No Parking? Think Again.

It’s a paradox. How can a city with so little going on have such a huge parking problem? Now, I’m assuming these two criticisms are true since I hear them all the time, Sometimes I even hear them both from the same person, which raises another interesting paradox of how people can reconcile two seemingly conflicting notions without their heads exploding à la the guy from Scanners.

If I may be so bold, I’d like to suggest that there really isn’t a parking problem in Downtown Rutland—that it’s all myth cooked up by the Herald on a slow news day, or possibly by Rutland Town in an effort to lure shoppers to the Diamond Run Mall with its ample, ample, ample free parking.

Then again maybe there is an issue. Maybe we’ve just exaggerated it. And maybe the solution is taking some simple steps (literally) on our own in conjunction with some focused efforts on behalf of the city. Here are my modest suggestions:

  • Hoof it. Despite the occasionally treacherous sidewalks, Rutland is a very walkable city. If you’re able-bodied and healthy, park a bit further away from your destination (or better yet, leave your car at home). There are a number ten-hour meters on Wales, Court, and upper Center Streets that go largely unused. Leave the closer spaces for those among us who actually do need them. Judging by the City’s recent wellness report, the few extra steps would do us all good.
  • Bike it. Again, a mode of transportation that lends itself well to our City. While some of our streets may not be bicycle friendly, they are not all that bad. As Rutland moves forward in its commitment to become a sustainable community, the installation of clearly marked and planned bike routes and lanes will be a necessity. So grab your helmet and get peddling.
  • Bus it. In Rutland, we have a fairly comprehensive bus service. While there may be some holes coverage and access, it’s still pretty impressive for a community of our size. And while there seems to be an aversion to The Bus by some in the community, the average number of riders for a typical Rutland City route in 2007-08 was over 45,000. So somebody’s using it. The real challenge lies in get the message out there—emphasizing the environmental benefits of public transportation, park and ride opportunities, and affordable fairs.
  • Deck it. Did you know we have a parking deck in Rutland? It’s on West St, it’s like five stories high, provides easy access to Center St. and Merchants Row, and is vastly underutilized. Still can’t find it? Well, that’s because there’s barely any signage. On top of that, most people think it’s too expensive for short-term parking. To be fair, free parking is available in the evenings, but that seems to be kept secret for some reason. 

The deck, which is owned by the state, should adopt a payment structure similar to
the decks in Burlington where parking is free for the first hour or two. Free short-term parking would encourage more frequent use by downtown shoppers. (And dare I say toss some solar panels up on the top of that thing? It would be a valuable and high profile sustainable energy initiative for the city.)

While we’re on the topic of transportation and such, here are a couple more quick thoughts:

  • Wayfinding signs! I can’t be the only one who has met people who think that the extent of Rutland is the unsightly sprawl on Routes 4 and 7. Similarly, some visitors recently told me about the difficulty they had locating Pine Hill Park. Why are we hiding our best assets? We have a pile of great designs and strategies from last year’s branding exercise that for the most part have yet to be used (poor form, folks). Seems like a good use of those Zamias funds, if you ask me.
  • Reverse Wales St. Our current configuration of traffic flow denies us the opportunity to direct traffic into the heart of our city. Making Wales southbound all the way to Washington would draw in traffic from West St., and give people better access to Center St., and eventually the Alley once that project gets underway.
To be sure, none of these ideas are particularly novel nor are they entirely my own. They have been tossed about for some time. But like many good ideas, they have languished in committee limbo—initially met with great enthusiasm, but ultimately neglected due to a lack of focus, determination, and leadership. It’s time for us to begin working with a clearer vision of what we want Rutland to become, and parking is a small albeit important piece of this puzzle.

At the end of the day, all cities (yes, we are a city) have parking issues. As someone who has lived in and visited larger cities, parking in Rutland is pretty convenient. People who cite it as a deterrent to shopping downtown need to find a better excuse. Like I said, the fact that some struggle to find a place to park is a testament to how much actually is happening here. With a little more effort from both the City and us residents, we can improve the minor problems we have, and lead the way to an even more accessible, vibrant, sustainable city.

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