DDA hikes parking rates in downtown Ann Arbor. Catastrophe ensues.

Today, I saw this headline and exclaimed, ‘Can you wait for the whining to start on the .Com?’


I have pondered at some length the (f)utility of grappling with the peanut gallery in the AnnArbor.com comments sections.  I decided it was worth it to address the responses to this particular story here at the blog,  A) because they provide a representative sample of the kinds of (misguided) arguments people make in favor of free parking, B) because here I get to fully develop my case without having to post rebuttals every 5 minutes, and  C) because some of these people richly deserve to be made fun of.

One of the opening salvos concerns the ever-popular canard that charging for parking is bad for a business district:

xmo at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2011

Thanks to the ANTI-Business City Council, who appoints the members of the DDA that are trying to kill business in Downtown Ann Arbor. Business owners please remember these people when you vote in November!
Business is already hurting and now you tell the customers that its going to cost them more to shop Downtown?

Hmmm, let’s compare downtown, which charges for parking, and, say, Arborland, which has vast amounts of free parking.  Which seems to be doing better?

Xraymoo at 3:02 PM on August 31, 2011

Between the potential of getting a ticket for not yielding to a pedestrian that is “approaching” a cross walk and the increase of meter enforcement I may end up bypassing the Ann Arbor downtown area all together. In my opinion I would much rather find a resteraunt that has plenty of free parking out front in a surrounding community than worry about whether or not I have enough change for a parking meter.

If your dining at the IHOP on Ellsworth reduces the amount of time I have to wait for a table at Afternoon Delight, I think I can handle it. Win-win.

But wait: it turns out charging for parking will not only drive people out of downtown Ann Arbor — it will drive them all the way to Oakland County:

Tom at 5:30 PM on August 31, 2011
Hmmm, thanks to A2 DDA Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Clawsen are looking like great spots to visit. Rocheser should be more a value with the new DDA A2 proposals. For a closer venue how about Plymouth?

Not so fast, Tom:   Don’t Royal Oak, Ferndale or (nearby) Birmingham charge for parking til 9 or 10 at night?

A2JD at 3:15 PM on August 31, 2011
Birmingham doesn’t charge at all for the first two hours of parking in their structures. That makes a lot more sense to me if we’re trying to continue attracting people to stores and restaurants downtown. Combine the parking increases with a city income tax, and you have the perfect recipe for encouraging all non-University businesses to leave the city.

I actually might agree with this person re: the income tax, but let’s not muddle the waters.  These prodigies are having a hard enough time keeping up.

BobbyJohn at 3:18 PM on August 31, 2011
I just parked on Main Street in Royal Oak. The cost was 50 cents an hour . Yes, ~ 1/3 of Ann Arbor’s rate. That is the comparison to be made.

You can tell.  No coincidence that Ann Arbor’s downtown is ~1/3 as successful as Royal Oak’s.   True story.

Fine, we’ve established there are differences in rates & enforcement hours between municipalities. Seattle charges $2.50/hour for the top. Parking in Chicago’s Loop was $4.25/hour as of last year.  See also.

vicki honeyman at 5:03 PM on August 31, 201

where do you get the idea that birmingham and royal oak downtowns are doing “pretty well”? have you noticed the increased empty storefronts over the last 5 years in both those cities? they are NOT doing well!

I am certain the increased empty storefronts are entirely due to the cost of parking.  Nothing at all to do with the decade-long Depression southeast Michigan is emerging from.

Besides, you can’t compare us to those places:

Chip Reed at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2011
Birmingham, Royal Oak, and Ferndale are all part of a larger area than Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. It is a rather different situation.

In fact, Ann Arbor is totally unique:

Bill at 4:45 PM on August 31, 2011
@Andy you can hardly compare Seattle and Chicago to Ann Arbor. I’ve been to communities larger than Ann Arbor that are trying to build their downtown areas and offer FREE parking in city lots.

OK, I can’t compare Ann Arbor to RO/Birmingham/Ferndale because they are suburbs of a larger metro area. OK, I can’t compare Ann Arbor to Seattle or Chicago because they are bigger. But it is OK to compare it the other (unnamed) cities which offer free parking?

Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve ever had to pay for parking in Ypsilanti.  We all know how much better Ypsi’s downtown is performing than Ann Arbor’s.

Charles Weaver at 3:55 PM on August 31, 2011:

At some point people are going to stop patronizing downtown businesses. There is elasticity in the demand.

Exactly, all those residents in Kerrytown and the OWS and Germantown, and all the UM students, and all the people who work downtown are going to stop patronizing downtown businesses and go out to Chelsea or Manchester for lunch.

This is the real kicker.  It’s not even an across-the-board increase.  No one is commenting on this, but one-third of the existing meters will actually see a DECREASE.  Read the article:

Meters that consistently have monthly earnings in the top one-third of all meters in the system would be increased to $1.80 an hour, Pollay said. Meanwhile, those meters in the middle would stay at $1.40, and those at the bottom would be reduced to $1.

“Closer in, people pay more. Further out, people pay less,” Pollay said, describing the proposal as a chance for the DDA to help activate the downtown.

The ones they are raising prices on are the ones with the most demand; if somebody isn’t willing to pay the extra 40 cents an hour (again, this is metered, not long term parking), why can’t they park in the middle range meters and (God forbid) walk an extra block or 2?

tim at 5:29 PM on August 31, 2011

Pretty soon it will be 10 cense a minute—– A2 already has a parking problem downtown, I don’t even bother to eat downtown on the weekend or when the students are back. Sure would be nice if all those great restaurants would move out to Westgate.

Ten cense a minute, just like those old Sprint ads.  You know, with the cost of parking, I just can’t figure out why all those businesses haven’t moved out to Westgate yet.  Could it be that the cost of parking is negligible for a couple who is already dropping a hundred dollars or so on dinner & drinks at Pacific Rim?  Or that Blimpie Burger does better business right next to the captive consumers of the UM student ghetto than it would on the edge of town?

Could it be that the proposed change makes no difference at all to the thousands of people who already choose to walk, bike, or take the bus downtown?

The more people who live in or near* downtown = the more people who couldn’t give 2 shits about the hourly rate going up 40 cents at a few meters.

I’ll give these people credit:  they are right to a certain extent.  There are many times I choose not to dine downtown. The cost of parking is usually less of an issue than the hassle of getting around by car downtown.  But there’s a reason for that: Downtowns are meant for walking, not driving.

You whine about paying for parking. You whine about the traffic congestion, which free parking only exacerbates. You whine about those pedestrians and stop lights and cross walks and bikes that get in the way of your car.

You don’t actually want to go downtown, that’s fine. You have plenty of other places with lots of free parking in Ann Arbor.  In fact, you have the more than 700 square miles of the rest of Washtenaw County to drive and park to your heart’s content.  Hang out on Carpenter or Maple or Eisenhower or Plymouth.  Leave us with the precious couple of square miles of central Ann Arbor where people can still live without a car without being a second-class citizen.   But if you choose to come downtown, leave the attitude of entitlement at home.

I realize I’m fighting a losing battle with the brilliant readership of AnnArbor.com, who generally want to go back to Ann Arbor circa 1950.  But if you, like me, think the DDA is making a smart move, contact them to let them know & thank them.

*On second thought, they really need to stay within the official boundaries of downtown.  Any development south of William is going to give Tom Whitaker a heart attack.


2 responses to “DDA hikes parking rates in downtown Ann Arbor. Catastrophe ensues.

  1. Well done. Actually, the DDA did have a very good parking operation until the City Council started treating parking revenues as a cash cow. It is now contributing over $2 million per year to general operation of the city. Thus the purpose of downtown parking (to foster business) is turned on its head. The DDA has sponsored nonmotorized transportation and mass transit enthusiastically and until recently the parking operation was a self-contained, smoothly running mechanism. Now they have to work for maximum yield. Active management of demand makes sense.

  2. Thanks, for a while I thought I might be the only one who thought this was a pretty reasonable proposal. If they allow the 3-tier rates system to go through and permit free short-term (1 hour or so) parking in the structures during the newly extended enforcement hours, I think it stands a good chance of placating the downtown merchants.

    I also agree re: the diversion of revenues to the general operation of the city — I found Dave Askins’ excellent editorial (http://annarborchronicle.com/2011/04/29/column-ann-arbor-parking-%E2%80%93-share-this/) particularly enlightening as to how city council has been using the parking revenue as a piggy bank. I wonder if they have a way to earmark the revenue solely for downtown uses like police and fire. I’m no expert on city finances but it seems like it would be doable.

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