Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thoughts: Parking

Yes this is a restaurant blog, but I occasionally dip into topics that are loosely connected (everything is related to some extent: cuisine, culture, vibrancy, neighborhoods, quality of life...). So I thought I'd shed some light on a recent article from the Post Standard about parking at Freedom of Espresso, which you can read here. The article is more or less about parking restrictions and whether or not parking tickets deter business. Freedom is shutting down their original location on Pearl Street where they've laid home to since 1995. It doesn't mention every reason, but a safe bet is the downturn in the economy and the one that's discussed in the article: customer parking. Essentially, customers are (or were) parking in front of or near Freedom and receiving parking tickets. A shame on many different levels, but understandably, Freedom is moving and needs to do what it needs to do.

I'll never get where the parking resentment stems from in Syracuse. I'm fairly certain that the idea of whether or not parking is easy or complicated or expensive or cheap or plentiful or nonexistent is perception. And perception becomes reality depending on who's point of view it's coming from: some people know where to park, some people expect to walk a distance on occasions, some people enjoy complaining about anything, some people understand that an urbanized area needs to have fees and tickets in order to maintain its higher operating costs, some people don't know where to park in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and some people park their vehicles illegally - either because 1) they think they can slide in and out with it without anyone noticing 2) they think they're above the law 3) they don't want to park any further away from where they need to go because they're in a hurry or 4) they don't pay attention to the signs.

With the exception of crime and restaurant options (which I find myself getting into debates with people on a monthly basis as soon as I mention where I live or what I do), parking is the one subject that seems to hit a nerve with people here because they already have their perception predetermined from past experiences. And nothing is going to change that outlook, no matter how blue in the face someone on the opposite end gets about it (I'm just as guilty... it's basic human psychology to only see your way of doing things at times. An open mind can be easier said than done).

Though, based on my own living experiences in and around Downtown over the last 5 years, I've never had a problem with parking. This includes never parking illegally, never having my car broken into (I don't leave things lying around inside), parking and walking a long distance to the Dome instead of driving around for 20 minutes, taking the bus when I need to, living next to every festival in Clinton and Hanover Squares, dealing with 150 inches of snow and the plows burying my car in the mornings, spending $780 a year on lot fees, and spending another $50 or so a year for on-street spots. Given all that, my honest opinion is that parking is really easy. You just need to know where to go and how the rules work*. For the most part, it's relatively easy to park and walk in just about any busy neighborhood in Syracuse - excluding Westcott and SU Hill which can be a complete mess during graduation and some SU events.

*I'll stray from blabbering too many secrets away, but depending on what neighborhood you're in, one big one is that you can get away with not paying for on-street parking on Saturdays - despite meters telling otherwise. (It's more or less a ruse to get visitors to pay more money when they're in town).

Anyway, here are a few scattered reactions from the article...

1. The Near Northeast neighborhood really isn't that difficult to navigate. Granted, I lived there for 2 years, but the spots are fairly easy to find. The one-way section of Pearl Street prior to the 81 on-ramp has spots on the right side (they're the soon-to-be-replaced / old-school coin meters), E Belden Ave (um, how often does anyone talk about this street ever?) off of Pearl is short but has parking, and State Street stretches out pretty far and has spots available on both sides. Beyond that, you will need to walk a block or two, as N Salina Street near Thanos and E Laurel Street (another small side street, near Barbieri's Diner) both have spots on both sides of the street.

2. How hard is it for people to follow the rules? "No Standing" means you can't idle your vehicle there unless you plan on receiving a ticket. 12-minute parking means you only have 12 minutes during the 9AM-6PM time frame (or when the business is open, I forget how this actually works). At any rate, unless you're willing to bite the bullet, don't park in these spots illegally.

3. The parking checkers in any neighborhood (and really, any city) can be like vultures circling over a dead horse. Once your allotted time is up and your vehicle is still parked, you're walking a fine line - especially during morning and evening rush hours. It's easy to point blame at them for staking-out and targeting specific areas or people, but you know what? That's their job. They get paid to ticket people who aren't parked correctly. It doesn't matter if someone's only buying a cappuccino. Follow the rules like everyone else, maybe pay an extra 50 cents at a normal on-street spot and you won't be penalized. (Now I sound like a meanie!).

4. You could put part of the blame on the layout. Pearl Street functions less like an actual street and more like an awkward interstate on-ramp. The southern one-way end is like a 40 MPH automobile cannon firing people onto I-81 N, while the intersection of Pearl and Hickory Streets creates some kind of bizarre nexus of the universe (it's a 3-way intersection funneling into an on-ramp with one of the three streets being one-way - picture heading into that intersection and it makes your head explode just like the guy from that movie Scanners). Crossing the street is extremely dangerous during rush hour. It's my least favorite place to walk near Downtown, as there is no crosswalk or any kind of presence of organization for pedestrians. You literally have to run across to avoid getting hit unless by the rare chance that someone is nice enough to lift their hand from their steering wheel and wave you by. Construction of I-81 in the mid-1900's and to a further extent, construction of the elevated railroads prior to that ended up creating a confusing traffic, walking, and parking pattern for that end of Pearl Street. Very rarely do streets function well when 50% of it is designated solely to an on-ramp and a surface parking lot. Whenever I walk up the street, I find it amazing that anything has been able to survive in this location. Yet despite being tucked away in the shadows of interstates, it somehow remains a moderately vibrant neighborhood and contains some good restaurants and great little shops.

5. Freedom of Espresso can make any decision they wish in regards to their business, so you can't necessarily fault them. Personally, I like the cafe a lot and the Pearl Street location was my second favorite right behind the Franklin Square one. It'll be a shame when they leave, as I really like the immediate block or two of small local businesses: Vino Mania, Columbus Baking, Thanos, Sauro Photographic Art, Fralli's Italian Kitchen, Ilario's, Mai Lan, Barbieri's, etc... Hopefully another business will move in and not have the same problem as Freedom. A cafe concept seems to work pretty well with St. Joe's and Nettleton Commons nearby.

All and all, you park your car within a block or two and walk to where you want to go. If a sign says you can't park there, you park somewhere else. It takes 30-120 seconds off your life to look for a spot somewhere else and walk. Especially in this neighborhood. You're not crossing the Mississippi River by raft. I don't know. I don't see a problem with the parking situation. And I definitely don't see why anyone would get upset over a parking ticket when they're not parked correctly. I find whatever argument someone could make from a warranted parking ticket very ridiculous without them putting blame on themselves for getting it in the first place. Just my 2 cents.

It's a shame Freedom is leaving that spot. Hopefully they find a place near the hospital that better suits their business and someone can take over that quaint corner location. Though, I have this strange feeling it's going to sit empty for quite a while come October.


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