The Downtown Parking Myth

Downtown-Pocahontas-Arkansas-USAI heard it again the other day. A couple of men were taking about putting in a new business, and one said to the other, “Just don’t put it downtown. There’s no parking downtown.

This is an example of Stephen Colbert’s word truthiness, the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.

A few years ago I conducted a simple experiment. I parked in the middle of the parking lot at the local “big box store” and counted my steps from there to the center of the store. It was 160 steps. Then I parked in the large city parking lot near Lesmeister Guesthouse, in front of the Downtown Playhouse, and counted my steps to the front door of the Old Courthouse, the center of our downtown. It was 150 steps.

Of course, if I want to go to a store in the center of our downtown, I have never in my life had to park as far away as the big city lot. But many times I’ve had to park in the center of the box store parking lot, because everything closer is already taken. (And don’t get me started on the long check out lines all those full box store parking spaces lead to.)

Today I got down to actually counting parking spots, and there, yes, the box store has more. But look at the distances involved. The images below are both at the same scale.

  • If you park in the blue zone downtown, you’ll find 75 parking places within this 100 foot radius circle of downtown. Driving to shop downtown is like getting to drive your car inside the big box store to park and make your purchase. Oh, and all those cars you see lining the streets in the image below? They aren’t there. I just duplicated them to help with the counting. There are almost always LOTS of empty parking spaces downtown.
  • If you park in the blue zone at the box store, you’ll find only 5 parking spaces within 100 feet of the center of the store! Hope you wore your walking shoes and have plenty of time. At the big box, you’ll almost always do a LOT more walking, compared to shopping downtown, and you’ll spend a longer time making your purchase.

The bottom line is that when you shop downtown, you’ll almost always park in the blue zone, within 100 feet of your destination. When you shop at the box store, you’ll almost always park in the yellow zone, twice as far from your destination.

75 parking spaces in blue zone, 249 spaces in yellow zone.
5 parking spaces in blue zone, 395 spaces in yellow zone.
5 parking spaces in blue zone, 395 spaces in yellow zone.

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