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Eugene Can Make Evening Parking Easier

March 1st, 2019 by dk

Eugene’s parking rates are going up. There may not have been an official announcement yet, but the conclusion is foregone. Deferred maintenance bills are coming due. Car-pooling and public transit should be encouraged. Parking hikes do that.

Downtown has filled up as an employment center. The city no longer feels a need to incentivize downtown employers with discounted parking permits. It’s not unusual for one of the parking garages to be full for parts of the day. That never used to happen.

If ever a price increase was good news, this is it. But price increases are never good news. Those handing over extra nickels and dimes will not be in the mood to celebrate downtown’s resurgence. We’re just not wired that way.

Savvy businesses soften that emotional blow by mixing the message: “Your new phone will cost more, but we’re giving you more color choices.” “Our hamburger prices have gone up, but our buns are now organic and we’re making our own pickles.” “We raised the ticket prices, allowing us to invite schoolchildren to attend, free of charge.”

Parking doesn’t lend itself to value-add messaging. You park, you pay. There’s not much more to it. Improved lighting, enhanced signage, and updated elevators are about all the city can offer. Most parking is free in the evenings, so there are no real opportunities there.

Or are there?

The University of Oregon is dotted with small parking lots, and most require a permit during the day. Most of these lots are free for the public to use in the evenings. The city of Eugene has done the same with its garages. Most downtown surface lots are privately owned, reserved for employees to use during the day, and empty every night.

If Eugene wants to add more bustle to its downtown, there’s plenty of room to grow during the evening hours. Adding more surface parking options would make downtown a more attractive destination for more people. Some don’t feel safe navigating a parking garage at night and don’t want to hunt for on-street parking.

Restaurants and theaters at the city center would love to be able to see more patrons after dark. More parking options would certainly help. Banks and other businesses with empty parking lots is not a good look. We can fix that.

The city would rent the privately held lots for the evening hours. The city would carry liability insurance, hire a security and maintenance crew, and guarantee that each lot would be empty and clean before employees arrived for work the next morning.

It wouldn’t be an easy transition for many business owners, but the city has leverage. Leaders could make it easier for nighttime businesses to approach nearby daytime businesses to share resources. Restaurant A gets free parking after dark. Call Center B gets employee lunch discounts.

City Council could get more aggressive. Using a variant of its anti-blight powers, downtown businesses could be forced to open their empty spaces for the public benefit. Downtown can become more inviting to more people for more hours every week. Changes in parking policies and rates can help.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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