Earlier this morning a Twitter conversation was sparked when the fabulous C. Jane Kendrick pointed out that there are some new parking signs on Center Street:
I had no strong feelings when I first saw these signs, except that I thought it was interesting that they existed. (Significantly, I had walked to downtown.)
This morning on Twitter, however, C. Jane and Scene Sister both pointed out that the situation was problematic: it was confusing and unwelcoming, for example, and unfortunately comes on the heels of the recent towing debate. Those points make sense to me; if parking is confusing to users it can negate the whole point of having it in the first place.
During the Twitter conversation, Provo Economic Development also stated that these new signs are not official:
That tweet links to a picture of a standard downtown parking sign that mentions a two-hour limit but nothing about being a customer.
More than anything else, however, this situation seems to illustrate the problems with free, public, government owned parking. Much as is the case in many residential neighborhoods, where people think they “own” the parking in front of their homes, some business owners apparently felt entitled to the parking in front of their stores. It’s an understandable sentiment and I sympathize with it.
But ultimately in both residential and commercial zones, nearby property owners don’t own public parking. Parking isn’t a constitutional right for anyone — drivers or property owners — and when businesses expect the city to provide it they’re basically asking for a massive donation from the goverment. It amounts to welfare masquerading as something else.
In this case, someone essentially tried to privatize a pubic asset. Usually when that happens, we call it stealing, or at least vandalism. I know that’s harsh, but parking spaces do not belong to business owners, no matter how much they think they need them. (And they may not need them as much as they think.) In any case, this represents what happens when communities spend years throwing away money on parking and auto-centric infrastructure without ever clearly explaining who owns what. Again, free parking is not a right.
Over the long-run, the way to avoid this problem is simply to stop building parking that looks public to some and private to others. Parking structures like those at the Zion’s Bank and Wells Fargo buildings, as well as the one used for the Rooftop Concerts, won’t have this problem because they’re clearly not on the street, in a public-private gray zone.