There’s Nowhere To Park Downtown! (Not) City Announces Parking Changes

Market Square Garage during Rhythm and Blooms, Knoxville, Spring 2012 (a good problem)

Market Square Garage during Rhythm and Blooms, Knoxville, Spring 2012 (a good problem)

It’s the only topic guaranteed to be discussed in every city the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. Generations of us have lived in suburbs where the parking expectation is that we park in front of the door we expect to enter. The only garage we want to encounter holds each of our three cars and it’s attached to our house – because we don’t want to get wet!

Urban areas don’t generally offer such options, so discussions and arguments about cars in general, and parking specifically, rage onward. On the one hand, people like me insist there is more than enough parking if people would only be willing to take a (healthy) walk from their cars, while others get angry when they get a parking ticket, refuse to use garages even when they are free or insist on using only their favorite garage every time they drive into the city.

So, what is a city government to do? Build more garages and widen roads while driving people like me insane or narrow roads and clamp down on space devoted to cars while enraging the suburban masses? It’s a conundrum and not one I’d like to have on my shoulders.

The answer is that the plan is ever evolving. Bill Lyons pointed out last night that no one cared a few years back because very few cars drove downtown and they found what seemed to be an ocean of parking relative to the cars. No one bothered with enforcement because what difference did it make? Those days, happily, are gone.

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Regulations, Knoxville, May 2016

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Regulations, Knoxville, May 2016

The city is now making their most recent attempt to provide parking regulation that is “rational, fair and effective,” in Bill Lyon’s words. Changes will take place July 1 designed to address a number of problems such as a patchwork of parking rules downtown, meters that don’t work and uneven enforcement. As it’s evolved over the years, there have been changes both good and bad. He mentioned that Gay Street used to be four lanes until people simply started, of their own volition, parking by the curbs, reducing the street to two lanes.

The changes are a result of an extensive examination of best practices and fundamental principles in the study of parking. Rick Emmett, particularly, has attended a number of conferences and seminars on the topic. One feature the city will retain in the face of credulity on the part of other cities: free night and weekends in garages. No other city does it that I know of and I’m not sure it’s a great idea at this point in our evolution, but it’s certainly popular, so it will remain.

It’s interesting to know the breakdown of available parking in the city. We have 596 street spaces, 5,066 spaces in garages and parking lots and 2500 in the Coliseum garage. Counting the Coliseum, 93% of all downtown spaces are in parking lots or garages. What does this tell us? That the street spaces are the luxury spot and that we’ve completely underutilized a great asset in the parking garage located beside the Knoxville Coliseum.

We also have long-term and short-term rates for parking meters. Short term is sometimes 50 cents per hour and sometimes $1 with a two-hour limit, with no obvious reason for the variation. Long-term metered parking is 15 cents per hour with a ten-hour limit. Some spaces have no meters, but are limited to two hours. Most rates haven’t changed in more than ten years. With most garage spaces costing $1 per hour, the luxury spots (street parking) cost less than the bulk of the spots.

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Meters, Knoxville, May 2016

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Meters, Knoxville, May 2016

Monthly parking rates are also interesting (and cheap by any city standard). Full rates range from $20 in the Coliseum parking garage to $40 in the Jackson Avenue lot to $85 in the Market Square garage. Downtown residents are given half-off these rates.

So, given this hodgepodge, what does the city plan to do? For a start, new meters (which will be black, not grey like the one pictured) will be installed throughout downtown. These meters actually monitor the spots and have the capacity to be linked to apps which will notify the Public Building Authority (who will monitor downtown parking with the aid of additional officers) when a meter has expired. They also have the capacity to notify drivers where spots are available – but there is no app. at this time. They’ll accept coins (for a range of times) or credit cards for a minimum amount of time required.

Meter rates will increase to $1.50 per hour for short-term parking spaces with the goal of promoting regular turnover and striving for an 85% occupancy rate, which is considered by the industry to be ideal. Long-term meters (the north side of the Gay Street viaduct, for example) will double to 30 cents per hour. Hours will also become consistent: Monday through Saturday, 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM everywhere except Gay Street and the immediate area around Market Square, which will be 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Monthly rates will also change. The full rate will increase $5 per month to $80, or $2.50 for residents to $40. Conversely, monthly parking in the Coliseum garage will decrease from $20 a month to $15 per month. Dr. Lyons pointed out that a free trolley passes the Coliseum garage every seven to eight minutes and that the walk from there to Gay Street is five minutes.

So, if you work downtown, you have an option of parking in a garage near Gay Street for $80 a month or taking a short trolley ride from the Coliseum and paying $15 a month. Easy decision, to me. Someone present even pointed out that for someone who comes downtown often, it would be worth getting the monthly pass from the Coliseum and not worrying with paying for parking each trip downtown.

Walnut Street Garage, Futre Home of Enterprise Car Rental, Knoxville, October 2015

Walnut Street Garage, Knoxville, October 2015

More changes will come. That app should be down the pike. Increased (and I assume similar) technology will be added to the garages. Changes may be made if portions of this approach don’t work. I have to say it all makes sense to me, though I think our rates are still extremely low. I also wonder if we haven’t passed that point where free parking in garages nights and weekends is a worthwhile idea. Parking isn’t really ever free.

Also, regarding enforcement, if you are one of the people who have banked on the lack thereof, you need to understand it is about to be enforced very well. If you are someone who accumulates parking tickets and never bothers to pay, be prepared to have your car towed the next time you have a parking violation.

So, what do you think? Sensible? Draconian? What would you do if you were the parking czar of the city?

Finally, a programming note: I’m going to take a couple of days off this weekend. You’ll get your Ten Day Planner on Sunday, but no Saturday Sounds and I’m taking Memorial Day to be with my family. I hope you’ll do the same. I’ll return Tuesday, but soon thereafter I will revert to my traditional summer schedule of somewhere around three posts per week (besides the planner). My staff needs a little down time to relax and travel around a bit.

Is Knoxville the “Boulder of the East?”

Vista from the Trail to Laurel Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Summer 2014

Vista from the Trail to Laurel Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Summer 2014

I’ve heard about Boulder, Colorado since sometime in the 1970s. In the 1960s it became a gathering point for some members of the counter-culture and I had friends who moved there a few years later. They were the first people who told me I would love it there. A pretty long list of people have told me that since, though I’ve never made it to the city.

That’s why it caught my eye last week when a Denver Life article used the headline, “Knoxville, Tennessee: The “Boulder of the East.” It turns out whomever visited or at leas wrote about Knoxville talked to Kim Bumpas of Visit Knoxville who is quoted in the article as saying she often hears the sentiment from visitors. Still, it must have resonated to some degree with the writer who used it in the caption.

The article points out that Frontier Airlines flies directly from Denver to Knoxville and that our city would make a good long-weekend getaway. So what were the features that someone who lives so close to the actual Bouler highlight? They said any vacation spot they’d highlight must have, “An outdoor playground, delicious eats and equally great microbrews. Oh, and add to that a cool cultural scene.”

Eastern Side of Market Square, 400 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, May 2015

Eastern Side of Market Square, 400 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, May 2015

As an overview, they noted a, “burgeoning culinary scene . . . (and)  Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness boasts 1,000 forested acres with 40 miles of multi-use trails for hikers, bikers and runners just outside of downtown. Museums, live music and a gorgeous theater with a Hollywood backstory” all seemed to catch their attention.

Specifically, on the food front they mentioned Stock and Barrel and Bar Marley as well as the “steadily growing,” craft beer scene. The Blue Plate Special and the Tennessee Theatre were highlighted, and they noted other similarities, “Like Boulder, Knoxville is a college town, home to the University of Tennessee; has a pedestrian mall, Market Square, that’s reminiscent of Pearl Street; and is fitness-oriented.”

What followed were a list of suggestions of how to spend three days in our city. These included exploring the Tennessee River and they specifically mentioned Billy Lush Board Shop with its paddleboards, while also suggesting the unique experience of paddleboarding in a local quarry.They suggested a Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine cocktail at Windows on the Park. Also on the itinerary, catch a show at the Tennessee Theatre and visit the Knoxville Zoo, as well as zipline and explore Ijams Nature Center.

Inuksuit at Ijams, Big Ears, Knoxville, 2016

Inuksuit at Ijams, Big Ears, Knoxville, 2016

And, of course, there’s the beer. Noting that we’ll have sixteen to eighteen breweries by the end of the year, they suggested taking a ride on Knox Brew Tours and gave a shout-out to Pretentious Glass. They suggested a little out-of-town trip to Oak Ridge and the American Museum of Science and Energy, as well as catching a Blue Plate Special performance at WDVX, while enjoying a “savory smoked salmon crepe from The French Market Creperie.”

They also mentioned a familiar icon, stating, “One of the first things you’ll notice in Knoxville is the sparkly gold Sunsphere along the city’s skyscape. Almost resembling a disco ball, the hexagonal Sunsphere served as a symbol of the 1982 World’s Fair held in Knoxville.” They suggested, “Take in a panoramic view of the city, the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee River by making dinner reservations at Primo Ristorante Italiano, located on the fifth floor of the structure.”

Those are pretty cool things to do during a visit. One might quibble around the edges and make other suggestions, but to someone who’d never been here, that list would make for a pretty good impression, I suspect. But the question still remains: Are we at all like Boulder, Colorado?

Cyclists Spotted Just Before and After Meeting, Knoxville, April 2015

Cyclists Spotted Just Before and After Meeting, Knoxville, April 2015

Politically liberal Boulder would, no doubt, be to the left of Knoxville, though both cities are likely to the left of their respective states in general. Events like the “Naked Pumpkin Run,” and the thousands who celebrated 4/20 with massive celebrations of marijuana before it was legal are had to imagine in Knoxville.

Similarities do abound, however. Boulder is known for its outdoor recreation and is surrounded by reserves, parks and opportunities for rock climbing. We are certainly pursuing a similar vibe with our commitment to the Urban Wilderness and greenways throughout the city. If there are connections, this may be the strongest. Second to that would likely be the similarities between our town center – Market Square – and their town Center, Pearl Street.

But the list of accolades won by Boulder is daunting (From Wikipedia):

  • The 10 Happiest Cities – # 1 –[53]
  • Top Brainiest Cities – No. 1 –[54]
  • Ten Best Cities for the Next Decade – 4th – Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine[55]
  • Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index – No. 1 – USA Today[56]
  • Best Cities to Raise an Outdoor Kid – No. 1 – Backpacker Magazine[57]
  • America’s Top 25 Towns to Live Well – No. 1 –[58]
  • Top 10 Healthiest Cities to Live and Retire – No. 6 – AARP magazine[59]
  • Top 10 Cities for Artists – No. 8 – Business Week[60]
  • Lesser-Known LGBT Family-Friendly Cities – No. 1 –[61]
  • America’s Foodiest Town – No. 1 – Bon Appetit magazine[62]
  • Queerest Cities in America 2015 — No. 10 —[63]
Fred Eaglesmith Traveling Steam Show, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2016

Fred Eaglesmith Traveling Steam Show, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2016 ranked Boulder as the fifth best place in the country to live in 2015. In explaining why it ranks so highly, the online journal noted the high level of recreational facilities and the forward-thinking policies that help make the city vibrant and resilient. They’ve also become a foodie mecca, have a strong craft beer scene and a mature and still-growing tech industry. Their support of biking and other alternative transportation also boosts them in the ranking.

It’s an impressive list. Do we measure up? Are we closing the gap where we fall short? We’re certainly closing it in terms of breweries and our culinary climate continues to improve. We are extremely pet-friendly which is also true for Boulder. Our efforts in alternative transportation falls significantly short of theirs, which makes sense given it’s been a point of emphasis for them for decades and only more recently is that the case in Knoxville.

In a lot of respects, it would seem we have a long way to go to be considered similar to Boulder, but then we have our own advantages and charm. I don’t know how you measure friendliness and warmth, but surely we’d be competitive with any city on that front. I like to think our climate may also be a bit kinder, though maybe not, if you like to snow ski.

View of Market Square from TVA Plaza, Knoxville, May 2016

View of Market Square from TVA Plaza, Knoxville, May 2016

So, maybe the analogy doesn’t hold up completely. I’m not sure it needs to. We’ve got an up-and-coming city with many things to offer and more on the way. Knoxville is a better city than it was just a few short years ago and there is no evidence that we’ve hit our limit. What do you think? I’m sure a number of you have been to Boulder. Is there a similarity? Is it a place we’d like to emulate?

Still, all this talk of Boulder has given me the itch to go there. And realizing Frontier sells reasonably-priced direct-flight tickets only ads to the draw. Maybe I’ll visit that city and report back what I find. Maybe I’ll proclaim them the “Knoxville of the West!”


Let’s Get Outside and Celebrate Who We Are: Bike, Boat, Brew and Bark

Trolley, Knoxville, May 2016

I've heard several discussions recently about our identity or identities as a city. Are we the home of the Vols? The guardians of the Sunsphere? We'll always be those things, for sure, but we've got so much more going on and Visit Knoxville invites … [Continue reading]

New Restaurant Coming to Downtown: Blue Slip Bistro

Blue Slip Winery, 300 W. Depot Ave., Knoxville, May 2016

Blue Slip Winery continues to evolve in its home at the Southern Railway Station. In January, 2014, the move from its Old City location was announced and it held its grand opening in November 2014. Owner Linn Atchley-Slocum has continued to explore … [Continue reading]

How About a Pint of Science

Sadly, for me, my enjoyment of science went south sometime in my middle school years. It was probably me, but I remember harsh, uninspired teachers. It probably wasn't the subject and it's likely I didn't give the teachers much of a chance. But who … [Continue reading]