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Thriving Midtown produces problems with parking

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Picture yourself driving on a bustling, lit up street on a weekend evening in Midtown Sacramento. You’re out with friends, family, or on your way to meet a significant other. The reservations have been made, the movie time agreed on, and only one burning question remains: Where can I park?

In recent years, Sacramento transformed from simply a capital city with a small-town vibe, to an up-and-coming cultural hub. This transformation is most evident in the thriving Midtown district, where the most prominent businesses are bars and restaurants.

This rapid growth can be a cause for excitement, as well as a cause for dismay. The dismal and often frustrated, heated feelings seem to largely come from Sacramentans who live in Midtown.

According to Karen Jacques, founder and board member of the Midtown Neighborhood Association, the neighbors feel as though their quality of life has gone downhill since Midtown expanded and opened to new patrons, some of whom bring tension to the streets.

Jacques has been a Midtown resident since 1981 and has watched the changes that have taken place over the past two decades. She said that because parking is free on her block, after a certain hour many people going to bars will park in front of her house and return to their cars rowdy and loud late at night.

“Bar and restaurant owners haven’t had to be responsible for providing any kind of parking solution that works, and the result is that, as residents … we can’t park within any reasonable distance of the places that we live.”

Jacques went on to say that not being able to park near her home is a safety issue as well.

“I had the unpleasant necessity one night of outrunning a drunken man because I was forced to park, in that case, four blocks from where I live,” she said. “The residents who don’t have off-street parking are left with often no place to park. That’s an inconvenience at best, but it’s potentially dangerous at worst.”

Howard Chan, parking services manager for the city of Sacramento and treasurer for the Board of Directors for the California Public Parking Association, said he has been working with organizations such as the Neighborhood Advisory Group and the Midtown Business Association to develop a program to provide some protections for residential parking.

His plan would involve putting up large, temporary signs on residential streets during Second Saturday Art Walks and large special events designating the blocks as residential parking only. Residents would be identifiable by stickers given to them and placed on their cars.

Chan said he doesn’t think the problem is necessarily a lack of available parking in Midtown, but that the available parking is underutilized.

“Again, it’s not a function of not having enough parking, it’s that if you park in a neighborhood after a certain hour, there’s no charge. If you go through Midtown, even on a Second Saturday, you’ll find many off-street parking lots that sit half-empty. The fact is that (most) charge $5 to $10 for the night.”

Chan went on to say that his department is trying to encourage Midtown patrons and especially employees to use the East End Parking Garage on 17th and L streets, which offers a flat rate of $2 for parking on nights and weekends. By opening the garage up to employees of Midtown businesses, Chan said he hopes that on-street parking will open up.

Linda Tucker, spokeswoman for the city of Sacramento’s Department of Transportation, described the East End Parking Garage as Sacramento’s best-kept secret as far as parking goes. Tucker and Chan both said they want drivers who frequently visit Midtown to utilize the structure, which would be a benefit for all.

“(It’s) such a great deal. You’re not circulating around, looking for parking. Yet you pull in and there (are about) fifteen cars in there. With the exception of Second Saturday, it’s not being used to it’s full capacity.”

The East End Parking Garage is open to the public after 4:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on the weekends.

It’s an ongoing effort to keep up with the moving target of fluctuating hot spots in the area, Chan said.

Jacques and Chan agreed that as far as an alternative to conventional driving and parking, Zipcar, the car-sharing company, has been a success and improves the situation in Midtown.

“In April of 2011 we worked out a deal with Zipcar for them to bring in a fleet of 10 vehicles. They’re located throughout the central city. There are a couple of locations in Midtown. Because of how successful it’s been, we’re looking at adding more locations and more vehicles,” said Chan

Jacques said she hopes that a dialogue discussing this issue more in depth will be opened between residents and city officials to come to a solution that is beneficial for all.

“Neighborhoods are only as strong as their weakest block,” Jacques added.

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