Tehee: Hit the brakes on talk about downtown Fresno parking

The Fresno BeeSeptember 18, 2013 

U. S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, far right, addresses the crowd as Foxx, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and other dignitaries announced a federal grant of $15.9 million for the reconstruction of the Fulton Mall during an event held at the intersection of the Fulton and Mariposa malls Friday afternoon in downtown Fresno.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Downtown Fresno has its share of problems.

Parking isn't one of them, though it continues to be a topic of discussion in the debate about the future of the city's urban core.

We saw it earlier this month when news came that the city would receive a $16 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation under its TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) program. The money will likely be used to reopen the Fulton Mall to traffic in some form.

Within days of the announcement, people began chiming in about downtown's "parking problem."

One letter to the editor stated it bluntly: Solve parking problem first

Just reading that headline made my skin crawl.

The letter made no mention of what the problem actually is or how the author thought it might be solved. She did blame it for leading folks away from downtown all those years ago, and she says it still deters them from coming back.

The implication, from what I gather, is that downtown would be more appealing if it were like shopping centers across the rest of the city — with acres of ample parking as far as the eye can see.

The whole theory behind opening the Fulton Mall to traffic is that it will spur retail development and economic growth. After all, Fresno is strong in its car culture and consumers like to shop at places within eye line of where they park. But blaming parking for the historic struggles of the entirety of downtown is an oversimplification and the kind of rhetoric that needs to stop.

Here are some points to think about:

There is parking downtown.

The city operates 2,200 metered spots downtown, along with 13 parking garages that have a combined 3,856 spaces. It's just that the spaces aren't laid out in neat rows on a dozen acres of asphalt, so they can be hard to spot.

Seriously, the city could probably do better with its signage, but it does have a hand-dandy page on its website that spotlights each of the parking structures with a map, the numbers of available spaces, the hours of operation and the fees for use. You can find it here.

Of course, we're not just talking about available space.

There are those who seem almost offended at having to put money in a meter or pay to enter a parking garage. It should be noted that the city's meters are enforced from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Here's the truth: No one wants to pay for parking. But they will when there is something worth paying for.

Ask anyone who attended the Fresno Grizzlies Taco Truck Throwdown in August. For blocks around the stadium the metered spots and parking lots were full.

Or, go out to the Fresno Fair on opening weekend if you need further proof that people will pay to park.

Parking is a commodity based on available space, and short of paving over entire sections of downtown (not to give anyone any ideas), it's never going to be as accessible in downtown Fresno as it is outside a Walmart.

That's reality, not a problem to fix.

The issues surrounding downtown are complex enough without clouding the debate with talk about parking.

This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @Joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com

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