1 for the first hour, you can buy less time with coins. And there's less traffic on the street because there's less "cruising" for a parking space.
9:15 pm. I walk back up Oak Street toward the office. The spaces on the street are mostly empty. And the parking lot across from office -- usually almost empty by now -- is completely full. Eleven hours later and it's still working.
CP&DR Publisher Bill Fulton is Mayor of Ventura. This post was adapted from his mayoral blog.