A parking compromise

Jan. 30, 2014 @ 06:08 PM

On the list of rock-and-a-hard-place challenges in the world, providing parking in crowded environments is high on the list.

It is not much of an oversimplification to say that one of life’s compelling desires is to pay as little as possible to park as close to where you want to be as possible and to spend the minimum time arriving at that sweet spot.

Truth be told, not so many years ago, that was an achievable dream in downtown Durham. Back in the day when hardly any one willingly went there and even fewer stayed there overnight, parking was cheap. It was easy to find.

The good news for the big picture in downtown is that those days are over and, we hope, not coming back.

So the city has been looking to both capture more revenue from this new in-demand commodity – a downtown parking space.  Fees more in line with market demand also will help ensure turnover and perhaps even encourage the use of mass transit.

But the move to more market-appropriate rates downtown ran headlong into objections from many downtown residents, especially those who argued with more than a little justification that they were trailblazers as resident began returning to our central city.

Some of those adventurous early residents maintained that they had been offered free parking as an inducement to move into what was then a wasteland after dark.  The origins of that deal are murky, made murkier by the fact that for a while in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before downtown’s rebound began in earnest, the city didn’t even bother collecting parking fees it assessed. 

So after a good bit of wrangling and Durham’s typically boisterous debate in social media and elsewhere, the City Council has finally settled on a compromise. The new rates for residents -- $55 a month for surface lots, $65 for a deck – will be phased in over five years. At the end of the phase-in, that will be steep hike for residents, some of whom pay only $10 a month now for evening and weekend parking – or nothing at all.

City administrators originally proposed a three-year phase in; at least one council member suggested 10.  Wednesday, the council agreed on the five-year period.

We suspect some residents still feel their pioneer status should keep their parking for free. We understand that position. But it became clear the city felt it could see no legally defensible way to exempt some and not others. 

With downtown residential opportunities promising to increase exponentially in the next few years, the compromise seems to mitigate the impact on those already there while setting up a reasonable framework for those to come.

At the end of the day, we’re glad we’re coping with how to accommodate more and more parkers rather than what to do with abandoned factories and empty storefronts.