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Pay up for parking in Holland

• Apr 20, 2017 at 7:00 PM

Paying for the privilege of enjoying certain amenities has become a way of life, and it’s not a new concept.

Think of any kind of taxes, or basic health care, public education, driving on public roads and, in this day and age, parking.

This week, the City of Holland announced changes to its downtown parking after paying for a $30,000 study by Walker Parking Consultants. The results of the study concluded “employee abuse” was a prime reason for congestion. The upcoming changes include short-term parking spaces, easier-to-read parking signs and the hiring of “parking ambassadors.”

We were flummoxed when we first heard the terms “employee abuse” and “parking ambassadors.” After all, most parking lots in downtown Holland are public lots, free to use by anyone, employees of downtown businesses included. Never mind that employees are also taxpayers who not only work downtown, but also shop and dine at downtown establishments themselves. They have every right to park in any public space as anyone else.

It’s on the businesses if they want their employees to park in some far-away distant lot if they feel it’s affecting sales. It’s not the government’s business to regulate how and where employees park.

As for “parking ambassadors,” where do we even begin? These will be part-time city employees who will encourage downtown employees to “park correctly,” by parking in spaces that are not traditional customer spaces, usually those closest to a business. They will not give out tickets and will have no real authority to force employees to park elsewhere. We’re not sure what the point of that even is.

“It’s all on hopefully people just doing the right thing,” said Amy Sasamoto, interim director of the Downtown Development Authority.

Such a fanciful idea, putting hopes on people doing the right thing. Since when has anyone ever opted to park farther away from their destination without the threat of financial penalty?

The Walker Parking Consultants study initially presented the city with two options to solve parking problems downtown: installing parking meters — which after a start-up cost of $680,000, would net the city upward of $520,000 annually — or time-limited parking. Instead of taking that advice — that the city paid $30,000 for — council came up with this ambassador plan, which will cost $73,000 in startup costs and will be a $40,000 expense annually.

Some time-limited spaces will be implemented after Tulip Time. An order has been placed for 15-minute parking signs and the city will start with 28 of these spots scattered around downtown.

These will amount to nothing more than pick-up and drop-off spots and initial reaction has not been good. Commenters on The Sentinel’s Facebook page were swift to dismiss the idea.

“Who only parks downtown for 15 minutes? Why not have the signs be for an hour or two? That would still push employees to park elsewhere!” said Amy Fagerstrom.

“15 minutes is a bit ridiculous. I understand a time limit, but 15 minutes is not enough time,” said Holly Dykstra Beamer.

“15 min is not enough to park, walk to your destination, make a purchase or whatever and walk back ... let alone have a bite to eat or grab a coffee or beer ... so stupid,” said Chelsea VanderBush.

“I can’t get in and out of JP’s in 15 minutes,” said Shawn M. Miller.

“One of the stupidest things I’ve heard. Next will be take-out parking only in front downtown restaurants,” said Robin Dausman.

We’re not quite with these commenters. There are several businesses that could benefit from this. Banks and restaurants could use these to their advantage for anyone looking to quickly use an ATM or pick up some take-out.

However, one corrective action doesn’t right the collective wrong.

We understand the city wants to keep free parking downtown. And why not? Free parking is great, especially when playing Monopoly. But like the popular, timeless board game, it’s not rooted in reality.

Downtown Holland will not be diminished and the crowds all of a sudden won’t stop showing up just because people will be charged for parking. Meters and pay-to-park garages haven’t driven away crowds in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids or any other city that employs this technique. Visitors to those cities go there expecting to pay a few dollars in order to visit. When we go to Grand Rapids, it’s a surefire bet that we’ll pay $10 to park in a garage.

So instead of paying a “parking ambassador” a few thousand dollars every summer to wag their fingers at employees of downtown business, the city should make the unpopular decision, charge for parking in a few spaces — namely up and down Eighth Street — and make a few bucks in the process that could ultimately pay for expanding snowmelt or other road projects. For city residents, that will be money well spent.

Of course nobody wants to pay for parking, but they will.

— THE HOLLAND SENTINEL

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