Metered parking in downtown Bloomington

Mayor Kruzan’s proposal to implement meters for on-street parking in downtown is on tonight’s City Council agenda, although the council may delay the vote for a few weeks. In the committee of the whole meeting, three councilors voted for Ordinance 13-03 while six abstained. (All nine city councilors are Democrats.)

A number of downtown merchants are worried that charging for parking will hurt their businesses specifically and hurt the vibrant downtown generally. I am not too concerned about attracting shoppers downtown. There are a lot of people who live downtown and within walking distance of local business thanks to development of new apartment complexes, and people accustomed to shopping and eating downtown will probably continue to do so.

My main concern with this proposal is the cost to people who work downtown. On street parking will be out of the question for most people, because it will cost them $45 per week, or over $180 per month. (Recognizing that there are more than 4 weeks in a month and rounding down.) That is far too much of a financial burden to expect most people to be able to absorb into their monthly budget.

People who work downtown will be pushed into the parking garages, which is exactly what the city wants – the garages are a financial drain for the city. That is a lot less expensive than on-street parking, but there are a lot of people who simply do not have an extra $40 every month to plow into a parking permit for one of the garages.

To put that in perspective, that is more than the cost of an “A” permit for Indiana University faculty and staff. Most university staff purchase a “C” permit, the cost of which is $131.64 per year – and university staff frequently complain about the cost of parking. But the cost of a “C” permit for a full year would buy a parking spot in one of Bloomington’s parking garages for less than four months.

Let’s be honest here. This has nothing to do with making sure there is ample on-street parking downtown. The city is losing money on the parking garages and Mayor Kruzan is looking for a way to increase revenue to a city budget that is feeling the pinch. I am not saying that automatically makes this a bad idea, but we need to be honest about why this is being considered. This is about money, not parking policy.

One possible good-faith effort is to revise city government’s personnel policy to prohibit city employees from using on-street parking during the work day. This would free up all of the spaces currently used by city government employees, and county government could implement a similar policy in solidarity with the city.

But with all of the issues surrounding city parking, the one that will have the biggest individual impact is the cost to people who work downtown. There needs to be some sort of compromise to lessen the financial burden those employees will face if this plan is implemented. Perhaps the city could issue reduced cost permits to people who can document that they work downtown. Absent something to prevent a significant burden on downtown workers, Kruzan’s paid parking plan should be either rejected or postponed.