Wharton: City parking plan a bad idea

By Tom Wharton

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: June 28, 2012 10:25AM
Updated: June 14, 2012 11:01AM
image
Tom Wharton

My late father could be one of the most generous people in the world. But he had his quirks. And one of the things he absolutely hated was paying to park. I can remember him circling the block again and again hoping to find on-street parking and then complaining about having to plug a meter.

As someone who has worked in downtown Salt Lake City for most of the past 42 years, I sometimes think I channel that aversion. For years, I walked nearly four blocks in all sorts of weather from a lot that charged 75 cents to avoid the more expensive nearby Regent Street parking terrace.

Downtown workers become quite savvy about parking on the street. We know from experience that the enforcement officers are highly efficient. If you are more than a minute or two late getting to your car, there is a good chance of getting a ticket.

These days, I pay a monthly parking fee to use the terrace at The Gateway. Though many who don’t come to the city often might experience difficulty trying to figure out the mazes of the modern parking garage, it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.

With that background, I have to say that I think the Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Ralph Becker are dead wrong in their revenue-generating proposals to raise the hourly meter rate from $1.50 to $2, to extend the hours of collection from 6 p.m. to either 8 or 10 p.m. depending on the latest proposal and to eliminate free two-hour street parking on Saturdays and during the Christmas holiday season.

As an aside, can I say that I absolutely hate the new solar-powered parking kiosks that replaced the more traditional meters? It might be more convenient to use a credit card to pay for on-street parking, but for the technologically challenged like me, they are a confusing hassle. Even if you do figure out the meter and get a receipt, it’s really difficult to know if the thing actually worked and how much time you actually have before lunch. And how much did replacing the meters cost anyway?

Add to that the fact that the Utah Transit Authority is making noises about eliminating the free downtown fare zone for TRAX and buses that many of us use to move back and forth from The Gateway to Main Street or to Energy Solutions Arena events, and those of us who live in the suburbs have another good reason to stay away from Salt Lake City at night.

Downtown workers know how to play the system. We park in a terrace and make certain to buy something to get a two-hour validation. We know which restaurants have the best on-street parking. And we realize that a good brisk lunchtime walk isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I also get that, with the exception of paying sales and restaurant taxes, those of us who don’t live in Salt Lake City take advantage of many services without paying our fair share. And perhaps we ought to use mass transit more, though many of us often are required to have a car for work.

But the combination of more expensive on-street parking coupled with longer hours of enforcement and the possible elimination of free fare zones are going to keep many from coming downtown to shop, dine or enjoy a movie. Only a big concert, the farmer’s market or a Jazz game might entice folks away from popular suburban malls where the parking is free and easy.

Though I still own a home in Salt Lake City, council members might not care what a Taylorsville resident thinks. But I bet businesses and restaurants who like me spending in town do. And those purchases generate sales taxes.

Count me among those who think Salt Lake City’s proposed parking plan is simply a bad idea.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton