Charleston’s Coin Job
This week’s PopCulteer is a rant. It’s not a calm opinion piece, or a well-researched hard news story. This is, hopefully, a semi-articulate hissy fit.
Parking in downtown Charleston sucks. There is no better way to say it.
There aren’t enough handy places to park. The parking meters are stingy with their time. The Meter Maids are overly agressive. It’s almost like the city doesn’t want to be bothered with us puny humans.
There is so much cool stuff downtown, but it’s becoming more and more of a hassle to get to it. I don’t know how Charleston expects to attract new businesses when established businesses are seeing their customers driven away by a lack of decent parking.
You can find places to park, but there can be unexpected consequences. If your meter runs out, you’ll be stuck with a five-dollar ticket. That’s if you pay it within ten days. If you’re late, or if the folks handling the tickets decide to pretend that you were late, you’ll be billed for an additional twenty bucks.
Crime is running rampant in Charleston. The crime rates are on the rise, bucking the national trend, but don’t even think about parking too long in one spot. There seems to be a zero-tolerance policy in effect for people who try to patronize Charleston businesses.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Charleston completely eliminate all parking meters. If they did that, then maybe small businesses could flourish, like they are in South Charleston, which has more than a 95% occupancy rate for their available business locations. Lord knows what that sort of thing might lead to!
I know that the city of Charleston has some sort of bond deal that they say forces them to act this way. From what I can make out of it, they floated a municipal bond a few years back and put future parking revenue up as collateral. Because of that they have to agressively pursue the parking fees and fines, and they have to go through all sorts of red tape just to offer limited free parking. They say their hands are tied.
Which might explain the crappy parking situation in Charleston, but it sure doesn’t do anything to improve it. Over the summer, the problem has threatened to grow from an annoyance to a full-blown crisis.
The Blossom Deli is going to shut down tomorrow. One of the reasons is the lack of parking. Even though there’s a municipal parking building nearby, people are afraid to use it because it’s so hard to figure out how late the parking buildings in this city are going to stay open.
ArtWalk last month was one of the worst in terms of traffic and parking. It seems like the city re-programmed all the traffic lights in town to maximize the annoyance factor, and then it was still hard to find a decent place to park.
Parking suckiness has even struck The Charleston Town Center, which recently eliminated the very-handy short-term parking in their Quarrier Street building, and seems to be on the verge of phasing out human parking attendants in favor of automated machines. I stopped by the mall for a bit just this week: It was virtually deserted.
This all adds up to a parking situation in Charleston that has become detrimental to business. In this tight economy, the cost of parking can be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing a book store (Taylor’s is great, but the parking is free at Books a Million), a restaurant (after the novelty wears off, will people pay extra for parking to choose Pies and Pints over Lola’s?), or any other businesss.
As to how we fix this, I’ve got a few ideas.
First, stop charging for meter parking after 5 PM, not the current cut-off time of 6 PM. A lot more folks would make the downtown area a post-work visit if they didn’t have to worry about getting hit with a ticket at five-minutes ’til six.
Free parking on Saturdays is a no-brainer. There is no incentive for people to venture into the city and spend money with local merchants if they risk getting hit with a fine that’s two-and-a-half times the size of the weekly user fee.Downtown is competing against the sprawl down Corridor G, The Shops at Kanawha, The Nitro/Cross Lanes shopping center, D Street in South Charleston and many other places, all of which offer free parking.
All municipal parking buildings should be open 24 hours a day. I have several friends who will not venture downtown after dark anymore because of the hassle of having their car’s held hostage overnight, sometimes for days, if a holiday falls just right. There are parking buildings that sit empty every evening while people park along Virginia Street, blocking traffic and tempting fate by being in the path of that crumbling building on the corner of Virginia and Capitol.
Fines should be lowered, and the city should back off on trying to collect extra fees by claiming you didn’t pay soon enough. It’s bad enough to have to pay a ticket. It’s even worse when, months later, you get a threatening letter from the city and have to contact your bank for a copy of the check that you used to pay them on time.
If a person is doing work to promote the city, and gets a ticket for something stupid, then tear the ticket up. A friend of mine got nailed for twenty-five bucks this week for “blocking the sidewalk” by chaining his scooter to a lampost. The scooter is smaller than most bicycles. That’s just petty and self-destructive of Charleston.
And it brings me to another point. Charleston needs more bike racks. It’s pretty messed-up when people who live four or five blocks from downtown will hop in their car and drive to Southridge rather than ride their bike downtown, simply because it’s less of a hassle to make the drive and park a car out there than it is to park a bike on Quarrier Street.
I think it’s great that the city is considering establishing taxi stands downtown. Even though it’s going to eat up a few primo parking spots. I hope they also consider doing something to attact a more professional Taxi company than C&H. Decent cab service is another thing that this city is sorely lacking.
Back to parking, Charleston needs to remember just exactly what purpose parking meters serve. They are NOT meant to be a revenue stream. They are there to facilitate the timely flow of customers to the businesses in the city. The meters limit the time that one car can tie up a parking spot. The same purpose is served by the two-hour time limit in South Charleston, where business is booming.
If the city’s hands are tied in fixing these problems because of some previously-existing bond issue, as they claim, then maybe they need to find a way to extract themselves from said bond issue as quickly as possible. It’s strangling this city and driving businesses out.
There’s lots of cool music and stuff in town this weekend.
RFC faves, Tofujitsu, are at Bruno’s tonight at 9 PM. There’s no cover and the food is really good.
Also cover-free, Steve Himes and Chris Allen are at Taylor Books from 7:30 to 9:30 PM.
Crossroads will be at Sam’s Uptown Cafe on Friday and Saturday, with a $4 cover, at 10 PM.
RFC guests Civil State will be performing at The Empty Glass Friday for a five-dollar cover around 10 PM.
Also on Friday, The Blue Parrot plays host to High Fives & Hell Yeahs EP Release Party, featuring the Morgantown band, along with RFC 108 guests The AK40 Sexuals and Grinderpump. Cover is five bucks and the show kicks off at 10 PM.
Saturday night The No Pants Players return to The Alban Theater in St. Albans for a family-friendly show. It kicks off at 8 PM and six bucks gets you in the door for an evening of improv comedy gold.
The big show of the weekend is Noizebox with RFC faves, The Scrap Iron Pickers, returning to The Empty Glass on Saturday. The show begins around 10 PM, and the cover is yet to be determined, but less than eight dollars.
One last weekend note: RFC 94 guest, and friend of the PopCulteer, Ryan Hardiman, will be singing with The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra at Haddad Riverfront Park. This Labor Day concert begins at 8 PM and ends with fireworks. Plus, it’s free. You’ll want to be there.
That’s it for this abbreviated holiday-weekend edition of The PopCulteer. Keep reading for our regular features and episodes of Radio Free Charleston.