The June 18 Downtown Redevelopment Authority meeting focusing on downtown parking was helpful for a few reasons.
The first is the statement of Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce President Kathy Kopp: “When we have repeat visitors that come, I hear this all the time — ‘your downtown is the most unmanageable downtown we’ve ever seen.’ I’m just hoping the final plan is as [simple] as possible to those not familiar with the downtown … make it as easy and business-friendly as possible.”
Kopp mentioned not merely the dearth of parking, but downtown’s one-way streets. Blame, I suppose, goes to those who platted Platteville in 1835, according to the City Park historical marker, “patterned after English villages, with narrow streets, thin lots and a village square.”
Our “narrow streets” makes one think one can either change one-way streets — Second and Fourth streets going south, Bonson and Oak streets south of Main Street going north, Mineral Street and Market Street east of Chestnut Street going west — or keep the parking on those streets, but not both. Main Street formerly went only east, but no more. (The fact I remember Main Street as going only east demonstrates how long I’ve been hanging around Grant County.)
As someone who hasn’t spent much time in downtown Platteville before the past two months, it seems to me that making downtown visitor-friendly probably requires more signage on both sides, not just the right side, of entrances to one-way streets, to make it as clear as possible that one shouldn’t turn north onto Fourth Street. Another thought applicable to more than downtown is that a helpful addition to street signs would be block numbers, so drivers could tell where the 100 block of a street is, not just where the street is.
Downtown visitors — whether tourists or business customers — are one of the three main constituent groups affected by parking policies. The other two are business employees (including owners of those businesses), and downtown residents. The last two groups need longer-term parking than the first group. (Recall the letter signed by 94 members of those two groups on this page in May.)
When making an argument, one should never make arguments based on facts that are provably incorrect. It’s not true, for instance, that UW–Platteville has no provisions for parking at all for the new Rountree Commons. The university has allocated 520 spots, in fact, among its existing lots, including a couple of planned expansions.
You can argue whether that’s enough parking. (Note that I wrote parking “for the new Rountree Commons,” not “at the new Rountree Commons.”) You can certainly ask how many students, faced with paying for a parking permit to park some distance from their dorm room, will decide instead to park on city streets where they are not welcome to park.
The crux of the parking problem is that there are fewer spots than demand for those spots, based on the city’s count of 1,934 available spaces, and the UW–Platteville civil engineering student projection of 2,113 needed spaces for business customers and employees and downtown residents. Those 1,934 spots are considerably more than the 764 available spaces for the public, given that 1,170 of those 1,934 spots are privately owned.
The meeting was a sort of brainstorming session on the downtown parking deficit. Brainstorming sessions are known for thoughts that may seem like a good idea at the time, but fade away with the light of day because they should.
One of those ideas should be any thought of the city’s seizing control of those 1,170 private lots. It is disturbing to hear that kind of disrespect for private property. (If I owned one of those lots, I’d be looking to sell long-term parking permits, but that is up to the property owner, not anyone else.) Suggestions that UWP should build a lot next to Rountree Commons and charge students more after 2012–13 parking permit prices have already been set is not going to happen, at least not this year, and is UWP’s decision, not the city’s, anyway.
One RDA member suggested that current policies are a double standard, treating UW–Platteville students differently from the three downtown constituent groups. That was countered by a business owner who said UWP has its students as a captive audience for four years, whereas downtown businesses do not.
You may have noticed that UW–Platteville has been sort of set up as the bad guy in all this, as if adding students at UWP is a negative. UW–Platteville students become graduates, and college graduates are the people any town should be trying to get to live here after their graduation. That doesn’t happen when students are seen as the “them,” the source of negative, not positive, contributions to Platteville’s quality of life.
A lot of people would like to see one or more parking ramps built downtown. I’m one of those people, but I’m skeptical from the dollar figures I’ve heard that construction of a parking ramp is very likely anytime soon. There were other suggestions for bringing back parking meters or charging for long-term parking. It’s hard to see what that would accomplish beyond adding revenues to the city coffers.
The fact is that downtown businesses, with their limited downtown parking, compete against businesses both in Platteville (for instance, those located on Business 151) and outside Platteville (for instance, the two big cities southwest and east-northeast of Platteville with big malls). The distance from an on-street space a couple blocks away from a downtown business, patrolled by ticket-writing police Community Service Officers, may be the same as the distance from one end of a (theoretically) free parking lot to that business’ front door, but shoppers don’t perceive the distance as the same. Having seen communities around Platteville’s size with moribund downtowns, I suggest Platteville should not want that fate, whether you frequent downtown businesses or not.
I’m guessing I’ll write about downtown parking again.