The Salisbury Parking Dilemma

Why Walkability Doesn't Equate To Parking Concerns

As a City Council candidate & a lifelong resident of Salisbury, I am very aware of the Salisbury parking dilemma. I want to stop short of saying that it is a daily problem, as there is little to no retail development on the south end of Main St. in it’s current state. However, most of the commercial development opportunity in downtown is in the Empire Hotel block & buildings surrounding City Hall.

In an effort to bring economic development to this area, Salisbury City Council voted to have a impact study to study parking & other challenges the city faced in bringing economic development to downtown & Salisbury in general. While noted that these were prime investment opportunities, the study also concluded Salisbury had a walkability problem, not a parking problem.

It would be easy for me to catch a few fish on a business trip & say the salmon look good in Alaska this year, but it says nothing about the sustainability and growth of the species over time.  After all I know plenty of expert fisherman in Florida, and after all what’s the big difference between Florida & Alaska other than a name?

All joking aside, this is almost what it is like for a consultant to come take a snapshot of Salisbury and generate a report. The problem is the report said a large majority of the community was wrong in what they were seeking for downtown economic development opportunities. The experts said we had a walkability problem, not a parking problem

So What Is Economic Development?

While I do agree that are some areas of Salisbury that have walkability issues, the Downtown area is not among that list. The parking problem in Salisbury is the main economic development obstacle in downtown Salisbury. We had residential neighborhoods clamoring for sidewalk construction and repair for a long time.

A good definition of economic development is a concept and process which helps improve the overall quality of living standards of our residents. If the residents say a parking deck would improve their quality of using the downtown area, then any expert that says different is ignoring an issue locals have with parking at heart.

Business owners, shoppers, and employees all voice parking concerns as a detriment to public comment sessions and casual discussions in public. All three human factors are directly related to one another economically. If the business owner cannot provide adequate parking, the customers are more likely to visit a more convenient location.

The most recent example being The Smoke Pit, who sighted their ability to grow due to a lack of parking. (I recommend them, Smoke Pit is a banger). This is all too reminiscent of the history of downtown Salisbury, when department stores and the textile industry left downtown Salisbury.


Limited By Capacity

As transportation means evolved, as well did the parking for commercial business locations. More families had two automobiles at home and enjoyed the freedom of driving to the store on their own time. Once automobile use became popular, downtown parking in front of establishments you were shopping at suddenly became hard to find.

The end result was commercial tenants not renewing leases in the downtown area in favor of shopping malls which had more ample parking. Consumers preferred this concept mainly because of the availability of parking and the mimicking of downtown atmosphere inside a shopping mall. They had similar events inside the mall that they used to hold in downtown.

This was not a unique problem as Salisbury followed the trends and ended up with an overly vacant downtown. This phenomenon happened across this country due to the automobile manufacturing boom. Downtown Salisbury parking was limited by the capacity of earlier generations. Our utility poles are too close to the road.

Being an optimist, I would like to think people would invest in bike lanes encourage more bicycle use with the money we invested in. I cannot see residents cycling back home with groceries, furniture, or Christmas gifts to name a few. For the foreseeable future automobiles big enough to haul these items will be necessary.


Preparing For Future Trends

To solve the limited parking capacity problem, Salisbury is simply going to focus on bringing parking development to the downtown area. All current real estate trends show downtown areas as incubators for small business. If we can not support these small businesses, then how can we expect them to survive and support Salisbury with rent for developers, tax revenue, and jobs?

The answer is we can not expect them to do this. I believe we must take a proactive approach to solving the parking dilemma in downtown Salisbury. The problem isn’t walkability, or business owners and residents concerns, it is our city leaders not listening and identifying problems incorrectly.

When we start identifying problems correctly, we can start finding solutions that work for everyone. To me this seems like an easy issue to identify. It is unfortunately a hard issue to solve, due to a large capital investment to fund any type of parking deck project, and usually has a low rate of return on investment in the short run. 

Fortunately Salisbury does have some real estate assets in favorable areas for parking decks, and as a candidate I would support a public/private investment into using these spaces for parking. As a candidate, I see parking as one of the major issues for economic development in historic downtown areas like Salisbury. 

Vote For More Parking

Unlike the outside experts, I can see the parking problem in Salisbury not only daily in my personal life, but also from an economic development standpoint. The complaints from residents largely come from larger events that attract people to the downtown Salisbury area. While many enjoy the city, their biggest complaint for not returning is parking.

While I may be no expert, I am a candidate for City Council, and I hear citizens concerns, and parking is always a popular one. I’ve yet to hear that Salisbury has a walkability problem, as the consumers complaining walked too far to their destination. The last time these complaints were made, businesses left the downtown area.

I do not want to see history repeat itself as Salisbury is in a great position to capitalize on the American Rescue Plan. To house any kind of main hub for transportation in the downtown area, there will be a huge need for parking to house all of the commuters vehicles. If this is to be a reality, we must include parking in the downtown plans, including parking spaces with EV charging stations.

I’ve been working on the parking issue since 2017, only to have outside experts say there’s not one. That’s why a vote for Jonathan Barbee for Salisbury City Council, is a vote for more parking. If elected, the parking issue will be addressed.

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