Monday, August 23, 2010

Validating Old Town's Parking Crisis

Validating Old Town’s Parking Crisis
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
August 23, 2010

In her August 12 column, “Parking problems have us in a tight spot,” Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tina Leone mentioned that we the people are creatures of habit for seeking out free or cheap parking locales when heading to Old Town. She is right.

Why would anyone in their right mind willingly pay more money to park their car for the “privilege” of dining or shopping in Old Town when they can do so for free in so many other places. Sure, Old Town is a greater draw than many other places, but when meter parking rates rose from $1 to $1.75 per hour with a two-hour maximum, so too did people’s blood pressure rise.

As is typical of government – the City of Alexandria was extremely short-sighted with the continued gouging of consumers willing to spend money in the city that already adds a city tax to restaurant bills. This is no longer nickel and diming people when a meter fee is $3.50 for two hours, particularly when people spend more than two hours at a time in Old Town.

If the increased meter rates are designed to move traffic in and out of Old Town businesses faster, be careful what you wish for City of Alexandria. Business and restaurant owners can attest to the fact that foot traffic in their establishments has waned, and not just due to the economy, but the inconvenience of having to schlep more quarters around than Rich Uncle Pennybags in the Monopoly® game.

Of the myriad complaints and discussions that have appeared in this paper, one that hasn’t been explored is that of validating parking. Ms. Leone wrote about the parking garages remaining nearly empty while people scavenge the city streets in search of free or cheap parking. Again, she is right; so let’s take it one step further, Ms. Leone.

Offer the incentive of free garage parking, sponsored by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and its participating Old Town members. When someone parks in an Old Town garage and returns with a receipt, for, let’s say a minimum of $5, from an Old Town restaurant or store, stamped by that business, the parking should be free.

This is a win-win proposition. More vehicles will find their way into garages – which, by the way, will keep the vehicle cooler during the stifling summer months, and more short term parkers will use the street spaces, feed the meters and get out of Dodge in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, more businesses will be patronized by shoppers who realize they don’t have to rush back to their cars to feed the meter and simply decide to leave Old Town.

One doesn’t need to pay thousands of dollars for a study to see the wisdom behind this idea. After all, Ms. Leone, you asked the question, “What will persuade visitors to use garage parking instead of street parking or – worse yet – resident parking?” Your words, my solution.

Nordstrom in The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City validates parking for anyone with a Nordstrom credit card or a receipt from that store. Up the street from that mall, the Costco and other shops on
South Fern Street
in Arlington offers a time sensitive validation for parking. There is no doubt I am not the only consumer who would shop elsewhere were parking not validated.

If restaurants and shops want our business, we the people should not have to pay for the “privilege.” What say you, Ms. Leone?

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

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