Bring up the topic of Fulton Mall, and from many Fresnans — particularly those who live in the far-out ‘burbs, where streets are paved with gold, birds chirp in extravagant gardens, and every pedestrian has taken a shower this morning — you get a knee-jerk reaction:
A big long whine about parking.
Somewhere along the line, many people in Fresno and the surrounding area decided that the most important thing about a city’s downtown is that it has acres of free, flat parking. Never mind that nearly all downtowns need some sort of way to regulate parking (otherwise the people that work there would take up all the spaces). And never mind that downtown Fresno actually has lots of easily accessible parking — and priced so inexpensively that it could give a San Francisco meter maid cardiac arrest. Just read recent letters to the editor. People seem to want their parking in big, Wal-Mart-style lots. And they want it free.
My Beehive colleague Josh Tehee, in his 7 section column last Friday, tackled the topic. In this matter we’re in complete agreement: Parking is a non-issue for the Fulton Mall. There’s plenty of it, and expecting it to be free is just silly.
In the spirit of a free-wheeling discussion, I called on an acquaintance of mine, The Parking Grouch, to put Josh through the paces. He readily agreed.
The Parking Grouch: Read your piece from Friday, Josh. Let me tell you a little story. I just got back from a quick shopping trip to one of those sporting goods stores that’s big enough to be its own county. I drove right up, grabbed a prime spot right in front after cutting off a little-old lady, and I walked into the store sweat-free. No walking for me! Even if I wanted to shop at the Fulton Mall, which I don’t, why would I want to drive down there and fight for parking?
Josh: First, I doubt you’ll have to “fight for parking,” but that depends on your definition of the term, I suppose. You may have to find a meter or parking structure and you will have to pay a couple of dollars (unless it’s a weekend or after 6 p.m., during which time parking is FREE). That might be of some inconvenience, but that’s nothing unique to Fresno’s downtown.
Let’s really look at your question though, because it came with a caveat, and that caveat (the fact you don’t want to go to the Fulton Mall anyway) is what’s important. If the city ripped out the entirety of the mall and put in six city blocks worth of asphalt and free parking stalls, you’d still be complaining. But you’d be complaining about the real issue. I’d rather we skipped the whole parking thing and get to the heart of the matter.
The Parking Grouch: Hmmm. Six city blocks of asphalt and free parking stalls — that actually warms my heart. If that happened, I might even drive down there and park for a while — just because I could. But, yes, perhaps I’m being too much of a grouch. Even I realize you can’t just raze downtown. Still, even if you could convince me to come downtown, which I’m not sure you can, it just grates on me that I have to pay for something I can get at River Park or Fashion Fair for free. (I will make a confession. In 1979, I got to my car, which I had parked downtown at a meter, about 15 minutes later than I expected. I received a $25 ticket. And I vowed never to pay to park downtown again.) But what do you think the heart of the matter is? For me, it’s that downtown is dirty and crime-ridden.
Joshua: I would refer you to my column.
Parking is a commodity based on available space, and short of paving over entire sections of downtown (not to give anyone any ideas), it’s never going to be as accessible in downtown Fresno as it is outside a Walmart.
That’s reality, not a problem to fix.
I will reiterate here: Parking is a commodity, based on space. Those stalls at River Park and Fashion Fair aren’t really free, the costs are just hidden.
But your problem with downtown has nothing to do with that. It’s that you are holding some kind of grudge, or that you think it’s dirty and dangerous. That’s fine, I guess. It’s also misguided and off topic.
The Parking Grouch: You let me know when there’s an IKEA downtown, and I might — just might — venture to park there. (Stomps off, as much as a manufactured alter ego can stomp off in a world made of pixels.)
Back to Donald: Well, I don’t know if that really helped all that much in terms of getting closer to a solution. But at least we got another view articulated on this view about downtown parking — and it’s certainly a popular view out there. In the meantime, maybe we could be extra nice to IKEA?