Parking tensions can be eased by serving the customer

October 24, 2014
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It’s a different year and it’s a different “outside consultant,” but the issue remains the same: The downtown area has again reached the tension point for parking.

Grand Rapids Parking Services commissioners have now reviewed a study that evaluates the overall demand and recommends long-term solutions, from management to enforcement. Business owners have been feeling the pinch, especially in the areas immediate to the Van Andel Arena. It’s the “pinch” of spaces available to customers and to employees and the “pinch” of pricing.

The problem is fast becoming more serious as new developments for downtown housing and retail are finished and several more begin, some of them in former parking lots sold by the city to the developers.

Parking costs and lack of availability were cited two weeks ago as the reason Advantage Sales is moving 300 employees to a suburban office park. It isn’t the only company to do so.

Lest any “outside consultant” throw fuel on the flames already evident, the parking commission — under the watchful eye of the city commission — must make recommendations based more on customer demand and customer service. Taxpayers have already paid the tax dollars used to build the lots and ramps, and especially the downtown property owners who pay continuing assessments for the glory of the district location.

Raising rates again (last increased in July 2013) is not the first remedy for consideration, although a review of the current rate structures in specific zones is an important recommendation for implementation.

What is not among the recommendations at this time is consideration of additional ramps or a moratorium on sales of existing lots for development. Such planning should be included in the study. The Business Journal understands the level of frustration from parkers is as high as it is among urban planners and developers who view parking lots as a waste of space. The tension must be balanced with creative solutions.

The city deserves kudos for its transportation planning with The Rapid, which offers every conceivable service from free shuttle service north and south of downtown, employee pickup vans and, most recently, the Silver Line BRT, which all augment “regular” bus routes. But in today’s fast-paced environment, there is relatively little predictability in any work day — or the length of it.

What “outside consultants” often don’t see is the DNA of a Grand Rapidian. Grand Rapids and West Michigan have many unique features; some are rooted in a region that is home to a vast array of automotive supplier networks in a state most famous for invention of the automobile. It’s that “car mentality thing” again; it’s the Grand Rapids customer. That’s who the city serves, right?

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