In some ways, parking is a good problem to have.
Yes, it’s a pain when you can’t park right in front of your favorite store. But that circumstance is an indicator of a healthy economy and popular businesses.
Such is the case in downtown Casper, where a successful revitalization effort has attracted new businesses and more visitors to the city’s core. With the increased popularity of downtown has come a rise in parking issues. Some business owners are concerned that their customers can’t reach them because people will take up spots in front of their businesses for the entire day.
In response, the Casper City Council has begun discussing whether to install parking meters in parts of downtown and the Old Yellowstone District. The meters would be used on Wolcott, David, Center and Ash streets, from First Street to Midwest Avenue during daytime hours.
Meters are not a new idea. In fact, they were used downtown before, but the city removed them in 1992 because workers at downtown businesses had to move their cars every two hours to avoid a fine.
Reinstalling parking meters might seem like a relatively simple solution, given downtown’s increased popularity. But we believe there are other, more measured steps the city could first take to address downtown parking issues.
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The first is better enforcement of the existing rules. The city already has a two-hour downtown parking limit during the day. As happens in other towns, police here could mark tires on cars parked downtown, and if they return two hours later and the marks are still there, issue a ticket.
Those who work downtown can also address the problem by using the city’s parking garage or less crowded streets, leaving the prime parking spots to customers. After all, if there are people parking all day downtown, it’s likely they are not shoppers.
And to be sure, parking meters bring with them their own set of consequences. People in Casper are accustomed to parking for free downtown. If shoppers are suddenly required to pay, they might take their businesses elsewhere. It would be a shame to discourage downtown visitors just as the revitalization effort is paying dividends.
It’s important to remember that parking meters make the most sense in places where there are simply not enough spots. And that’s not the case in Casper. A study published last year found that Casper’s downtown has plenty of parking. The study found that even during the busiest times of the day, demand never exceeded more than half of the parking supply.
Given all of those considerations, it would make the most sense for the City Council to try less aggressive steps first. If those approaches don’t work, the council could then reconsider taking the metered approach. But it would be a mistake to hastily implement a solution that might drive away the exact people that city officials have been working so long to attract downtown.