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Downtown parking rules are a tricky balancing act

As a former parking commissioner and the current council liaison to the Parking Commission, imagine how delighted I was when it was suggested that I write my next op ed on an issue that has personally influenced me and many other downtown business owners, employees, students, visitors, and residents that all utilize the variety of parking options available in our downtown core.

Personally, I have parked my vehicle in each one of those capacities throughout the course of the past twenty-something years, and it has afforded me a lot of different perspectives that have shaped my opinions about the issue. Opinions that very much resembled many of the emails the council frequently receives these days. Most of my opinions, however, were often developed through the scope of my own lack of knowledge of all the factors that influence the city's parking policy.

Truth be told, it is one of the reasons that I decided to get involved in local politics by getting appointed to the Medford Parking Commission, and, well, let's just say that I quickly began to change my tune. Once I joined, I began learning about all of the opposing forces from all of the different factions of downtown parking peoples. Phew — what a mess!

I am a fan of empathy and believe that in order to understand a person’s situation, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. So, in an attempt to explain the quagmire that is downtown parking, I'm going to ask y'all to try on a series of different hats. Hopefully, by the end of this editorial you'll have a better understanding of the delicate orchestration that it takes to try to appease all parties involved. Heck, maybe you'll be inclined to submit your own application to join the Parking Commission.

In a perfect world, one might think that if they were wearing the hat of a downtown business owner contributing to their local economy, then they should be entitled to sufficient parking for them and their employees. Unfortunately, the world is an imperfect place and this sense of entitlement is not sustainable so long as we want high turnover in front of our stores. I struggled with this for years. Only recently did we finally succumb to the annual parking passes that the city offers. Beats the heck out of having to do the block-face dance every one to three hours in hopes of averting growth in your parking citation collection.

One-hour parking is probably the most contentious implementation that we frequently get feedback from. I completely agree with the notion that one hour just isn't sufficient for somebody that might want to have an espresso or glass of wine after their lunch, or maybe shop around a little longer. Recently, the commission has taken steps to expanding the “add an hour” option to more downtown areas to help accommodate those patrons and businesses. Also, if you don't mind walking a couple blocks, then you can almost always find a free two- or three-hour space in one of the parking garages.

Now let's try on the hat of the business owner that likes the one-hour parking because it helps ensure high turnover in front of their business, which would increase the chances of their patrons' ability to park closer to their storefront. Surely, that business owner would disagree with any suggestions to add more time. I mean if it were two hours, then that business owner could probably sit there and count the number of students taking up close parking spaces on any given weekday.

Change hats again and imagine that you're one of those students vying for a parking space in the hustle and bustle of downtown daily commerce. You have to compete with everybody else for parking just to go learn. Plus there are the economic ramifications. Even though you are offered discount permit rates, it can still be taxing to have to cough up that money on a “broke student's" budget.

In the short time that I have been fortunate enough to be a representative, I have learned that no matter what policy makers do, we will never make everyone's Christmas card list. However, one of the most important things we can do is be mindful of your concerns while we move forward with the ongoing changes that growing cities endeavor.

The Medford Parking Commission meets on the second Thursday of every month at 8 am in the Medford Room in City Hall. I strongly encourage everyone that wishes to have their voices heard to please attend.

Clay Bearnson is a member of the Medford City Council. The views expressed in this piece are the individual councilor’s and do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of the City Council.