Solar parking meters?

by Pete Talbot

Downtown parking is mundane to many, unless you happen to work, shop and visit downtown Missoula. It’s a hot topic right now, over at Missoulagov.listserve (subscribe or visit the archives).

The short version: apparently the downtown business improvement district and, I assume, the parking commission are considering parking kiosks (one or two per block) to replace those old, analog meters. Or maybe they’ll be solar powered meters you can pay for via cell phone. Or just street signs that indicate two-hour, thirty-minute or quick-stop zones. Or meters you can plug your electric car into. Lots of ideas being bandied about.

My main concern is they’re user friendly and cheap, and they don’t discourage people from coming downtown. Either that or meters should be placed in the Walmart, Costco, Best Buy and Home Depot parking lots. Fair is fair.

I just hope this isn’t the first step toward increasing rates and fines. The cost of parking downtown should cover some area maintenance and meter patrols (there needs to be ticketing for on-street parking hogs) and a portion of the proceeds could go toward encouraging bus, bike and other forms of alternative transportation. But downtown parking shouldn’t be a cash cow for the city coffers.

There are a ton of cool suggestions, comments and criticisms of downtown parking on the listserve thread — Scott (Mr. Downtown) Sproull adds a lengthly list of insights — it’s a must read for downtown aficionados.

  1. Big Swede

    I got his great idea.

    After you install meters in Wally World’s private lot why don’t you run a truck load of them up to the Swan Valley.

    • JC

      How can you call it a private lot when most Walmart’s have wrested tax concessions from the public in order to bring a store to an area?

      If anything, putting parking meters up in Walmart–and other subsidized big box stores and businesses–would help to replace the tax revenue lost by corporate arm-twisting.

      And as long as we’re going to put up parking meters, we might as well start charging a camping fee to all of the RV’s that illegally camp out there to help the KOA down the street survive.

      • Big Swede

        Hey JC, there’s no such word as “private” in your world.

        • JC

          Mmmm… don’t think you got that right BS.

          Of course, in your world, its publicize the risk, privatize the profit, and those businesses that can get away with soaking the public tax base, more power to them.

          And, I guess you don’t recognize a touch of sarcasm when you read it.

      • goof houlihan

        Is that the possessive Walmarts? Did Walmart wrest concessions from Missoula? Hah hah if they did.

        Here in Bozeman, they had to pay $500,000 to expand, never mind build.

        Unfortunately for your theory, the parking lots are owned, or leased, by Walmart, unless, of course, you’re one of those, “no such thing as property ownership” types like the Sonoran Institute.

        And maybe it is illegal in Missoula for Walmart to have property rights?

        • Big Swede

          Figure this out, goof.

          In the post below we have a huge settlement over property rights, oil, gas, timber stolen from the Blackfeet tribe. A settlement, by the way, that I think is well deserved in principle.

          But in the reservation that is Missoula, the subjects don’t deserve whats rightfully theirs.

        • petetalbot

          The public infrastructure and area maintenance provided for Walmart and the other box stores certainly exceeds that of the downtown area, yet downtown gets the meters. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

          • Big Swede

            I suppose if showing the economic impact of a Wal lMart, and the additional jobs and taxes it provides, you still would consider Sam’s store a blight on your fine town.

          • goof houlihan

            Pete, I agree that parking meters are a deterrent. How else are you going to pay for “public parking” as opposed to “private parking”?

            Some will tell you, “don’t worry about parking downtown, they don’t in New York”. But I’d tell you, if you don’t facilitate parking, (and perceived safety) and cleanliness downtown, then people will abandon downtown, first the customers, then the businesses. Some downtowns recover, revitalize, gentrify, and begin to argue about parking. Some just die. Customers have to be able to park, and walk, close and safe and unmolested and in a welcoming environment.

            Stores and areas that provide their own, private parking, have a “parking model” that they try and insist on when coming to an area. Since it’s private property, too, they’re able to control the customer experience.

            I’m surprised that you haven’t come up with a carbon friendly, “parking stall tax” on private property, taxing each store by number of parking stalls. Maybe that could replace the parking meter revenue?

  2. Chuck

    The public infrastructure and area maintenance provided for private Condo Developers in the Rattlesnake far exceeds that of the downtown area yet we don’t require parking meters in the Condo garages or at the ‘Snake trailheads. Doesn’t make sense to me either.
    Maybe we have to just quit taking from every special interest group out there to give to another and think about ways to make it easier for businesses to flourish and citizens to enjoy life. Walmart has free parking for it’s customers , employees and the tourists in RV’s. That is a GOOD thing for our community and should be emulated downtown.

  3. petetalbot

    For starters, Chuck, Walmart has acres of asphalt parking, downtown does not. So, I don’t see how it could “be emulated downtown.”

    And WTF does “condo developers in the Rattlesnake” mean? I assume that’s a personal attack on me, a guy who’s losing his ass in this market but still employing subcontractors, paying for infrastructure (sewer, water, roads, etc.) and buying materials from local suppliers. Plus, using your logic, every home in Missoula should have a parking meter in its garage.

    And, I want “businesses to flourish” (particularly locally-owned downtown businesses that add much more to the community than Walmart) and I want “citizens to enjoy life” — what makes you think I don’t?

    Write back, when you have something worth saying.

    • petetalbot

      A carbon friendly “parking stall tax?” You might have something there. Let me mull it over for a day or two.

      I many ways, we’re in agreement. It’s only when the meter rates or ticket fines become too onerous, and people go to the box stores and malls, that I become critical of parking commissions. And if the kiosks I’ve used around town at UM are a preview of things to come to the rest of downtown — help! They’re a pain in the *ss.

  4. klemz

    As long as we’re flexing self-indulgent moral superiority (there’s always a bigger fish, Prius owners), I kinda wonder why we spend so much money subsidizing parking anyway. How about making it so the meters and fines actually pay for the infrastructure?

    And instead use the money for separated bike lanes and public transit.

  5. Parking isn’t free. Anywhere. Parking is, in fact, a damned expensive proposition here in Missoula where the real estate is pricey. Add downtown into the mix, and it’s worth even more. Want it underground? Add $150,000 or more to each space.

    Whaa? Walmart parking isn’t free? Nope. Whatever you buy, wherever you buy it, is paying the rent and taxes for all that property, including that lot. That parking is “free” to the customers because it was so cheap for those guys to build it out there in the first place. Remember what N. Reserve looked like 20 years ago? See the connection with land cost?

    My solution is that the downtown businesses that don’t want parking meters – and the downtown powers-that-be that don’t want to (a) have employees hogging all the parking and (b) rid themselves of the administrative bureaucracy they call “the parking commission” and (c) rid themselves of the revenue generated by said administration that self-perpetuates it’s own bureaucracy – is for all the business want meters (and say that it hurts their business because people have to pay for parking) to cough up the cash to pay for whatever number of people that are needed to go around and chalk tires. They should do this through special improvement district. NEXT, all parking meters should be ripped out and sold on ebay as antiques. THIRD, signs should be erected with limits on parking. 2 hours? FINALLY, everything else should remain the same – chalk the tires, tag ’em if they don’t move in 2 hours (or whatever time everyone sets), and everyone should be happy.

    Business should increase because parking is now “free” downtown just like it is at N. Reserve. People should want to go downtown more because parking is “free”. The parking commission gets to continue it bureaucracy, sans the need for maintaining those meters, emptying those meters, rolling or melting down or doing whatever it is doing with those coins – plus, they should make a nice chunk of cash if they dribble those parking meters out there over the years as “antiques” on ebay.

    You can buy this one, right now, for $250 bucks.

    • goof houlihan

      Free parking and freed up parking on the streets near the destination businesses for customers is very important for downtown. How far will an american walk to a store from where they park? Two blocks or so, I’d guess.

      Or maybe I read that somewhere.

  6. Pogo Possum

    Let me add an observation to this discussion.

    A few years ago during the middle of the tourist season I noticed every parking space on the streets and in our downtown parking garage was full. I also observed our very friendly parking enforcers on motorized carts writing tickets as rapidly as possible and bringing in a great revenue source for the city.

    I commented to one of the highly placed parking commission employees that it appeared to make sense, from a business perspective, to either add on to the the existing parking garage (build up) or add additional parking structures. Additional parking spaces would bring even more traffic to downtown Missoula thus helping local downtown businesses, bring in more parking revenue for city coffers and bring in the inevitable increase in parking fines which would further contribute to the city coffers.

    This highly placed person looked at me with shock and said “If we build more parking then we get more cars downtown. We don’t want more cars downtown. We are trying to figure out how to reduce the number of cars that come here now.”

  7. I really don’t get why people are perturbed by paying for parking–especially here in Missoula where it is cheap as hell.

    I was in Portland over Thanksgiving and it cost us around $10 to spend just a few hours around Powell’s and a bar called Henry’s. The meters there matter seven days a week, 7am-7pm, and cost more (spent $4 to enjoy the Saturday market). We in Missoula have got a sweet gig paying so little only five days a week. If it goes up a little bit, so be it. Walk, ride, or bike.

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