Sometimes we wonder whether downtown parking was an issue even in the days when Massachusetts Street was lined with hitching posts instead of sawtooth parking spaces. It certainly seems it has been drawing concern for that long.
Now, Lawrence city commissioners have another opportunity to address the issue. In the coming weeks, city commissioners are expected to discuss whether to add another level of parking to a planned garage that will be part of the Lawrence Public Library expansion.
We hope that issue sparks a broader discussion about downtown parking. In particular, city leaders need to consider whether they are doing all they can to encourage motorists to use the parking that already exists in downtown.
At the moment, studies indicate that downtown’s parking problem is mostly a perception problem. A parking spot along Massachusetts Street can be difficult to find on many days. The library parking garage won’t alleviate that shortage. But, as many frequent downtown visitors will tell you, there is ample parking at almost any time just one to two blocks off of Massachusetts Street.
A Journal-World reporter recently found that even on Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale Day, it was not difficult to find a parking spot within a 5-minute walk of nearly any destination in downtown.
The city should do more to promote the fact that it is easy to park and walk in downtown Lawrence. Many times, the walk is less than a shopper would make in a mall. The city could do more with signs. Perhaps signs could be placed at the various city parking lots telling motorists that, “from here,” they are only about a 5-minute walk from the shops in the 800 block of Massachusetts Street, or whatever their destination may be. We have heard that when people are told how many minutes a walk may take, it is more palatable than being told how many blocks.
None of this is to say that the city shouldn’t have a discussion about adding more parking to the library project. It may be good long-range planning to maximize parking in that area. More discussion and many more details are needed on that subject. It is disappointing that the discussion was not had during the broader 2012 city budget process. It would have been appropriate for downtown’s parking needs to have been ranked against other community needs.
What will be even more disappointing is if the city moves ahead with the library parking garage issue without having a good discussion about how it can better use the parking it has. After all, the city garage at Ninth and New Hampshire streets is still underutilized. If the city doesn’t do something to change the perception that the only convenient parking in downtown is along Massachusetts Street, we can build all the garages we want and still never solve the perception problem.