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Expert: Free Parking Has Heavy Costs For Downtown Raleigh

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A world-renowned urban expert says Raleigh should no longer have free downtown parking.

"Some of the most valuable land in the city is being given away for free," said

Dr. Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Toting up streetside, metered and parking-deck spaces, the city has about 42,000 parking spaces downtown. About 5,000 are on the street, leaving many motorists circling for a free space.

"I think that's the problem," Shoup said. "Everyone here thinks they can get it for free, and they'll drive around looking for it until they do."

Shoup has a much different approach than Raleigh does for improving parking and the vitality of downtown.

He says the city should charge a small fee for curbside parking so that some spots will turn over more quickly. He believes more people would go to the decks if they were paying about the same to hunt for a spot on the curb.

Some motorists disagree.

"I think people will look for these spots on the street first because it's the closest distance from Point A to Point B," said motorist Lee Tripi.

Shoup says Pasadena, Calif., has seen its downtown economy flourish with the approach he espouses. Part of the reason, Shoup proposes, is that the money from the meters would be used for improvements on the very streets where the money is collected.

With Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, at one point, trying to get rid of all parking meters downtown, Shoup's theory is likely to be a hard sell to City Council. Meeker told WRAL that it would not be well-received in the immediate future.

Still, Shoup's concept is backed by Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. The Alliance plans to advocate the theory to the council with one change: that parking decks should be free for the first hour. Leaders say it would be another incentive for motorists to use the decks.

"We do not have a parking problem, we have a management parking problem," said Nancy Hormann, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance. "If we manage our parking a little bit better, we'll have more parking."


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