MEMPHIS DAILY NEWS | DOUG CARPENTER
Many residents of large metropolises do not have a driver’s license because they simply do not need one. Memphis, however, is a culture built on the car mentality. With city limits encompassing 324 square miles, the need to drive and maintain access to a car feels much more important, if not mandatory.
It wasn’t many years ago that the notion of living Downtown was seen as “adventurous” because of stretches of undeveloped property, unappreciated facades, broken sidewalks and little pedestrian company. Now, you can walk from South Main to Uptown and pick up a meal, drop off your dog at day care, visit any manner of health care provider, and get new clothing, art or furniture.
However, as our Downtown continues to attract, retain and cultivate daytime traffic through business growth and relocations, booming apartment/condominium occupancy and residential density proves that our neighborhood is becoming more populated on a full-time basis.
The Memphis Daily News published an article that touted “parking as the key to ServiceMaster’s move Downtown,” but I hope we are moving past this way of thinking.
While I can’t predict the future, I can certainly see a time where parking will not be the incentive for people or companies to move Downtown. We need to actively seek ways to relieve our car dependency and turn our attention to other forms of transit. A dynamic MATA bus system, trolley rail options, growing bike infrastructure, impending bike share launch and good old-fashioned walking are all transportation modes that need to be cultivated for Memphis’ progress. It is time to revisit our public policies that ignore the potential of people outside automobiles – particularly outdated city codes requiring too many parking spaces in new developments.
Living in a Downtown that doesn’t require a car not only alleviates parking issues but also has a significant economic impact on residents. The average American household spends 17 percent of its annual income on transportation. Imagine the financial power reclaimed with lower – or nonexistent – parking fees, car notes, insurance and upkeep.
The debate over parking in Overton Park was completely centered on cars. The zoo’s growth and success manifested in more car traffic than their paved lot could hold, and months were spent trying to determine a way to accommodate more vehicles. But perhaps the problem isn’t too little parking; maybe it’s too many cars.
People spend more money with local businesses and see more when they bike; they nod to people and talk to people. It’s healthier in every way. It’s clearly time to begin to wean ourselves of our car dependency, both for our own personal benefits and our culture as a whole.