Tuesday, January 25, 2011

PARKING DILEMMA: Community leaders question Columbia's giant garages

COLUMBIA, 1/25/11  (Beat Byte) --  As Columbia's new Low-Car Lifestyle building -- i.e. behemoth downtown parking garage -- overshadows everything in its wake, controversy about parking dominates the news.
City Hall wants to raise parking fines and build yet another downtown garage, ostensibly to service a redesigned Regency Hotel, but which may already have a larger audience: future tenants of the Odle family's giant new apartment complex proposed for the nearby corner of College and Walnut streets.
Last November, Mayor Bob McDavid, M.D. tossed around ideas to better deploy parking revenue, about which we heard from local education leader Phil Peters, J.D., and PedNet Coalition Director Ian Thomas, Ph.D.   
"Thanks for highlighting the shortcomings of limited the uses of parking revenues," Peters wrote.  Thomas added that the "topic certainly deserves a good public airing."

He also highlighted a central dilemma:  Why is Columbia's government, in the face of widespread support for 
lower-car living, eagerly expanding its already sizeable downtown parking monopoly? 
"In difficult economic times, a shift to more sustainable transportation options will generate enormous savings for the individual and the City," Thomas writes.  "If the parking utility is indeed a net revenue-generator, it seems to make a lot of sense to use that revenue to encourage more economical use of scarce transportation resources -- for example, by investing that revenue into our public transportation system and increasing the frequency of the service so that it becomes a competitive option."

But that's not happening, with new parking development bucking the basic economics of supply and demand. 
"I wonder how much thought has gone into the number of levels designed into a parking structure," Thomas asks.  "At the moment, the upper levels of the City's existing four garages are minimally occupied even at peak times, and I fear the same will be true for the new structure." 

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