Commentary: Dover parking policy on wrong path to success

Let’s get real. While not questioning the motives of Dover public officials, the just-announced parking rules for downtown are confusing, while the prospect of a parking garage is unnecessary. In short, the city of Dover is at a crucial juncture with this infrastructure issue.

If I understand the present rules involving fewer free spaces, more permits, and installation of meters, they are being promulgated by the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP). That is the same group which, along with the Downtown Dover/Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization, backed Philadelphia-based Langan Engineering’s study of the downtown parking situation. Given the latter group’s finding that a parking garage is unnecessary due to existing space, why on Earth would DDP then cut back on current free resources? DDP and Dover City Council should be working to come up with ways to improve the 60 percent average capacity instead of reducing free spaces.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Another issue associated with parking is the state of the downtown business environment. One recent study found 10 vacancies amid 86 downtown businesses. Before purchasing these spaces, business owners should ask difficult questions about Dover government’s commitment to a sensible parking policy, one which attracts customers rather than repelling them.

The issue of crime and homelessness in the downtown area remains a serious concern. While Mayor Robin Christiansen should be commended for his commitment to eliminating homelessness in the area, there are still serious hurdles to ensuring that downtown is safe in both actuality and in the minds of Dover citizens. Although seemingly more visible in the winter, homelessness doesn’t have a favorite season.

Ultimately, everything is connected to the idea of a parking garage. So far, Dover City Council and the mayor have ignored Langan Engineering’s recommendation and plunged ahead with this ostensible be-all-end-all edifice.

The Delaware General Assembly has allotted $1 million for the construction of the parking garage, but that will only cover one-fifth of total costs. This is an enormous gamble for what many regard as a pre-mall relic. If the prospective revenue from the parking garage doesn’t materialize and the city cannot pay its bond, Dover could go bankrupt.

Parking is crucial to the success of downtown Dover; that much is agreed by all. But how to improve upon current resources is an important question. While DDP has made a few upgrades such as lighting and signage, there is still a need for more free space for parking. Additionally, there must be a way for downtown shoppers to easily traverse the streets away from the place they park. Neither of these will be solved by a parking garage, which will cost more to build, maintain, and secure than it is worth. Bluntly, Mayor Christiansen’s suggestion to achieve usage of the parking garage, “build it and they will come,” does not qualify as a strategy.

Rather, the combination of two ground-level covered parking areas with free spaces at each end of downtown along with Park-and-Ride buses, which would offer transportation back and forth, will both solve perceived shortcomings in parking and give Dover citizens renewed motivation to shop downtown. This setup could be especially effective for theme-based events in downtown. Moreover, it can be achieved with a minimum of cost. In any case, Dover officials should start thinking more about offering better parking services to Dover residents than finding ways to pick their wallets.

Delaware State University professor Dr. Samuel B. Hoff has served the city of Dover through consulting on planning and preservation issues, as an assistant to the chair of the Garrison Tract Commission, and as five-year chair of the Dover Human Relations Commission.

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