The brief mention in Wednesday's BCR of the recommendation by the Durham Y to close Seminary St. to increase parking for the downtown YMCA has become a subject for further discussion over at Barry's and Gary's blogs. This recommendation -- which is tied in with the Lakewood/South Durham recommendations and which hasn't been voted on by the Durham advisory board or brought before the Y's Raleigh board of directors -- is worth some further discussion.
First off, as a starting point: I agree 110% with both Gary and Barry (and all the commentors) that closing Seminary to make more parking for the Y is a non-starter. Right now we have the DAP district at the precipice of a major redevelopment that will add more residential units and pedestrian/bike traffic, with the potential eventually of a Minor League Baseball museum bringing more people, as will the renovated Durham Athletic Park. Suddenly, we want to cut off a minor but useful circulatory path north of the Downtown Loop, and force more auto traffic to the edge of the growing Durham Central Park?
Given the impact on circulation, the only way I'd see this proposal being anything but a non-starter were if the downtown loop were reverted to two-way traffic -- but that's probably 5-10 years away at least.
So why does the Y want to close down the street? The representatives at Tuesday's meeting did mention wanting to add family/youth locker rooms as well as a steam room; if that were to require enlarging the footprint of the building, I can see where they might be concerned -- but only from the perspective of whether the City would give them grief over not having enough on-site parking after the expansion
But the nature of a downtown facility is one that, by its very nature, should not carry a commiserate expectation, be it by the Y, its patrons, or the City, that there will be ample on-site parking for every possible member at every possible time. Is the Y's lot full? Park in the Durham Centre garage. Or on the street. Or the loop. Or by the Marriott and walk.
Really, there are fewer places in Durham where it's less important to have ample parking than a downtown gymnasium in the midst of major roads and structured parking. And it's OK to have to walk two blocks to get to and from your car.
. . .
While this situation doesn't seem one that calls for "more surface parking" right at the YMCA's front door, does that mean parking is an overblown issue downtown, and we have too much parking capacity already?
Hey, I'm a transit fan, and someone who misses hanging out on the T
back in Boston, or the Metro in D.C. But I'm also a realist, and I
don't think that civic exhortation by itself is enough to get people to
change their modes of transport.
For better or for worse, Durham is not today a place where it's very easy to subsist without a car. I'd like to see that change, and I'd like to see development patterns change to denser, more transit-oriented models -- something the TTA tried to push, and hopefully something we'll see out of the STAC process.
It's also going to take, as a commenter noted over at Barry's place, the simple market lever of higher gas prices. Few things seem more likely to incent our car-loving citizenry to make a change in lifestyle than taking a literal toll on car users when they fill up their tank, should gas reach $4/gal., $5/gal., or higher.
But all of these changes portent a possible future, not a certain present. And, for better or worse, the vast majority of (say) YMCA patrons, or library visitors, or downtown office workers are going to be driving in, driving out -- and that's not something that will change for at least ten to fifteen years. Which is why I don't have a problem per se in the City continuing to support parking infrastructure downtown.
Does that mean the current approach to decks is the right one? Not necessarily -- as Gary's advocated before (and as is intended at American Tobacco's east deck), it would be good to see decks integrated with 'wrapper' mixed-use like residential or retail. Such a change provides the necessary parking infrastructure without the aesthetic impact of exposed car-parks as you currently have at the, say, Corcoran deck.
Similarly, as was broadly suggested at this spring's downtown Durham design charettes, one thing we don't need more of is the tried-and-true surface parking lots, a blight on the downtown landscape. Structured parking or other development uses on those lots add to interest in an urban setting and create a feeling of urban corridors and density that create value in a city. (Take a look at Morgan St. now between the Loop and Duke St. with the addition of the West Village parking deck for a good example.)
We're in the midst of a long-awaited, long-suffered downtown revitalization, but we still lack retail storefronts and round-the-clock activity, as the Herald-Sun reminded us in Wednesday's paper. Like it or not, in today's Bull City, parking is a prerequisite to draw the average Durhamite into an area to shop, work or eat -- and by the averages, I'm not talking about those of us who happen to live in Trinity Park or Old North Durham and can quickly bike on down.
Idealism about a future where more people take bus or rail transit to get around Durham is a great thing, and something that deserves continued advocacy. Building in retail and residential around a future transit system, as is planned for Charlotte and likely for the Triangle in some more forward-thinking future, is the first step. Only then can we expect more spillover to more traditional districts like downtown, Ninth Street, and so forth -- and only then can we realistically talk about unraveling today's parking infrastructure.