Stop Saying LexPark Hates Local Businesses, Please

Another short note to start: I also wrote this in haste so it might well be littered with mistakes. If you find some, let me know and if you have any questions or want to talk about this in greater detail, email me at ethanwallace00@gmail.com . Hallelujah, holy shit, and happy reading!

So in the last few days since I wrote my initial blog supporting the new LexPark (LFCPA) price and enforcement change, some new information has come out as well as some new arguments with which I would like to engage. This is going to be a short rebuttal to a few people who’ve been vocal about this issue on social media. The only one comfortable being named is Chris Lucero, who published a very well written analysis of the ideal revenue bump as a result of this policy. I’ll be rebutting his argument, which is posted on his Instagram @_chris_lucero_.

First, I want to talk about safety concerns that have been levied by those uncomfortable with using parking garages or walking further to and from their cars. This is largely an sentimental argument that I can’t entirely refute, but I do want to point out a few important facts. First is that LexPark has put $11 million into improving safety conditions in their four garages including adding more lights, cameras, and removing potential blind spots (the linked article will be cited several times throughout this post). But it should also be rationed that whether you’re parking on the street or in a garage, you’re likely going to have to walk several blocks to your destination regardless. Safety and crime are growing issues in this city, but it’s non-unique to associate them with parking and claim that street parking is correlated to incidence rates.

The core area of concern for most people seems to be the effect this will have on local businesses and their employees, which is certainly a noble cause to tie to your advocacy. I addressed this in my earlier post, but I want to broaden my argument somewhat. I’ve noticed a major contradiction in a lot of people’s arguments, being that they think street parking should be cheap and easy for employees downtown, and it should be cheap and accessible for shoppers. The issue is that when workers are parked on-street for an entire work day (violating the two hour limit that already exists on downtown meters), it takes up spots that customers would otherwise use. Having employees park on the street is actually much worse for local businesses and it’s strange that everyone on the other side of this argument has entirely overlooked that. Moreover, the rate increases are no more than $0.50 on the hour, a number which I highly doubt will actually dissuade shoppers who were already planning on spending money, from coming downtown.

The goal of any well formed downtown parking policy should be to provide parking for employees at a much cheaper rate, potentially with government subsidies for those businesses, reduce on street parking and build more garages, and maximize turnover for short-term spots so shoppers aren’t parked as long and more cars can be serviced. I believe that any of my interlocutors in this debate would favor such a change. And it’s funny then, that that’s exactly what this new policy is. Long-term parking is already available downtown, through LexPark at one of their four garages. Even in the status quo, it’s much cheaper to purchase their $20 per month passes and walk a few blocks than re-up on street parking every two hours and risk incurring fines. I’ll concede that LexPark could be doing a much better job advertising this, but the argument that workers are bearing the brunt of this new decision is patently false given this option. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh telling people they ought to park further from their place of work, but if we want a more walkable city (which I assume we all do), a little walking from time to time is going to have to be involved.

I’ll now address Mr. Lucero’s post, which I will say was very sophisticated and well made. His analysis of the potential revenue gain for LexPark following this policy purported a 127% increase. There were some shortcomings in his paper, he didn’t account for the possibility of increased turnover or status quo turnover rates, but to his credit that would likely only show a greater gain. His messaging has been to call this a “greedy” move and has taken a somewhat personal tone toward Director Gary Means. He too has reiterated the same ill-formed arguments centering local businesses. My general response is this: so what? LexPark imposes a new policy increasing the cost of parking and their revenue goes up, perhaps even by a lot; that doesn’t seem so bad to me.

I know that’s a bit curt but LexPark needs the money, for a lot of reasons. First because of the recently passed HB8 which expands the 6% sales tax to parking expenses. Second because since their last rate hike in 2019, there’s been nearly 17% inflation nationwide. Third, and most importantly, because LexPark has been operating at a massive deficit for years and has big projects they haven’t been able to complete or even begin because of it. LFCPA is a public utility, independent from the LFUCG, which does not receive taxpayer funding and must produce its own revenue. It’s also a non-profit agency. Any money they collect from the happy, tax paying citizens of Lexington must be carefully audited and re-dispensed into ventures that will benefit the community. It’s simply bad faith to argue that this is a cash-grab intended to line Gary Means’s pockets. Sure, the potential revenue increase will exceed the expenditures caused by inflation and HB8, but all that means is that LFCPA will have more money to use on improving safety in parking structures, build more garages, or pay their employees more. I won’t speculate on how they might use those new funds outside of exactly what has been said, but I’d ask that my interlocutors won’t engage in such fallacious argumentation either.

One final argument I’ll address is that this is “putting the cart before the horse” as Lexington doesn’t have the existing pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to start making moves toward reducing car dependency. I’ve heard this response verbatim a few times now and I understand the concern here, and it is true that Lexington is not walkable enough to start demanding it. But this isn’t a broad stroke, it’s a small step that neither imposes nor requires walkability. In fact, it still upholds car dependency in some way, though while pushing people toward accepting better planning in the form of garages and more antagonism toward cars. My original argument wasn’t that this policy will be the first push toward radically reforming this city but that it is one of many small steps that we can take in the interim while we follow in the footsteps of cities like Seattle or St. Louis. I think this is neither contingent nor necessary for the evolution of this city, though I will admit that I might have made it seem that way in my previous post.

There is an ouroboros of incentives at work here that we must call out; we cannot move toward a more walkable city without policies like this which necessitate more walkable infrastructure, but we cannot ask people to accept certain kinds of policies when our infrastructure is not yet walkable enough. This, though, is so minor and such a small step toward walkability that it will not disrupt other areas where progress is being made nor will it cascade into unstoppable negative consequences. It’s a necessary step, that might be a reaction, but there are no straws or camels to be found. To build the Lexington we all want to see will take a lot more and LexPark will play but a small part.

Perhaps my argument sounds a lot different than the ones made by LexPark, and that’s fine, but if you’re still concerned, there are lots of things that can be done without opposing this new policy. I agree with my opponents in some regards. LexPark could be doing a much better job communicating with the public and workers shouldn’t have to spend absurd amounts of money to park their cars getting to work. Remember, street parking isn’t even the best option in the status quo, but maybe instead of raging at LexPark, let’s come together to ask the City Council to subsidize local businesses paying for their employees’ parking. Let’s also not lose focus of the broader goals of adjustments to downtown Lexington. I think most of the opposition to LexPark right now is largely emotional in nature and we should remind ourselves that transitioning from a car-dependent city to a walkable one, as many cities have done, will sometimes incur undesired changes in the short term.

Lexington is a magnificent place to live, but it could be so much better if we let it. Street parking is just one of those little things that really does impede progress. I’ll keep talking about this issue if it can be proven that local businesses actually will be hurt (I don’t think they will be), or LexPark is actually a corrupt and evil public utility (I don’t think it is). But please, everyone, chill out for a second. Stop making arguments that ignore big ticket goals and little realities. It’ll be fine, I promise.

PS: I just want to say this, because I can. I’ve noticed that most of the opposition to this is coming from liberals and has a somewhat liberal bend. It also sounds a lot like NIMBYism. Don’t be those people, please. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind a little bit with just how much people are angry about this more than other issues in the community and I’m one “parking is a human right” away from pulling my hair out. I’m so glad y’all are suddenly so engaged in local politics, it’s a riot, but if this is what has drawn the new crop of NIMBYs in, I might just have to leave.

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Ethan Wallace

Political science student at the University of Kentucky. Lexington native and KY politics junkie.