In your typical Friday afternoon news dump, we received a press release from the city stating that as of Monday morning, parking on the 100 Block of Gay Street will no longer be free. And not only will it no longer be free, it will cost $1 an hour to park on that block, just as if you were parking in the State Street or Market Square garages.
Back in the day, before the city redeveloped the streetscaping, there were old-school parking meters on the 100 Block. But for the past several years, parking has been free. Come Monday, however, there will be two new shiny electronic "smart" multi-space meters on the block. According to the city's Downtown Coordinator, Rick Emmett, the two meters cost around $35,000 (which included software), compared to $500 for a regular old parking meter. But hey! They take credit cards!
The multi-space meters, which have been in use along Chattanooga's riverfront for a few years, require you to park, walk halfway down the block, pay the meter, walk back to your car and stick the ticket on your dashboard, and then go on your way. So they are also good for making people exercise more. And while you still can use your old, ugly, unloved heavy metal coins to pay for parking, you can also now use fancy crisp dollar bills. And credit cards. Because that is "the wave of the future," according to Emmett.
What we cannot figure out is why, once these meters are in place on Monday, anyone will actually pay $1 per hour to park on the 100 Block, since there are all those meters on the bridge that just cost $0.25 per hour. But hey, a sucker's born every minute, right? We asked Emmett about the absurd increase in cost -- at most meters downtown, an hour of parking is maybe $0.50 -- and he said the beauty of the electronic meters is that you can change the rates whenever you want, but that a dollar an hour seemed a good place to start. (We suspect the ginormous cost of these meters probably also has something to do with it.)
The city is calling these new meters a "pilot program," but Emmett says he has no idea how long it will last. "We haven't discussed [it]," he says. In any case, it seems clear that the future of free -- and cheap -- on-street parking downtown is limited. Emmett says that given the cost of the meters ($10,000 or so each), it will be a while before all of Gay Street catches up to the 100 Block, but it will happen. "We should have been doing this for years," he says.
UPDATE: City Communications Director Jesse Mayshark writes to let us know that the meters will not actually be operational on Monday. He says it will probably be October before they start charging for parking. So enjoy your last days of freedom ...