Archive for Sunday, July 24, 2011

Downtown parking: Is shortage real or perceived?

Intrepid reporter takes trusty pickup to investigate

Journal-World Reporter tries to find prime parking spots in Downtown Lawrence on Sidewalk Sale Day, 2011.

July 24, 2011


A parking spot located at the northeast corner of 10th and Massachusetts streets sits vacant just after 11 a.m. during the Sidewalk Sale on Thursday, July 21, 2011. The spot remained open for more than six minutes on one of downtown's busiest days.

A parking spot located at the northeast corner of 10th and Massachusetts streets sits vacant just after 11 a.m. during the Sidewalk Sale on Thursday, July 21, 2011. The spot remained open for more than six minutes on one of downtown's busiest days.

Reader poll
Do you settle for a parking spot that requires a reasonable walk to your destination or do you keep driving around until you find just the right spot?

or See the results without voting


It is, approximately, 178 degrees in downtown Lawrence.

I’m sure I could prove this with more specificity by buying a thermometer at Ernst & Son Hardware, 826 Mass. I likely could buy it for 33 percent off. It is Sidewalk Sale Day, after all.

And, surely, it is the day that downtown parking becomes loopier than the barking man atop the ladder at Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop, 802 Mass. Just think about it: On Sidewalk Sale Day, downtown becomes like a giant magnet for parkers.

And here I am driving around like a country bumpkin in my old F-150 thinking I’m going to find a parking space in the most prime of spots: northwest downtown. This is where the swimming pool is (I think I mentioned that it is warm). This is where the library is (Bookishness has no offseason). And today, this is where shoppers trying to get half-priced running socks at Garry Gribble’s Running Sports, 839 Mass., (I was told you need special socks to run, which I’m sure explains my lack of success) will try to park their bargain bandwagons.

But I’m confident that I will find a spot, and I won’t have to burn two gallons of gas doing it. (Well, I’m in the F-150. I burn two gallons starting it up. But you get the point. I’m not going to circle to find a spot.)

You see, I have this theory about downtown parking. I believe that on almost any day of the year, I can find a parking spot and be within a five minute’s walk of my destination. So on this Sidewalk Sale Day, I decided to put the theory to a test. I wanted to find out whether downtown Lawrence really has a parking problem, a perception problem or maybe just a walking problem.

• • •

Cathy Hamilton, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., knows what type of problem she thinks downtown has.

“I completely think this is a perception problem,” Hamilton said. “I have worked down here for over 23 years, and I never remember having to walk very far.”

City Commissioner Bob Schumm, a longtime restaurant owner, has been in downtown for more than 40 years. He thinks you can sum up downtown’s parking situation pretty easily.

“There is always a perception that there is not enough parking because most people would like to park on Mass. Street,” Schumm said. “Most people would like to eat tenderloin steak instead of round steak, too. But in reality, there’s plenty of beef to go around.”

As Schumm points out, there are free, two-hour parking lots just one block off every downtown stretch of Massachusetts Street, except for the 600 block. Even on that block, there are free two-hour spaces along the ramps of the Riverfront Parking Garage at Sixth and New Hampshire streets.

In addition, there are 10-hour parking meters throughout the downtown area where motorists can purchase two-and-a-half hours of parking for 25 cents.

Hamilton said there probably does need to be more marketing and more education about what’s available in downtown.

“You know, a block sounds a lot scarier than saying you have to walk a couple of minutes,” Hamilton said. “But for most people, it takes five minutes to walk three or four blocks.

“It has never made any sense to me. Oak Park Mall on a Saturday, I guarantee that you’ll walk at least three minutes in the parking lot and another two minutes or more once you’re in the mall.”

• • •

Lawrence residents may get to hear quite a bit about downtown parking in coming weeks. Lawrence city commissioners are expected to take up a discussion of whether to spend another $1 million or so to add another level of parking to a proposed garage that will be built as part of the Lawrence Public Library expansion.

Architects are still working on cost estimates for the extra parking level, which city officials previously have said may provide another 75 spaces or so. Details for how the city may pay for the additional parking also haven’t been hammered out.

But Schumm said he expects the discussion to occur soon. He said the city needs to think seriously about adding more parking, even if there is not a shortage of spaces today.

“Right now, most of downtown is in balance,” Schumm said. “There generally are enough parking spots for the people who want to park. But if you want to see downtown improve from where it is today, you have to believe that is going to mean more occupancy downtown and more people on the street. You have to consider where those people are going to park.”

Schumm said he’ll lobby hard for an extra level to be added to the library garage — which is expected to have spaces for about 250 vehicles, up from 126 spaces in the existing library lot.

“We’re never going to build another parking garage in that location,” Schumm said. “I’m going to push for as many parking spaces as is feasible in that location.”

• • •

The F-150 rolls with confidence. It really does. I know that soccer moms across the city are laughing at me. Trying to find a convenient parking spot for the pool on Sidewalk Sale Day? Such a male.

But I have reason to be confident. Since about 9 a.m., I’ve been out driving and parking in downtown Lawrence. Not once have I failed in my goal of finding a parking space that is within five minutes of my destination. I’ve been to the library, I’ve been to the GAP, I’ve been to Sylas & Maddy’s ice cream, and I’ve been to a barber shop in the 800 block of Mass. I found a different parking spot for each location, and so far I’ve spent only 25 cents in parking fees.

If you want to find out how I did each one of those, check out the videos I shot on If you like shaky, handheld videos of a guy in cowboy boots and a dress shirt, you’ll love these. (It’s like “The Blair Witch Project” meets John Denver.)

I do have a strategy for finding a primo pool spot. I find that when it comes to downtown parking, it is helpful to know a little geography. Get off the beaten path of Massachusetts Street, grasshopper. Stay away from the library lot, too, on a day like this. You would need your Elmer Fudd cap because you’ll certainly have to hunt for a spot, and get a little lucky.

Instead, I head for the relatively small city lot at Sixth and Vermont streets. It is just north of the First State Bank and Trust building. It has entrances off both Vermont and Kentucky streets.

My confidence was justified. About 1:30 in the afternoon on Sidewalk Sale Day, there are seven empty spaces in the lot. (Although two are parallel spaces. They are dead to me. The F-150 and I do not parallel park.)

I spend 25 cents for two hours and 30 minutes of parking. I walk down the shaded side of the street and arrive at the front gate of the pool in just over three minutes.

How was the swim, you ask?

Can you believe it? They wouldn’t let me swim without trunks. Come on, it is Sidewalk Sale Day.


Dayna Lee 6 years, 10 months ago

The part that upsets me about this story is that you needed to move your car at all. I went to the sidewalk sale. I had an eye doctor appt to start my shopping at Dr. Curtis Anderson's office. I drove slowly and let people cross and then karma was with me and I parked right in front of his office. I find the really key to parking and shopping downtown is that there are no bad spots. Sometimes you have to park a block away. It's usually good times!

lawrencian 6 years, 10 months ago

I think the point was that the reporter was testing whether or not he could get close to everywhere, at various times of the day. We all know he could walk everywhere from any of these spaces.

Evan Ridenour 6 years, 10 months ago

Perceived. The majority of Americans are obese but maybe they wouldn't be if they would walk once and awhile; I have never had an issue parking within two blocks of my destination on Mass Street ever. The only reason people think parking is lacking is because they expect to be able to park their car in front of the business they are walking into. The only problem with that is it is physically impossible to have enough spaces for everyone to park their car and step right into a business. If someone wants to invent some kind of alternate dimensional parking portal that allows hundreds of people to park in the same spot then I think the problem is solved. Until then, try walking a block every once and awhile.

People are fat and lazy. That is the problem, it certainly isn't a lack of parking spots.

lunacydetector 6 years, 10 months ago

schumm says there's enough parking then says he'll lobby hard for an extra level of 75 parking, what in the future will require all the additional parking? the downtown has that historic designation so nothing new can go in......oh, his business is 1/2 block away from where the new parking garage will be built....of course he wants more parking for convenience.

he should recuse himself.

Celeste Plitz 6 years, 10 months ago

I've never ever had a problem finding a spot, I like to park right behind the Antique Mall, there is usually parking there. Failing that, I just drive around a little bit and I'll find something. Definitely a perceived problem.

Tony Kisner 6 years, 10 months ago

Spending money you don't have on things you don't need is how Lawrence gets it done!

kernal 6 years, 10 months ago

When the day comes that we can't find a parking spot within four blocks of downtown on a daily basis, then we can call it a parking problem. This conception that we should be able to park right in front of our destination is ludicrous.

If you're so overweight that you can't walk more than a block, that's your issue and you need to deal with it, not the city.

Also, quit using your grandfather's handicapped parking card to park in handicapped parking, Ms. Twenty Something!! There's others who really need that space.

livinginlawrence 6 years, 10 months ago

While handicapped parking fraud undoubtedly does occur, you ought to exercise caution in accusing people of using these spots without reason. There exist various disabilities which are not so easily seen but which nonetheless necessitate the ability to park close to where one intends to shop.

kernal 6 years, 10 months ago

I have friends and relatives who are physically handicapped; two are confined to wheel chairs due to paralysis, one has polio and another was born missing a limb. The case I'm referring to is someone I'm acquainted with and I know that she had no business parking in handicapped. I've seen others do it as well who were obviously not handicapped.

After all these years, I think I can tell the difference by observing a person's carriage, coloring (the coloring people get when they are ill, not the skin they were born with), whether or not there is loss of hair or other signs of chemo therapy, the gait they walk with, etc. It's not that hard if you've been trained to be observant. And, of course the elderly are a given.

Jennifer Dropkin 6 years, 10 months ago

Hearing people complain about parking in Lawrence is pretty funny. When I lived in Chicago, a friend drove us in circles for about half an hour looking for street parking because she didn't want to pay the cost of parking in the garage (which is pricey--$5 or $10 for an hour, I think). A parking space 4 blocks from your destination is a gift. Better yet, the bus would drop you off a block away--no parking necessary.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

There is not a parking problem in the downtown area. Everybody in Lawrence does not shop at the same time therefore why spend more on parking lots.

Why give away parking space to developers who decide to build 55 apartments yet get away without the necessary provision that legislates this type of development provide parking for 110 tenants?

If parking is a problem why did city hall give away parking space to that developer then is coming back to taxpayers saying the city is short on parking?

Does city hall not realize that downtown is being killed by west side developers at their direction?

We cannot afford NOT necessary parking space.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 10 months ago

We cannot afford $650K bicycle crossings either.

50YearResident 6 years, 10 months ago

I'll bet every 15 minute parking space was open all day long with no takers......................during the sidewalk sale.

irvan moore 6 years, 10 months ago

the 15 minute spots are part of the problem, not a solution.

50YearResident 6 years, 10 months ago

That is my belief too. Anyone know if these 15 minute meters were used or vacant? Comments welcome.

lawrencian 6 years, 10 months ago

when I was downtown for the sidewalk sale, every stall was filled, regardless of time limit.

parrothead8 6 years, 10 months ago

I've never had a problem finding a parking spot within a block of where I want to go in downtown Lawrence, so I see this as a perceived problem. I'd be willing to bet, however, that most lazy or unhealthy people see this as a very real problem.

monkeyhawk 6 years, 10 months ago

Love it - blame it on fat people. I suppose all you healthy youngsters will be parking in the $18 million dollar garage? The city should regulate that only fat, lazy people can park on Mass.

monkeyhawk 6 years, 10 months ago

Hardly. I am way too egotistical to be "tubby".

Diana Lee 6 years, 10 months ago

I definitely think it's an issue of perception. Certainly if you're going to particularly crowded events at certain times of day you need to plan ahead a little, but it's really no problem at all. Not sure why anyone is bringing "fat people" into the discussion, though.

mcompton 6 years, 10 months ago

Not to mention with Borders closed that lot always, always has spots.

pizzapete 6 years, 10 months ago

There usually is no problem during the Summer, but on a Friday night when the KU students are in town parking is in short supply. Add to that a 7 story apartment building and a health club and parking is indeed going to hard to find in the 900 block.

Tim Quest 6 years, 10 months ago

People in this town are freaking lazy and will spend 15 minutes circling a block to find a spot on Mass rather than walk 2 blocks down from their parking spot. In real cities (this excludes KC, obviously), people routinely park 10 minutes' walk away from a destination and don't think twice about it.

Jean Robart 6 years, 10 months ago

I am mobility challenged, and there are not enough handicap parking spaces downtown. I cannot walk two or three blocks, or from behind the antique mall. Thaty is the main reason i spend little time and even less money downtown.

chicago95 6 years, 10 months ago

Circling downtown in search of parking is more than an inconvenience. What if we treated this as the energy conservation / air quality problem that it is? What steps should we take to minimize degradation of our downtown environment? The answer is to have many more than a few percent of parking spots unoccupied at any moment. Parking capacity and demand follow a queuing model whose mathematics are straight-forward. The relationship between the number of spaces, our rates of arrival and our average stays has direct influence on our times spent circling (waiting) for a space. Let's see the planners' numbers.

Also, let's see a little ingenuity here. Vehicle counters at the entrances and exits to city lots could provide public information about the numbers of empty spaces in each lot (posted on signs around town, as at the airport, or posted on the Internet.) It's not cheap, but neither is real estate.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 10 months ago

The intent of the not needed parking garage is for a central hub for the empty bus system.

crimsonwithblue22 6 years, 10 months ago

Seriously. $18 Million for a library REMODEL??? Now, once approved and we actually get a plan put forth, we're looking to add another level of parking for an additional $1 million? We could have easily built two NEW libraries with plenty of parking at other accessible locations in this city for $9 million apiece me thinks and served a greater percentage of our citizenry. Don't we all wish we had this kind of political muscle to sell red herrings to the apathetic and the gulible?

chicago95 6 years, 10 months ago

A centrally located facility will apparently be necessary to assist SRS applicants in finding services online.

7texdude 6 years, 10 months ago

Why would we conduct a parking study in the summer, when all the students are gone? This is stupid. Come back and do this again in October. That would be a "real" study.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.