Parking Meter Pandemonium

03/11/2014 § 4 Comments

By Rachel Joseph, First Year Experience Intern

I understand the rationale behind the new parking meters. I really do. Not only do they raise more money for our city, but they also discourage people from unnecessarily driving to and around downtown when they can walk, bike, skate, ride public transportation, or in some fantastic cases, whip out their old school Razor scooter for a whirl. While my opinion and knowledge of the former monetary incentive is somewhat lacking, I can fathom the importance of the latter motive—encouraging more environmentally friendly transportation. By erecting more meters downtown, and by keeping them open until 10pm, people capable of walking, biking, or bussing to and around downtown are more likely to ditch their cars and take advantage of alternative modes of transportation.

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Parking a bike is free!

While the new parking meters have the potential to discourage automobile use and decrease Bloomington’s CO2 emissions, I don’t believe most people see it this way. This includes myself a lot of the time. The new meters feel more like a punishment than a present, a hindrance rather than an opportunity. All I’ve heard from folks since the meters’ appearance are complaints, criticisms, and protests. Indeed, what did the city expect?

One cannot hope to change an entire city’s automobile-dependent culture simply by adding more restrictive parking regulations. It may be true that fewer people drive downtown since the meters popped up, but I don’t think it’s because they understand the environmental benefits of leaving their cars at home. Rather, they drive downtown less because it is no longer as convenient to park, and that is all people see. The parking meters are currently viewed negatively; many people are not happy about them. People need to be open to the benefits of these meters and they need to be happy. If the meters are to be effective, successful, and approved of by the general public, other changes must be made to Bloomington’s culture and infrastructure.

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IU student Brian pouts at a parking meter and mounts his bicycle.

Not only are fewer people driving downtown, but fewer people are actually going downtown. This fact is very problematic for the small businesses that allow our community and its economy to thrive. A manager at Cactus Flower, a local clothing store downtown, reported that the shop has experienced a decline in business over the past six months. This is not a coincidence. Since the meters were installed, Cactus Flower, as well as many other businesses downtown, has experienced a decrease in customer traffic and sales. Folks are less likely to spend an afternoon meandering downtown, browsing the shops, and enjoying a meal when they have to worry about a long walk in poor weather conditions or running back to feed the meter that towers menacingly over their car.

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What use is a walking signal if nobody walks?

The other evening, I came across two young adults around 8pm who had just parked their car on 4th St. While they searched their pockets for coins, I approached Alex and Brad to ask their opinion of the new meters. “They’re open too late,” Brad stated. “I don’t understand why they run until 10pm, Monday through Saturday.” Alex agreed, saying that “[the meters] aren’t good for local businesses.” Alex, who used to work at local restaurant Trojan Horse and has a friend who works at Alley Bar, reported that they both noticed their employers’ businesses suffering from the new meters. Alex and Brad stated that since the meters were installed, they both go downtown less frequently, although now they are more motivated to take one car rather than two. Neither stated an increase in their biking, walking, or bussing activities.

On the other hand, Bloomington resident and IU senior Lily, who has worked at Urban Outfitters for nearly four years, has been walking and biking downtown more since the meters were installed: “I don’t mind it when it’s nice outside,” Lily said, “but if I have to work and it’s –7 degrees, I’d much rather drive than walk to work.” Certainly, this harsh winter has made walking long distances more challenging. Although Lily was more approving of the meters than Alex and Brad, she expressed a similar disapproval of the new meters’ extended hours, which interferes with her work. Lily stated that she wished Bloomington would build a parking lot or garage for persons employed by businesses on Kirkwood Avenue: “I bet I’ve spent over $100 on parking since I started working at Urban,” Lily said, “and I don’t even drive to work every day like a lot of people.” Lily also said that she was astonished by how much money the new meters have been making for the city since they were installed, a number that is frequently reported in The Herald-Times. “I don’t really see them doing anything with the money,” Lily said. She suggested that Bloomington use the money to repair the multitude of potholes that have unfortunately sprung up around the city’s streets this winter.

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A car pulls out of the parking garage located at 4th St and Walnut St, in which the first three hours are free.

Almost everyone seems to have been affected by the new parking meters: from delivery drivers, to business owners, to employees on Kirkwood, to the general public. Few with whom I’ve spoken fully approve of the meters, which is problematic. Similarly, few people know of the new parking meter smartphone app that facilitates meter use. You can learn more about the app online here. There also appears to be limited public knowledge of the fact that in several of the parking garages around town, the first three hours of parking are free—a money-saving option for downtown drivers. Read up on downtown Bloomington’s parking garage and meter policies here, and click here to view a map of Bloomington’s public parking garages and lots.

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The rates of the public parking garage on 4th and Walnut St

If the City of Bloomington hopes to affect change in public opinion and behavior, more steps must be taken to reshape our automobile-obsessed culture. Not only should the parking meter app and free parking garage hours be better publicized, but Bloomington should organize a publicity/media campaign linking the new meters to the benefits of alternative, environmentally friendly transportation. If we want Bloomington citizens and visitors to walk, bike, and bus as opposed to drive, we need to change not only our parking regulations, but also our city’s infrastructure, education, and opportunities.

Although I’m no city planner, there are changes Bloomington can make to shift our city’s emphasis on roads to other modes of travel. Most American cities are centered on streetscapes, forcing citizens to drive to get anywhere. Imagine the difference a trolley or subway system would make in Bloomington. Imagine a clearly identified bike lane on every road. Imagine our city with more convenient bus routes, easily accessible carpool programs, and trusted bike share initiatives. Imagine a city built around sidewalks, pathways, and parks instead of streets, traffic lit intersections, and “one way” road signs. Other attempts could be made to ease the public into an environment dedicated to pedestrians, such as informative and entertaining events, shows, and lectures. Indiana University could be an amazing resource for Bloomington in the education and promotion of greener transportation. Posters, guides, and educational forums could also be used to show the public how the new meters can be beneficial and how people can change their behavior and lifestyle to save money, reduce CO2 emissions, and have a healthy stroll downtown.

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IU student Brian takes a leisurely bike ride to reach his destination.

Our culture is a tricky thing—it’s complicated and it’s pervasive, but it’s not static. It is possible to affect a dramatic change in our culture from automobile to alternative transportation. Not only is a city of walkers, bikers, bussers, and Razor-scooter-ers conceivable, but a city of folks who would rather walk than drive is achievable. If we can find ways to educate our citizens and facilitate environmentally friendly transportation, I guarantee that parking meters will be the last thing on Bloomington’s mind. The crosswalk paint has been fading for too long. Pedestrians have the right of way.

Speak up! If you have an opinion about the new parking meters that you would like to share, fill out this online survey and let your voice be heard!

Helpful Resources:

  • Indiana University is already leading the way in sustainable campus transportation solutions, offering several programs and educational materials to facilitate green, alternative transportation. Learn more about sustainable travel at IU here. Explore local programs and alternative transportation options near you here.
  • The IUOS website is a gold mine of transportation information. Click here to learn about the various transportation options in Bloomington, weigh your choices, and travel well whatever mode you choose. You can read about traveling beyond Bloomington, the Campus Bus and Bloomington Transit, car & ride sharing, biking, and walking.
  • Are you an RA, student, professor, or administrator looking to teach students about alternative transportation in Bloomington? There’s a downloadable & printable guide just for you! Learn how to utilize our city’s excellent public transportation system and explore the great bike and pedestrian facilities available to the public here in Bloomington. Click here to access the guide. To download more sustainability resources (tour guides, DIY projects, pre-made bulletin board kits, program & event guides) to use with students check out the RPS Staff Resources website!
  • Love our blog? Love alternative transportation? Check out more blog articles about bicycling and alternative transportation here
  • Need to know if you’re going to catch your bus? There’s an app for that! Download the DoubleMap Buss Tracker app to your smartphone to see where Bloomington Transit and Indiana University busses are in real time!
  • The B-Line Trail is an excellent way to safely travel Bloomington without a car. The trail extends a total of 3.1 miles from the east side of Adams Street, through the downtown, through the switchyard property, and to the north side of Country Club Drive. Learn more about the B-Line here and here.
  • The Bloomington Community Bike Project is a local cooperative that helps people recycle bikes into the community. Whether you have one to give, don’t have one and need one, need to fix one that is on the skids, or want to volunteer to help people do all of the above—this is the place to come!
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All blog photos taken by Rachel Joseph

This blog article contains the opinions of author Rachel Joseph and is meant to be constructive, not critical.

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§ 4 Responses to Parking Meter Pandemonium

  • angebabb says:

    It’s interesting to hear about the experience of local businesses around the downtown area. The fact that they are losing customer traffic is indeed problematic. I’m actually clueless about what the parking meter monies are actually funding – that would be something interesting and important to follow up on, and may ease the public indignation toward the meters. I, myself, have a love-hate relationship with them, and the love part comes from my deep respect for sustainable development. I’ve heard from several others who see it as simply a gentrifying mechanism. You’re right to bring up this contentious issue – it’s important to discuss these things! Thanks for all the helpful links!

    • rljoseph says:

      Apparently the survey linked at the bottom of the blog is currently not functioning. I hope it will be back up soon because there were questions concerning what should be done with the money coming from the meters. I’m not sure if the survey authors were just curious, or if public opinion gathered from the survey would really impact the money flow. I’d like to imagine public opinion carries at least some weight. If I can learn more about this, I’ll be sure to blog about it. Thanks for the comment!

  • soichih says:

    FYI.. The online survey form is broken at the moment
    > “The requested page cannot be retrieved due to a server error.”

    I am a bike-commuter and this winter I’ve been biking to work if the temperature is above 20F.. I’ve been quite toughen up this winter!

    Has city not conducted any scientific studies on the impact of parking meters on local businesses? I would be surprised if they haven’t, and I would even be more surprised if the result showed that it was negative impact to the local business. This article seems to simply assume that it has a negative impact. Where is the proof?

    I really agree with the point made that during winter and on very cold days, people wouldn’t want to ride bike / walk to downtown for window shopping. During winter, they should even not run a meter and publicize that the parking are free – in order to promote businesses during the time of slower business with or without parking restrictions.

    • rljoseph says:

      Uh oh. Thanks for letting me know about the survey. I’ll see if I can figure out who to contact about getting it back up and running. That’s really a shame that it’s not working…conspiracy!!

      It doesn’t appear as though the city has conducted any scientific research regarding the meters’ impact on local businesses. When the survey was functioning, it stated clearly in the introduction that the survey’s questions weren’t for scientific scrutiny, but that they were just to get a general impression of citizen opinions and record any trends or consensuses. The first I heard of how the meters have been negatively affecting local businesses came from word of mouth. Then I did some research and interviewed several folks who work(ed) downtown who told me how their businesses have been affected. Also, The Herald-Times has reported on the subject. If you have a subscription, you can read the articles on their website. Here is a link: http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/parking-meters-a-bust-for-bloomington-businesses/article_1eb8cfa1-1c4a-5feb-b1c5-2693fa0720e8.html

      And if only the meters had been turned off this winter! Walking and biking was near torture during the negative temperatures! Hopefully as the weather becomes milder, people will begin to see the meters as an opportunity to walk/bike/bus more often rather than a reason to be angry.

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