Guest Opinions

Boise needs a better parking plan to keep customers, stores Downtown

Boise city is proposing to charge for parking Downtown on Saturdays and evenings.
Boise city is proposing to charge for parking Downtown on Saturdays and evenings.

As a Downtown business owner, I fear the current proposal to raise prices and fines, extend enforcement hours to 8 p.m. during the week and charge for Saturday parking is going to kill business as patrons simply opt out of Downtown altogether.

We need to make parking more affordable, available and accessible for business owners, employees and, especially, residents of Boise who are increasingly discouraged from visiting Downtown due to parking difficulties and costs.

Some businesses and customers have made an exodus from Downtown, choosing spots in Eagle and Meridian, like The Village. This new proposal does not encourage great, vibrant businesses to stay or come to Downtown Boise, nor does it work toward an invigorated Downtown that the community will want to visit. Unfortunately, it will do the opposite.

Boise business owners and employees already have limited options. Many existing garages and lots are at capacity for monthly passes and the waiting lists are long. Many small, local businesses can’t afford to pay for all of their employees’ parking, and asking employees to pay $12-$15 a day for parking is a major deterrent for job-seekers. That can amount to 1.5 or 2 hours (or 20 to 25 percent) of their day’s wage. It makes attracting good help challenging.

We need a viable, efficient alternative to offset the ramifications of increased prices, enforcement and fines. Before making parking more costly and difficult, we need to invest in a robust, viable and effective public transit option that people can and want to use. In the meantime, we should keep parking affordable and increase its availability while we work toward that long-term solution. The lack of a robust and viable alternative coupled with squeezing out those unable or unwilling to pay increased fees is a recipe for disaster.

Price gouging, lengthening enforcement hours and increasing fines is the wrong thing to do. Will this create more parking spaces? Probably – because people will be discouraged from coming Downtown. This is not in the best interest of the city or those of us who rely on those customers for our livelihoods.

The city’s plan to maintain supply and raise prices to force the demand to fall is not a forward-thinking strategy. Downtown business is centered around food, drink, shopping and entertainment, all of which are “stay awhile” establishments. We should encourage people to come Downtown and support many different businesses while down there. Instead, visitors’ main concern will be on how much more they’ll have to pay for parking — or a ticket, if they make that extra stop to support another local business.

The idea of popping in and out is great for a pharmacy or grocery store, and table turnover is a key concept for a restaurant. But for a vibrant Downtown metropolis, we should want people to stay and enjoy all that Downtown has to offer without the extra hassles this proposal offers.

Parking is undoubtedly going to be a growing pain as Boise grows. But we need to create more accessible and affordable options, not squeeze the existing ones for as much revenue as possible. There are plenty of unused or under-utilized areas in Downtown that could be converted to lots or garages. There are plenty of large lots that are permit-only for employees of certain businesses during the day that sit empty at night because of threats of tickets and towing. Those could be strategically opened up in the evenings.

I don’t have all of the answers, and every solution surely comes with its possible downsides. But creating further barriers for Boiseans who are already disillusioned with Downtown parking seems to be the wrong direction and I hope the Boise City Council will agree.

Kasey Allen is co-owner of the ice cream shop The STIL (Sweetest Things in Life) on Broad Street in BoDo.