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Christmas Parking: No Free Lunches

Who can argue against “free” stuff?

I will.

My current hometown of Brookville has OK’d placing green canvas bags over the parking meters along Main Street, giving users of a few hundred angled-in spaces “free” parking during the Christmas shopping season.

That’s nice — if you do not care about finding open parking spaces near where you intend to shop.

For as far back as I can remember, the merchants in downtown areas of Brookville, DuBois and Warren, my towns of residence during the past half-century, have asked for free parking during the shopping season.

And when free parking happened, parking spaces in front of those stores stayed filled with cars for most of the day.

Nobody can prove that the employees of downtown businesses are hogging the spaces.

For one thing, there are no public lists of who works in downtown stores or offices. For another thing, the actual owner of a motor vehicle is often not the person driving the vehicle. Children and spouses often drive those vehicles.

But the parking jam remains.

From January through November, downtown metered parkers are under pressure to get their business done and then move on. Either they have to run outside in all sorts of weather every few hours to “feed the meter” (which is technically illegal), or they risk receiving a parking ticket citation that will cost $5, $20 or, in the case of repeat scofflaws, could surpass $100 if a district magistrate judge gets involved.

But in December, the metered parking becomes “free.”

And the number of open parking spaces decreases.

In Brookville, the main business district is elongated through three blocks of Main Street, bounded on the eastern end by a steep hillside drop into the valley of the North Fork Creek and on the western end by a steep hillside rise up to the plateau that hosts Interstate 80 and a five-lane stretch of Allegheny Boulevard.

Near each end, parking spaces are frequently empty, with good reason. It is risky to try to back out of them into traffic, especially if one is trying to see around a large pickup truck or van parked nearby.

Cars coming up that curvy hillside on the eastern end of town, or vehicles coming down the curvy hillside on the western end of town, don’t become fully visible to backing-out drivers until the oncoming traffic is nearly upon them.

That leads to stutter-stops, wrenched necks and angst.

The angst is offset by a surprising tolerance from many approaching drivers, who obligingly stop and wave the backers-up out into the traffic stream.

But in the level center of the business district, there is little waving, because there is little movement. The “free” parking is taken up for hours on end by vehicles that do not move.

In my experience, similar results happen in the metered areas of DuBois and Warren. Warren, like Brookville, has a stretch of angled-in parking. Warren and DuBois also have stretches of parallel parking spaces. Those spaces are outlined by painted lines and meter posts that were suitable to the smaller vehicles of 20 years ago, not the ponderous pickups (including mine) and titanic sport utility vehicles of today.

So “free” parking clogs parallel spaces even more, by allowing those oversized vehicles to end up taking almost three spaces for every two vehicles.

Nobody has ever done anything scientific to determine whether “free” parking actually brings more shoppers into downtown retail business areas. We know that some people detest parking meters so much that they gravitate to the unmetered spaces available at enclosed malls, strip malls and free-standing buildings on the edges of towns.

And, perversely, those people walk much further to get from their cars into the stores and back again than would be the case in metered downtown areas. Carrying armloads of packages compounds that problem, especially in rain, snow or ice, typical pre-Christmas weather hereabouts.

So count me as one of the curmudgeonly critics of “free” parking. The storage sites in my vehicles include handfuls of nickels, dimes and quarters. I am willing to pay my way in return for being able to park near where I intend to visit.

For eleven months of the year, I can do just that.

But then comes “free” parking and no freed-up spaces, at least not near where I wish to

I sometimes avoid going to areas with metered parking, but that is because I cannot easily parallel park a large vehicle or I dislike trying to back out into oncoming traffic. I never remember going to a mall, plaza or outlying store because downtown stores sit near metered spaces. I choose my shopping sites based on the stores themselves and what they sell, not on whether I need to feed a meter.

To me, there is no “free lunch.” That includes metered parking.

¯ ¯ ¯

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net

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