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By Donnabeth Leffler

Downtown Parking Dilemma

By Donnabeth Leffler Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Recently I was able to get together with a dear friend to catch up on each other’s busy summers.  We were able to work out a day when we were both free for lunch and after some back and forth about our options we agreed we’d like to go to one of two downtown restaurants but neither of us, we agreed, wanted to “deal with parking”.

After elaborate logistical planning allowing me to do a necessary errand and then meeting to travel in only one car (to ease the parking search), my clever companion arrived to collect me.  She came with a plan, basically it was an escape route.  We agreed on one circuit through downtown looking for parking and if it wasn’t meant to be, well then, we had a Plan B, and a yummy one at that.  And one with a parking lot.  Let me say that many times Plan B has been my first choice and is very yummy separate from its convenient lot.  

I’ll jump to the end of the story because where we parked is not the point of this column.  We did one circuit and found a nearly empty lot.  We looked at each other and it was if finding an oasis in the desert.  We soon found out why it was empty between noon and 1pm on a weekday:  the broken credit card reader in the payment machine.  We scrounged enough change to get us through lunch, parked and enjoyed our luck, our lunch, and our conversation. 

Of course the point is that we had money to spend, wanted to spend it downtown and were dis-incentivized to do so.  We got past our misgivings and it worked out but notice that I considered it luck.  And the luck came from broken equipment.  

There are a few truths I must offer in the ongoing conversation about downtown and parking:

  1. My friend Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s former Economic Development Officer, used to tell me there’s more public parking than ever available downtown.  I believe him.  
  2. I loved living in and near New York City where there’s no expectation of finding parking anywhere ever. It never kept me from eating in a particular restaurant. 
So why the attitude I describe above?  Part of me thinks it’s because I’m spoiled with being able to go many place by car and park- easily – for free.  But the NYC example points to the opposite; I was quite willing to use my feet, the bus and/or subway and, if in very high heels (I was young), a taxi.  I can’t resist adding here that while parking violations are quickly written in Manhattan, I don’t remember seeing tow trucks waiting for someone to cross the street in order to tow a car. 

Taken together, I’m starting to form a better understanding of the contradictions at the crux of this dilemma.  Now it’s your turn to come up with the answers!  Leave a comment below or write to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com

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