Hurray For Rocky: Parking

Parking and traffic aren’t as sexy as new malls or theaters, billion dollar bonds, intense rivalries between the founding institutions of the city, or a national campaign to impeach the president. Parking and traffic won’t make the headlines of national and local news stores about our mayor’s legacy in January. What parking and traffic are is the lifeblood of commerce and the texture of day to day life.

Our mayor has given us unprecedented leadership finding ways for citizens and businesses to get together in our downtown. Visionaries like Rocky aren’t known for focusing to get the details correct right down to the stripes painted on the street but we are lucky to have a mayor who does.

About ten years ago the nation’s urban planners took note of experiments in Pennsylvania with back-in angled street parking. There is considerable evidence that it reduces collisions and makes traffic smoother while allowing easier loading on occasions when large items go into the trunk. It’s not for every street and needs to be evaluated and tested at each location.

Environmental Advisor Lisa Romney brought up the subject with Rocky early in his first term and he had already heard of it and wanted to try a demonstration. This is a common pattern with Rocky; when you first hear of a new idea in the research some technical specialty in public affairs, Rocky has already read the paper and thought about the possibilities for Salt Lake City.  As soon as plans could be prepared there were streets being restriped. The first two I saw were on the blocks of 1000 East 900 South and 300 West 200 South. The ones at 300 West 200 South are still there. Love them or hate them that kind of support for innovation from the mayor is a rare treasure for any city.

That was just the beginning of new parking ideas in Salt Lake City. Soon there was a citywide token system and more ways for downtown businesses to get access to parking garages for customers. On street parking was expanded in parts of downtown, too. But the biggest change came in 2003.

Broadway (300 South) and 300 East were rearranged to cut out a lane of traffic and add a row of angled parking down the center of the streets. Not only did the city add hundreds of new on-street spaces but crosswalks were added and traffic was calmed both of which drive retail business in commercial corridors.

It was unprecedented. On-street parking is by far the most valuable kind downtown. It doesn’t require a garage or take up valuable real estate with empty lots or require a long walk to businesses. It does encourage pedestrians and calm traffic making streets safer. On-street parking is a treasure and Rocky conjured up a couple hundred spaces from thin air.

There was opposition. Skeptics including the city council and Rocky’s opponent for reelection worried about losing traffic lanes and building an unfamiliar street design. But Rocky saw that fewer traffic lanes would make the street more walkable and that on local downtown streets demand for parking is more pressing than demand for through lanes.
Walking and biking along Broadway is a delight now. The through traffic takes wide 400 South where it belongs and businesses have thousands more potential customers every day.

Today the new street design and pedestrian improvements are being set in concrete and the final effect is beautiful. More parking, better walking, better commerce, and better neighborhoods all came from attention to detail and the basics of making our city work.

Thanks, Rocky.

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