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Published: Monday, 3/12/2012 - Updated: 4 years ago

Parking: free or fee?

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The suggestion that Toledo may charge for downtown metered parking on event nights has the feel of a trial balloon. The response so far has been predictably — and passionately — negative. But that shouldn’t stop the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority from examining the question more closely.

Before Fifth Third Field opened more than a decade ago, downtown Toledo was deserted most nights. People joked that you could lie down in the middle of the street and never get run over.

Mud Hens and Walleye games, concerts, and other events at the Huntington Center, and music, theater, dance, and film offerings at the Valentine Theatre have changed that. On event nights now, downtown bars and restaurants bustle and parking is at a premium.

Metered parking spots, traditionally free after 5 p.m. and on weekends, are snapped up quickly. Latecomers pay $5 in distant surface lots, a maximum of $7 in city-owned garages, and as much as $20 in private lots near popular venues.

Those numbers got the attention of the Port Authority. On Jan. 1, the authority took ownership of three municipal parking garages and management of nearly 1,000 downtown parking meters. Last week, authority President Paul Toth asked whether people should pay to park at those meters at night during special events downtown.

That this question is even posed is a testament to Toledo’s growing popularity as an entertainment destination. But before authority executives are washed away in the swift current of potential revenue streams, they should find out what paid meter parking would do to downtown businesses.

Public opposition to the idea has been swift and overwhelming. But unfounded concerns about crime — downtown Toledo is safer for pedestrians than most other cities, especially on event nights — convenience, and the prospect of Toledo turning into New York should not carry the day without examination either.

It would be prudent for the Port Authority to study the impact of charging at meters on nights when downtown parking is at a premium. Downtown’s appeal may still be too fragile to support more than a nominal charge. But the only way to know is to do appropriate research.

In the absence of a parking study, the city and Port Authority can do other things to improve the downtown parking experience. All parking lots should be licensed and meet common standards for maintenance, lighting, and security. Illegally parked vehicles should be ticketed and, if necessary, towed.

In many cities, parking meters help businesses grow. They encourage turnover, which makes it easier for more people to visit their favorite restaurant, tavern, or retail store.

What encourages downtown to grow — not Port Authority revenue streams or the public’s perceived right not to pay — should determine whether time has expired on Toledo’s free parking meters.

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