Parking shortage is bad for business Accessibility: Downtown problem is threatening city's ability to compete for jobs.

November 23, 1998

BALTIMORE'S desperate downtown parking shortage is finally getting high-level attention. It's time to stop talking about the problem and act.

After heated exchanges with business people at a breakfast, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recently convened a powwow to discuss the parking crunch. As a result, there is finally hope for progress -- 14 months after a study by the Downtown Partnership warned that lack of parking was endangering the city's ability to compete for jobs and commerce.

Public Works Director George G. Balog said the city has plans to build seven garages with a total of 2,500 spaces. But the $70 million price tag is so steep that Mr. Schmoke said "in the future we will need a public-private strategy."

By the numbers, Baltimore should not have a dire shortage. But the city center's 24,000 spaces are not necessarily convenient to the 75,000 jobs. Many spaces in Lexington Market-area garages, for example, stand empty. State-operated lots at Camden Yards have 2,700 vacancies.

"People don't want to walk, they don't want to shuttle," one official laments.

As the downtown economy becomes increasingly tourist-oriented, land and water shuttles must be part of the answer.

Satellite parking is not for everyone. But it could be used more by commuters whose work hours are predictable and who do not need their cars on the job.

The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Medical Center are among employers already operating shuttles. Confronted with increasing parking rates, other private-sector employers may need to consider this option.

As for the public sector, the city must resolve to systematically address the parking problem. Whenever a major office building or hotel is proposed, the plan should be required to include a realistic number of parking spaces. Too often in the past, the city, trying to lessen developer costs, has settled for an inadequate number.

City Hall also has to change its attitude about parking. Comparing Baltimore to New York, Boston or Philadelphia is futile. Downtown's true competitors are Owings Mills and White Marsh, which provide convenient parking. That's the challenge Baltimore must meet.

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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