Playing the downtown-parking game

Come on, ‘fess up — you’ve done this at least once during your life in Asheville: Desperate for a parking space within 10 feet of your favorite coffee shop, you casually flip on your hazard lights, pull into a 30-minute loading zone — and leave your car there for hours. Or maybe you and your friends have been as creative as the workers at Laughing Seed Cafe: Employee A comes in for the morning shift, parking in one of the city decks and collecting a timecard; employee B arrives at noon, collecting a later timecard and handing it over to employee A, so she gets out of the deck, cheap; employee C comes in for the evening and hands his timecard over to B … and so forth.

Downtown workers and visitors can get mighty creative, Laughing Seed owner Joe Eckert and other members of the recently reconvened Parking Task Force have observed during their February meetings.

That’s because finding parking downtown can still be a daunting challenge, committee members say. Asheville Revenue Manager Deborah Crowder (her office collects parking-ticket fines) observes: “We still have some of the same problems we had before [the city completed its parking study last year]. People have the mindset of wanting to park 15 feet from their destination downtown. People don’t want to park [at a deck] and walk a block or two. We have to change that mindset.”

One longstanding concern of downtown merchants (and committee members) is many downtown workers’ habit of feeding the parking meters all day, instead of using the parking decks (and thereby making room on the street for customers and visitors). Task-force members tossed that one in City Council’s lap last year, asking Council to make the hourly deck rates cheaper than parking-meter rates, to encourage folks to patronize the decks. Council members, however — beset by phone calls and e-mail from people vehemently opposed to raising the rates — instead compromised and raised both rates to 60 cents per hour.

But this spring, the Parking Task Force will probably ask Council to revisit those rates and consider such options as raising meter rates to $1 per hour around the decks, and discounting the hourly rates in the Civic Center deck, to encourage more motorists to park there. Other ideas include: restricting the loading zones to use by delivery trucks only; cleaning up the decks (particularly the Civic Center deck) and the signs pointing to them, to make the facilities more inviting; and making the first hour in the decks free for customers of downtown businesses.

As downtown-business owner Regina Trantham observes, “There’s a perception that there’s no downtown parking, although the Civic Center deck is often half empty.”

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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