Making the case for extended paid parking hours 

LAST Thursday morning I received a work-related voice mail from someone in Atlanta. She very politely asked me to call back as soon as possible, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.

As you might imagine I was completely outraged.

This person knows I live in Savannah and, presumably, owns a calendar. Did she actually think I would call her back at 10 a.m. on March 17? The nerve!

If I’d returned her call, on what was a normal workday for most of the planet, and explained I was standing next to a man wearing a green feather boa on a crowded parade viewing platform he’d built in his courtyard, would she have believed me?

St. Patrick’s Day is something you must experience firsthand. Those of us who made the mistake of being born elsewhere often cherish it as much as those who entered the world at the old Telfair Hospital. Celebrating the day is a big part of what it means to be a Savannahian.

Just like parking for free downtown at night and on weekends, apparently.

The extent to which this is regarded as a core right of Savannah citizenship was evident following the announcement of the Parking Matters study recommendations.

People, who probably disagree about everything else under the sun, found common ground. Bern feelers joined folks who bask in the glow of Fox News to complain about the prospect of increased rates and night and weekend metering. Some went even further and questioned why any city resident should have to pay to park on the street. At all. Ever.

Conservatives mock Sen. Sanders’ supporters as being childish, naive, or Nordic for wanting “free stuff” from the government, while at the same time clinging to their own public parking entitlement.

Parking meters are like magic wands. The very thought of them turns makers into takers, free marketeers into communists (or at least democratic socialists).

I was surprised, however, by the instant opposition from others who are generally in favor of sustainable development, environmental protection, historic preservation, affordable housing, and transportation equity. They’d likely support Parking Matters initiatives that address these issues. Charging market rates for parking at times of peak demand and other policy changes would help fund them.

Listen, I am sympathetic to the retail and restaurant employees who would have to pay more to park their cars, but we must not forget that having a car in the first place is a financial impossibility for many downtown workers. Infrastructure projects made possible by additional parking revenue would improve safety and access for people who must arrive at their downtown jobs by bike, by bus or on foot.

I understand no longer being able to park for free at night and on weekends is perceived as the latest in a long line of affronts that make locals feel unwelcome downtown. I’ve long worried about Savannahians being excluded from the heart of their own city.

In fact, I wrote a newspaper column about this very concern a long time ago and still stand by it.

How long ago? Savannah was hosting Olympic sailing events at the time.

Finally, I realize people are suspicious of consultants, especially those working out of offices in Atlanta. As demonstrated by my St. Patrick’s Day caller, Atlantans sometimes just don’t get us.

Many people have little confidence in the city government itself. I admit mine was shaken by the proposed Forsyth Park bike ban.

I also recognize Savannah has changed, however. When I moved here in the early ‘90s, I could walk down Broughton Street on a weeknight and encounter few other people. Some of our parking policies seem like relics of that time.

The pursuit of cheap and easy parking has shredded the fabric of many cities and could have destroyed ours, if not for the women who saved the Davenport House from becoming a parking lot in 1955. By doing so, they awakened the city to the value of its historic assets.

Still, for decades we’ve demanded parking garages, then — as Jim Morekis astutely observed in his last column — we’ve refused to park in them.

The Parking Matters recommendations, while not perfect, offer a different and more comprehensive approach.

We owe it to ourselves to resist kneejerk reactions and carefully consider them.

All I’m asking is this: Before you complain on Facebook, sign a petition or write your alderman, take time to thoughtfully review the entire study.

Decide for yourself if rejecting it outright is worth the traffic congestion, missed opportunities for sensible development and safer streets, and limited transportation options that come along with continuing the parking status quo.

The Parking Matters study is available at www.savannahga.gov/parkingmatters


About The Author

John Bennett

John Bennett

John Bennett is executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.

More by John Bennett

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Connect Today 10.21.2016

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