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Toby Barlow Headshot

Parking in Detroit Is Fascinating

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I love this town, but there are times when I think Detroit must be crazy or clinically short sighted or simply cursed (damn you, Nain Rouge!)

Less than a year ago, they extended the hours of downtown parking enforcement till 10 pm. It was a really interesting move, especially since the meters can only be fed one hour at a time. Bewildering. Honestly, I can't stop trying to figure out why they would do something so weirdly strange.

Let's compare Troy to Royal Oak to Detroit. In Troy, you can go to a nice dinner at the Ocean Prime and park in their nice big surface lot. The dinner's not cheap, but the parking's free. And in Royal Oak you can enjoy two hours of free parking in one of their secure and covered lots while you go eat sushi or shop.

But in Detroit, if you park on the street, it's metered until 10 pm, and if you're out for some dinner and music you're going to have to excuse yourself and go feed the meter twice because there's that one hour limit on that meter.

The difference is a philosophical one. In those other cities, everyone understands that making parking available and cheap and stress-free is a wonderful way to get people to drive in for a visit. That's how malls get all that traffic. And the enormous volume of drive-in business generates enormous revenue, which makes it easy to pay for the free parking and for the extra security.

On the other hand, making parking onerous and expensive is a great way to send people looking for a free, open space off where they know they can find one, you know, in places like Troy and Royal Oak.

Now, I've heard that the city has been making street parking more difficult to discourage car break-ins, they want to pressure more drivers to park in the lots. That makes a tiny bit of sense; except the lots are too expensive and not convenient enough and frankly some of them don't even seem that safe.

If the city could figure out an enlightened parking lot system like Royal Oak or Santa Monica's, that would make a big difference. But right now there's nothing about our downtown parking lots that's very user friendly.

The city should act on this. I understand that the city is overstretched with serious issues like crime and schools and the city budget, so this might not seem important. But it is. Over time, doing this right could have big positive impact on business for Detroit.

The parking department could begin by sitting down and exploring the first principles it's operating under. Is increasing parking hours creating real revenue for the city? Doesn't the increase in enforcement hours eliminate much of the gains? Is it worth it if we're scaring people away? Many of the questions we need to ask are even more fundamental, but we should figure them out. Seriously, we're the Motor City, damn it.

Of course, delving into all this could raise deeper questions that go beyond meters and hours and gets into issues like the plague of surface lots that keeps vast acres of Detroit property unusable except during Tigers and Lions games, and maybe we should be asking those questions too.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's start with the simple stuff, let's lose our draconian attitude and let's get some sensible hours on our meters and let's show people looking for parking that we can be just as approachable and friendly as any of our suburban neighbors.

Or else, we can keep driving them away.