“City by the Bay” Nominee: Ann Arbor


“City by the Bay” Nominee: Ann Arbor

TIme for the next "City by the Bay" nominee for the most fuzzy thinking in parking policy.  Here we go again.

The City of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is installing "free" parking in it downtown area to help rejuvenate business in the city’s central core.  Yep — after all the screaming and yelling by Shoupistas from sea to shining sea they still think that giving something away will brings folks to shop.

Maybe they should try this:  Have every store give away $100 in merchandise to every shopper every weekend. That would do it. and make about as much sense.

They are following the "free parking" route — 2 hours free; Free parking for employees (that’ll help a lot), and lots of good signage.  Signs will make it happen. Tons of folks will come downtown to read the signs.  People will flock to downtown rather than go to the mall where they can see movies, eat in trendy cafes, watch the people, visit trendy shops, probably listen to some music, and watch a busker do a chalk painting.  Sigh

These people don’t understand. My buddy, Bill Francis, a former parking operator, consultant, and knowledgeable guy, told me he did a study for needed parking at a community east of Los Angeles. Seems the place was jumping. There were people everywhere. The downtown was a covy of shops, restaurants, theaters, and fun. Folks loved to walk along the streets and watch each other.  There were sidewalk cafes, music, and the like.  Oh, yes, the parking.

Bill told me that people were parking in vacant lots, in muddy swamps, and walking half a mile to get to the area.  They were also paying a bunch to park in those conditions.  It wasn’t parking that brought people to the downtown are.  Bill is a "Field of Dreams" kind of guy — "If you built it, they will come."

Its been proven time and time again , in South Pasadena, and in Santa Monica and in places across the country. People come downtown because of what’s there, not because of free parking. If you charge for parking and use the money to "fix" your downtown area the customers will be falling all over themselves to get there.

Form a district. Borrow some money based on parking income. Charge for parking to pay off the loan. Use the loan for new streets, lighting, streetscapes, fountains, parks, storefronts, tax abatement, promotion, shuttles, on street valet, and the like, and the place will be hopping.  People who like to spend money would much rather go to an area like Old Pasadena or the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica than a sterile mall.

Oh, yes, one good thing they are doing in Ann Arbor which will probably eliminate them from receiving the final "City by the Bay" honor. They are coordinating with local banks and office buildings to open their parking after hours and on weekends to add to the supply. A great idea, but my guess is that it would happen naturally if there was demand.  In virtually every area where there is scarcity of parking, there are parking spaces not being used. You just have to find them


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John Van Horn

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