Bend pioneers - i.e., anybody who was here before 1990 or thereabouts - can remember when downtown had no parking problem at all. About half the storefronts were boarded up, and you could park pretty much anywhere you wanted at any time of day.
Those days, fortunately, are long gone, and downtown Bend now suffers from the more pleasant problem of too many cars and not enough parking spaces. It's tried various solutions, most notably the creation of a 571-space multi-story parking garage.
Incomprehensibly, even as the city built the parking garage it was eliminating city-owned parking lots in the downtown core. The one on Bond Street next to the D&D Lounge and another at Wall Street and Greenwood Avenue have been sold to developers.
Now the city has come up with another bright idea: Make everybody pay by the hour to use the only remaining surface lots downtown, the two located between Drake Park and Brooks Street.
Currently, you can park free in those lots for two hours and pay $1 for each hour after that. In the new setup, you'll buy a ticket from a vending machine entitling you to a certain amount of parking time and then put the ticket on your vehicle's dashboard. (Those of you who have used surface parking lots in Portland know the routine.)
It's a concept that could go a long way toward solving the downtown parking problem. Unfortunately, it may "solve" it by making downtown look like it did in the 1980s.
The official rationale for the change is to discourage downtown employees from using the lots and free up more spaces for shoppers. But city officials concede most of the people now using the lots are shoppers and other business customers.
What will happen when shoppers discover they have to pay to park in those lots instead of getting two hours free? And that they have to stand out in the rain and/or snow trying to get a machine to accept their cash or credit cards and spit out a piece of paper to let them park? Our hunch is that a lot of them, after one or two such experiences, will just say to hell with it and do their shopping somewhere else.
They'll have plenty of alternatives. When downtown Bend almost dried up and blew away in the 1980s, one big reason was the opening of two new malls on Highway 97. Now those malls have been remodeled into "lifestyle centers" and added more shops and restaurants. And then there's the Forum center on the Eastside and the Old Mill District. All of them have acres of free parking.
Eliminating more than 170 free parking spaces in the face of all that competition - and as the economy is staring into the ugly maw of a recession - looks like a suicidal gesture.
Fortunately, it's not a done deal yet: The city council has to give its okay. We strongly urge it to join us in giving this misguided proposal THE BOOT.