Marc Lefkowitz | 07/14/15 @ 12:00pm
“West Side Market threatened as customers from other businesses take over its traditional parking area,” reads the Plain Press headline. The local newspaper alleges that the boom cycle happening in the city’s Market District is costing the cherished, century-old food hub business.
A shared, public parking lot behind West 25th Street isn’t working, they write, because it was full of cars on the day the reporter visited the market which wasn’t very busy.
This is an important discussion to have, because Cleveland—and more traditional suburbs such as Euclid, Cleveland Heights and Lakewood—have decided to update their zoning practices in order to preserve or restore the walkable character of their commercial districts.
Cleveland has started using its pedestrian overlay district in areas like Ohio City and Detroit-Shoreway. They hope to encourage new businesses to come in to older buildings and not have to carry the cost of providing new off-street parking. Businesses can receive a credit if they add bike parking instead, or if an area is well served by transit.
Shared parking agreements like the one at the West Side Market are an example of a sustainable zoning practice because it can reduce local trips in a car. By placing everyday uses like the market close to many people, walking and biking or taking the train becomes more attractive.
It makes for good theater when a West Side merchant says that new businesses on West 25th “stole our parking.” But, a more analytical approach might uncover that the parking disagreement can be solved in any number of ways that wouldn’t involve chasing away visitors. For example, a study of who actually uses the parking, similar to what transportation consultants Nelson-Nygaard recently performed in University Circle, likely would uncover more nuances to this story.
When they did a parking inventory of the busy campus district this year, the firm found small gaps in parking that may need to be filled. Parking may be perceived as a need more to those driving into areas where zoning requires that it is hidden from sight behind buildings. University Circle is discovering that their day and night time users of parking overlap in a way that smooths out demand.
The Ohio City case does raise important points about maintaining a diverse stock of retail. When a lot of big bars and restaurants flood the market, it can “cater to a car using audience,” as the newspaper states.
Ohio City, Inc. and the city have a plan to fill the market district. But, the parking fracas signals that they may need to pay close attention to where resources bolster the alternatives to driving. A pedestrian overlay district might need more than a zoning designation to backfill the demand generated from outside the area. How much would infrastructure—the dedicated bus lanes on West 25th and separated bike lanes on Lorain Avenue which have been discussed over the years—reduce the demand for parking by increasing the supply of better alternatives to driving?
An always-full parking lot could indicate that more work needs to be done between the merchants of West 25th and their customers. Would some visitors to the Market District be willing to leave their car at home? The West Side Market is the ultimate boutique experience—many people leave with a light load of food. There may be an opportunity for RTA and the market’s merchant association to offer a discount for using the Rapid and the high frequency bus routes that go right to the market. That extends to the new bars and restaurants. The Rapid, the Zagster bike share system behind the market, and carsharing services like Uber are resources that the merchants and bar owners on West 25th might make better use of—while also reducing incidents of drinking and driving.