For as long as Decatur has had a downtown, there have been complaints about parking.
If we're going to tell the truth, anyone who's visited a retail location any other city of comparable or larger size will point out Decatur parking is no worse than the worst, and better than many.
But too often, shoppers remember a day that didn't exist, one where they were able to pull up and park in front of a business' open door and shop to their heart's content. Everything was cheaper and of better quality then as well.
One of the vocal proponents promoting the preponderance of downtown parking availability was former Decatur Area Arts Council executive director Susan Smith. When the council moved to its current building, Smith often pointed out there were 900 parking spaces within a two-block walk.
That may have been a bit of an exaggeration. But it's no exaggeration that there are two significant changes in recent years. There are no longer parking meters leaving customers scrambling for change (and, by extension, no aggressive parking meter attendants who seemed to wait for the second the timeclock would flip to write a parking ticket), and there are more parking spaces now than when Smith walked downtown counting what was there.
There are 1,904 parking spaces within an area that roughly covers Eldorado to Wood Streets from north-south and Church Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive going east-west. Those spots include 790 street parking spots, 296 parking lot spaces and 745 spots in the parking garage across the street from the Decatur Public Library.
There are always go-tos in the parking discussion. Older drivers might struggle parking some distance away. Employees take prime spots. Those arguments are true everywhere, not just in downtown Decatur. If businesses are truly concerned about customers parking some distance from their door, agreeing to require employees to park further away is an easy way to minimize that issue. The question is whether businesses and employees have the stomach for it.
Some of those additional spaces are along N. Main St., angled parking added to the one-way street added as the speed limit for the stretch was reduced and semis were prohibited from driving through downtown. The angled parking may be the most contentious of the downtown changes. Backing into traffic can be a challenge at certain times of the day, but it's not as though the street is regularly closed or limited because of non-stop accidents. There are close calls everywhere. The Main Street ones are memorable because it's a frequently traveled road, and the change is recent.
Parking in downtown Decatur will never be idyllic. We should be grateful for that. Keeping a downtown thriving by definition will include expanding your search a block or two for a parking space. The interesting things going on downtown are supposed to be attracting people to the area.
Downtown is more fun the busier it is.