Moab may soon have a parking garage under construction thanks to the Utah Transportation Commission’s Recreation Hotspot funding program. It seems to me the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) wants the parking structure so they can clear away Main Street parking and do away with left turns; Mike Bynum and other business owners directly adjacent to the proposed site want it to provide taxpayer-funded parking for their private businesses; and our mayor, Emily Niehaus, as as far as I can tell, wants it simply because she has invested so much time and energy in it already. Nevertheless, residents have spoken out repeatedly at city council meetings that this parking structure is not what Moab needs. It is time the city council heeds those voices.
The main goals of the Recreation Hotspot funding program, administered by UDOT, are to reduce congestion, increase economic development, and increase tourism and recreation opportunities. How are we going to simultaneously increase tourism traffic and economic development in Moab while also reducing vehicle traffic on our streets? The idea that was eventually decided on to achieve this contradictory set of goals was a parking garage located downtown.
Our city council members seemed to have an overall increase in parking in mind, while UDOT was hoping to get rid of Main Street parallel parking and ban left turns from 400 North all the way to 300 South. UDOT figured that this would reduce congestion on Main by getting rid of the backups of cars stuck in the left turn only lane for multiple light cycles (incidentally caused by UDOT’s unwillingness to install left-turn-only signals), and slowdowns from cars entering or exiting parallel parking spaces.
Members of the public and business owners throughout the length of Main Street got up in arms over those ideas, especially about the issue of parking. UDOT’s own research showed that the average parker isn’t willing to walk more than 600 feet from their vehicle to their final destination. A one-block radius is about as far as the benefits of the parking garage would transfer, meaning that business owners on that block would win while every other business owner on Main Street would lose. UDOT relented on those issues, yet remained surprisingly willing to put up the promised $8.3 million.
Our city council’s reasons for supporting the parking structure from the beginning are a bit fuzzier to me. UDOT made no secret of the fact that they planned to lobby for parking to be taken away from Main Street and replaced with the parking garage. It was also clear from a recent parking study, commissioned by the city council and conducted by Avenue Consultants, that there is more than enough parking in Moab already. What both UDOT’s research and Avenue Consultant’s research showed is that Moab does not have a parking problem, it has a walking problem.
So who will this parking structure really benefit? It will benefit those business owners directly adjacent to it, it will benefit tourists walking very short distances to shops and restaurants, and it will probably still benefit UDOT – while UDOT representative Ryan Anderson confirmed by email that they will not be requiring the removal of Main Street parking as part of the construction of the parking structure, he clarified on Feb. 11 that by no means would it be off the table in the future. The proposed parking garage is, I think, likely part of their preparation strategy. They’ll point to it as proof that there is plenty of parking to compensate for Main Street parking being removed, then steamroll over any local sentiments to the contrary in the process. It is UDOT’s highway after all.
Fortunately, some members of our city council are coming around. Karen Guzman-Newton presented a potential statement of consensus on Feb. 18 at a Grand County Council joint session with the Moab City Council that would effectively pause the parking structure project. Furthermore, it would seek to renegotiate the contract with UDOT to explore the possibility of researching and implementing a public transit system for the Moab, Spanish Valley and Arches area. This idea would do a much better job of achieving the Hotspot funding’s contradictory goals, and UDOT’s own representatives present at the meeting said that the Transportation Commission would likely be amenable to such a change in contract.
A quality that is essential in any leadership role is knowing when to admit that you were wrong and change course. More members of the community have spoken out against the parking structure than in favor. Most of those who have spoken in favor stand to benefit directly from it. Councilmembers Guzman-Newton, Mike Duncan and Rani Derasary have all taken a stand against the parking garage, it is time that Mayor Niehaus and Councilmembers Tawny Knuteson-Boyd and Kalen Jones change course and support Guzman-Newton’s statement of consensus.