Common sense best in parking

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By Dave Bell

As the city begins the process of spending millions of dollars to repair streets, upgrade utilities and beautify the appearance of downtown Vandalia, it’s also time to consider carefully the city’s policies governing parking in the central business district.

Currently, the city limits parking to two hours – day and night – on Gallatin Street. Several side streets off of Gallatin Street have two-hour parking between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., with no restrictions on overnight parking.

Sprinkled throughout the downtown area are individual parking spots with 15-minute parking limits – mostly in front of city offices or high-traffic businesses.

But there also are traffic controls that don’t make sense. For instance, a handicapped sign and street insignia remain in front of a former pharmacy in the 500 block of Gallatin Street. That building is now vacant. We need to take a space-by-space inventory of downtown parking and evaluate whether these special restrictions are needed.

The parking problems in the downtown area appear to be twofold.

First, some business owners, customers and downtown residents are not observing the two-hour limit on Gallatin Street. That restricts the number of spaces available to shoppers who want to do business in the downtown area. Studies have shown that customers will abandon their efforts to shop in downtown areas if parking is difficult. At the very least, business owners and employees should park on side streets. Better yet, there are ample spaces available in city parking lots just a few steps away. The exercise to walk to those lots would do us all good.

Second, as more downtown buildings are rehabbed into lofts and apartments, the nighttime two-hour parking restrictions on Gallatin Street are becoming counterproductive. If we’re serious about making the downtown friendlier toward those upstairs residents, we need to allow them to park near their apartments at night. Obviously, they cannot be allowed to continue to park on Gallatin Street after 8 a.m. when merchants open for business.

The city also could designate Gallatin Street a snow route, so parking would be prohibited to allow city workers to clear the street following a snowstorm.

What’s needed is a common-sense approach to the parking. We need to meet the needs of merchants and residents alike. And then we need to enforce the ordinances so that motorists know that there will be consequences if they ignore them.

We’re hoping that’s what emerges from the current study by the city’s streets and sewers committee.