Locals not welcome downtown. This is the (unintended?) message City Council sent to the community on [April 24]. Locals are still allowed to drive through and take out, but if you want to relax over coffee, meet a friend for lunch, take your toddler to Splashville, dance to music at our “free” street festivals or get your hair cut, it’s going to cost you. [See April 27 post “City Council Approves Parking Changes in Budget Work Session” on mountainx.com].
For decades, locals have relied on the first-hour-free policy in city garages to make it a little more affordable to spend time in our own downtown. We could run a quick errand and park for free, or pay $1.25 to enjoy two hours exploring amenities that make Asheville such a popular tourist destination. For those of us with more modest incomes, Council’s new plan continues the first hour free to maximize revenues from us, but the second hour is now $2.50 to keep us from cluttering up downtown.
We didn’t get here by accident. By keeping the parking supply low, Council and staff have been able to jack up rates and make it harder to park, so many locals no longer try to come downtown. This reserves the heart of our city for tourists and locals able to pay. Downtown businesses catering to locals will struggle even more, we will see more tourist-centered businesses open in their stead, and Council and staff will wonder why. Monthly parking rates are also going up, and the additional stress on lower-wage downtown employees is disregarded — again. Long-promised satellite lots are nowhere to be seen. Council needs to quit blaming tourists and take care of locals — and local businesses.
Here’s hoping Parking Services makes changes to its system to allow for quick and easy exits from the garages. Getting stuck in garage traffic could now cost you $2.50.
— Monica Teutsch