Ann Street garage

The study suggests that the 515-space Ann Street parking garage should be advertised better, and might be better utilized if some of the weekday time limits for on-street parking were enforced. (Austin Horn | The State Journal)

If you have too much free time or happen to get paid to care about this sort of thing, you may have perused with some interest the city’s parking study released last month.

The major thrust of the study was this: Downtown Frankfort has plenty of parking, but that parking isn’t being used efficiently. The public Ann Street garage is nearly empty, private parking is often underused and even busy commercial streets like Broadway and West Main aren’t particularly inaccessible.

Of course, what a study says does not erase the very real frustration some folks voice when they can’t get a spot directly in front of their business of choice. Nor should it, particularly for elderly and disabled folks.

But another finding of the study seemed entirely contradictory to the prognosis of downtown’s current parking status. Nearly 700 parking spots on the now-vacant Parcels B and C aren’t going to be enough for what’s planned there, according to the study. The project needs about 35 more spaces.

The analysis came from a model influenced by the International Council of Shopping Centers, the National Parking Association and the Urban Land Institute's Shared Parking, third edition. For two of those three organizations, it’s pretty clear that maximum parking would be beneficial to their stakeholders.

The parking cynic would ask where you like to go on vacation, how much you walk there and what kinds of places draw you in. Disney World, Europe, New York, downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina, may seem like worlds apart, but they’re all fairly dense places with a variety of attractions housed within walking distance from each other.

You don’t go to any of these and think “thank God for the easy parking.” You go for the stuff.

Parking, at least for cynics and urbanist-minded people, is the opposite of “stuff.” Those same cynics might also point to an entire sea of state-owned surface parking to the east, at the start of Holmes Street, and private parking elsewhere that is little-used.

If you assume that the planned 300-space parking garage will take up one acre, perhaps a conservative estimate, and fill the rest of the 735 parking projected need with surface spaces, that makes 3.7 acres devoted to parking on a nearly 12-acre site — so, almost a third of the space would be for parking.

But nobody would argue that parking isn’t necessary, particularly in a city and county in which most folks need their own vehicle to get from point A to point B.

But the convenience concerns, and to a lesser extent aforementioned disability concerns, hold serious sway over businesses and cities alike. And it is quite understandable that, in a country where abundance of land has allowed "parking right in front of the store you’re about to patronize" to seem like an amendment to the Constitution, people just want that to be their reality.

It is a classic “tragedy of the commons.” It’s better for individual businesses to have more parking, but too much parking in the entire area can balloon into a wasteland of asphalt. Pedestrians may not even bother going from one store to the next if they have to traverse 100 mostly-idle spaces. It also just makes for a worse place.

So it’s a necessary evil. And the two components of that phrase — necessary and evil — set up a pretty good framework for understanding the seemingly contradictory results of the parking study.

The two conclusions are really just the outer guardrails for parking policy in downtown. One is an extreme that you could apply to the Parcels B and C development: the planned apartments would need some parking and the city-funded parking garage would fill the rest of the need, and other than that Frankfort’s got plenty of unused parking a few blocks away for people to use.

The other: Parcels B and C, and downtown in general, needs to maximize its total number of parking spaces in order to prioritize convenience for the sake of businesses and customers alike.

Both conclusions have a logic to them, and could serve as helpful endpoints on a spectrum between "parking" and "placemaking."

Where on the spectrum will Frankfort, or the developer for Parcels B and C, land? That remains to be seen.

Austin Horn, a Woodford County native and Frankfort resident, is the director of investigative and depth reporting for The State Journal. His email address is austin.horn@state-journal.com.

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