STEVE SPELLMAN: Columbia's parking dilemma will work itself out without unnecessary mandates

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | 7:10 p.m. CDT; updated 12:19 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let's imagine that you are an incoming sophomore, moving into a new downtown student apartment development this fall. Raised a suburbanite, you look to where to park your car, but in Columbia's concrete jungle, what would you do?

Say the on-site garage is booked, so you look in a block radius, then farther out. But your new-found habit of circling the block aimlessly for an open spot is not fun, nor is the constant fear of parking tickets.

This, of course, leads you to seek more creative alternatives. Maybe you suck it up and pay through the nose for a pass to a parking garage, blocks away. Or perhaps one of MU's commuter lots is affordable and reasonably convenient. Out of necessity, you then walk or bike more places, try the city bus, or carpool.

A growing critical mass of downtown residents such as yourself might also be more agreeable to closing off a few key city blocks, as the MU campus does beautifully (and functionally). Density is naturally the pedestrian's friend, so car traffic on parts of south Ninth Street could soon become considered an obsolete concept.

Yes, with the boom in MU enrollment and stagnant growth in on-campus dorms, the tsunami of downtown student apartments has put a strain on many services.

Already, we see that more restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and even grocers (!) have already quickly popped up to serve these new neighbors. Electric capacity, sewers and the like are by their nature slower coming — much slower.

But how come the supply of parking hasn't followed other desired services? And why does the city feel a need to mandate it now as a condition for allowing any more central-city beds?

Nature can, and is already, solving this dilemma in creative, decentralized ways.

Density led the city (wisely) a couple years ago to increase on-street meter rates more in line with demand. The city also adjusted hourly spots in parking garages to encourage longer-term parkers to come in, freeing up on-street spots for those valuing convenience.

Now it's all getting overrun, so City Manager Mike Matthes has proposed a $5/month increase on some parking garage permits, and higher parking ticket fines, effective October 1. Both are reasonable moves, considering.

With ever increasing density, developers will be more concerned about tenants parking demands and will more often seek to build their own on-site garages and other creative solutions.

In fact, the Brookside complex at College Avenue and Walnut Street has its own on-site garage. The Broadway hotel made sure to get adequate spots reserved in the city's short street garage next door.

The Tiger Hotel deals with it by offering valet parking. None needed mandates to do so, as I recall; just concern about how to address their respective customers' desires.

Even parking garage entrepreneurs might get interested at some point. But likely prices aren't high enough to make a go of it, like in Chicago or at a Cardinal's game ... yet. Or the real risk that their business model could be destroyed if the city (the established monopolist in this industry) further expands its taxpayer-backed garage empire.

The parking quandary might very well attract auto rental clubs like Zipcar to town, and/or peer-to-peer taxi services such as Uber.

Many cool mediums are possible, though unnatural parking mandates tragically throw a monkey wrench into these organically developing trends. I don't even see this as a matter of political ideology.

I raise a big red flag on parking requirements, which actually mandate that a greater amount of increasingly limited downtown real estate shall, by law, be car parking facilities.

This rather seems like a concoction of an anti-environmentalist, than of our self-described most progressive council in recent memory. 

The parking situation will work itself out, so let's not interfere and have to regret the unintended consequences.

Steve Spellman is a local financial services professional and active observer of local issues. He also hosts "The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum" each Tuesday at 5 p.m. on 89.5FM KOPN radio.

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Steve Spellman August 15, 2014 | 8:14 a.m.

The possibilities continue...already -- with pedicabs, even:

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 15, 2014 | 11:58 a.m.

OR, if your academic thing is science (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, geophysics), mathematics or technology (largest number of ABET-accredited engineering majors available in the United States) just forget all that Columbia nonsense and enroll with us at MS&T, where you'll always be a name and not just a number.

Women are especially welcome, and always have been.

BTW what IS a parking garage? We've heard they exist, but nowhere in these parts. REAL MEN and REAL WOMEN park their pickup trucks and SUVs in the great outdoors!

Contrary to what you may have heard we went to indoor plumbing decades ago.

We even offer a very unique choice of bars: the indoor ones, and the gravel bars located in our scenic Ozark rivers.

(Report Comment)

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