Park It: As We Await New Garages, Downtown's "Parking Problem" is Easily Solved

As you've probably heard by now, downtown is slated to get additional parking via two pending projects. The first is the joint effort by the city and TVA to build a new garage between Locust and Walnut Streets, which I wrote about couple of months ago. I haven't seen a final design yet. But apparently TVA has softened its position on conforming to the Downtown Design Guidelines that suggest the outer walls should accommodate commercial space rather than presenting blank walls. Let's hope so, anyway.

The most recent announcement is for plans to add an additional deck to the State Street Parking Garage, along with a pedestrian bridge spanning State to exit directly onto Gay Street, replacing the need for folks to cross State and take the existing elevator adjacent to the Regal Riviera back up to Gay. As the city hasn't performed a parking study for downtown in recent memory, it's questionable as to whether either project is actually warranted. But in keeping with the notion that if people claim there is a parking problem, there must be one, both projects look as if they will proceed.

I don't ever recall anyone telling me that they came downtown for one reason or another and could not find a parking space. It may not be where they would like, or they sometimes end up paying more than they'd prefer to pay (i.e. free), and occasionally it may take a bit of searching. But rarely, if ever, is every spot taken. I've also found that people are creatures of habit. Once they find something that works, they tend to stick with it. Regular visitors to downtown have scoped out a place to park and they tend to return to the familiar. For many, that destination is either the Market Square garage or the State Street garage. The preference is understandable. Both locations are in close proximity to popular areas. And both are free after 6 p.m., weekends, and holidays, except during special events (think Vol football games and Boomsday). But there are literally dozens of other choices. In fact, the parking map on the city's website shows 24 public parking facilities downtown, seven of which offer the same free deal on nights and weekends. I can't help but think if people knew all of their options, parking might not be such a problem after all.

One issue that has plagued downtown is a lack of consistent cues to drivers. A wayfinding project designed, among other things, to help alleviate that through the placement of uniform signage directing drivers to parking was begun in 2009 and continues to grind its way through the city's bureaucracy. The city's website currently states that the project is "in the ‘sitting' [sic] phase, where each sign will be located, including pedestrian and vehicular oriented signs. This phase should be completed this Fall." But given its progress thus far, I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, there are a couple of online resources worth checking out. In addition to the city's site, the Central Business Improvement District has a site that provides information on municipal and commercial parking locations downtown. The interactive map on the latter,, offers clickable links to facilities as well as extended information on the number of spaces, rates, and hours. Of course, sitting at home and looking at maps doesn't necessarily help much once you hit downtown's grid. But, as they say, there's an app for that.

A smartphone app, simply named Parker, is available for both the iPhone and Android platforms. I grabbed one from the Apple iTunes store for free. Though a combination of online databases, GPS navigation and other smartphone technologies, the systems provides an overview of parking based on location. And fortunately, downtown Knoxville is among the 100+ cities covered. Mapping provides a visual overview of your location, and the app also offers hands-free, turn-by-turn voice navigation to lead drivers directly to their parking options, whether it be garages or lots. A tap on an icon yields information such as applicable costs, number of spaces, etc. Once in a spot, drop a pin in the map, and the app will guide you back to your car from wherever you walk.

Of course, experienced downtown drivers often have the option of on-street parking. Something a lot of folks don't seem to know is that time limits on spaces and meters are only enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, the mere mention of the words "parallel parking" can induce a cold sweat for many drivers. But if you think starting the process by pulling in head first is the way to go, you're going to find that every city in America has the same "parking problem." And, for the time being at least, there is no smartphone app to help with that. But don't worry, more parking garages are on the way.