There’s a basic equation at work in downtown revitalization — as empty buildings in Carlisle’s downtown turn into restaurants and retail businesses, it’s going to be harder to find a place to park.
“You may complain about parking. You may not be able to find a place to park, but you don’t have a dead town. It comes hand in hand,” said Glenn White, executive director of the Downtown Carlisle Association.
There is enough parking downtown, Borough Manager Matt Candland said.
“Now, will you always be able to park where you want to park? No,” he said.
According to the borough’s 2019 budget document, there are 796 parking meters within a two-block radius of the Square. Of those meters, 503 are short-term on-street parking and 132 are off-street parking for which visitors are charged 5 cents for six minutes, 10 cents for 12 minutes and 25 cents for 30 minutes. The remaining 161 meters are considered long term parking for which visitors are charged 25 cents for an hour.
Finding a space
In addition to on-street parking and off-street parking lots, parking is also available at the Pomfret Street garage, which White called the “most inexpensive hidden gem.” The garage has a total of 224 spaces of which 111 are leased. Downtown visitors can use the garage at a rate of 75 cents per hour with a daily maximum of $6 per day. After 5 p.m., visitors pre-pay a $1.50 flat rate.
As in real estate, location is a prime factor in the perception of just how much parking is available in downtown Carlisle. It is more difficult to find parking in some areas of the downtown than it is in other areas. North Hanover Street often has open parking spaces, but it’s always a little more difficult on West High Street, White said.
The time of day can also play a factor in finding an ideal parking space, White said. Parking seems to be least available on weekends as people go to downtown restaurants, breweries and shows at the Carlisle Theatre while parking on weeknights is much more available.
“If you go down to any other vibrant downtown, you’re not going to find a space to park right out in front of the restaurant that you’re wanting to go to,” White said.
Some, though, think there’s room to improve as far as the amount of parking is concerned.
“Parking in the downtown has always and is still an issue. I’m not sure what the answer to it is,” said Leslie Sterner, manager of the Carlisle Theatre.
Parking becomes an issue for the venue when there is a big show, but Sterner said they are grateful for the municipal lots, particularly the West Pomfret Street lot, and for the parking garage which are both located behind the theater.
Dave Hamilton of Burd’s Nest Brewing suggested an additional parking garage that could possibly take the place of vacant or dilapidated buildings in town.
“I think it would benefit all the businesses and shoppers to have at least one more strategically placed on the other side of town closer to the library or on the other side of Hanover Street,” he said.
To better utilize the parking that is available downtown, businesses and organizations like DCA have to fight the psychological factors that have made strip malls so popular.
Retailers have learned that consumers prefer to park in a lot where they can see the door they want to enter. Shoppers have been conditioned to think only of the distance to the door and not the distance they will walk inside the store, White said.
“When people park now, they are expecting to see the front door of the place that they are going to,” White said.
People going downtown need to realize that on-street parking is not the only option, White said. They can also use parking lots, the garage and side streets. Some businesses do have parking to the rear of their buildings, and businesses could do more to direct people to those lots. Improved back entrances could also make parking areas more attractive.
When Sarah Taby, owner of Miss Ruth’s Time Bomb, talks to people about parking downtown, they mostly talk about their own discomfort with street parking.
“They’re afraid of parallel parking, getting a parking ticket, or finding parking near their destination. A lot of their fears could be eased I think if they were fully aware of all the parking options in the downtown area, including the parking garage and various lots available,” she said.
“Most people don’t know there are parking lots behind the stores in the first block of North Hanover. There’s no signage,” said Pam Fleck, owner of American Artisan Gallery.
Fleck also said lighting in the corridor from the parking lot on East Louther Street provides “terrible lighting” for people coming in for dinner while there is “wonderful light installation” on East North, where there are no parking lots.
To that end, DCA is working to make the off-street parking in downtown Carlisle both more visible and more attractive to potential visitors. One way that can be done is by using the internationally recognized white and blue parking signs.
White agreed the alleys could be made more walkable, which would promote the use of of some lots, and better lighting could make the lots feel more secure.
There is also a generational shift that may affect parking in the downtown as millennials and the generation that follows them, Generation Z, move into downtown apartments and condos. They prefer not to drive and will walk several blocks to get where they want to go, White said.
“They are relishing the experience of actually living in the downtown, and they are more likely to go to a locally owned place than to Applebee’s,” he said.
Those who live and work in the downtown learn to understand the flow and congestion of downtown traffic and have figured out the parking situation. They have traded the ease of downtown parking for such things as walking the dog when they go to get a coffee or being able to walk home after dinner with friends, Taby said.
“If this is the lifestyle you value then traffic and parking downtown are not a problem but simply a part of what you have learned to expect from your chosen lifestyle,” she said.
Downtown businesses also have to contend with a reluctance to pay for downtown parking while parking is offered for free at shopping centers, but White reminds visitors to the downtown that paying to park has a functional purpose aside from the revenue it brings in, a portion of which is used for economic development efforts in the borough.
Paying to park also provides a hedge against drivers using a spot for long periods of time.
Downtown stores and restaurants are on the first floor, but there are three or four additional floors on most downtown buildings in which people live or have their offices. They would prefer to park in front of their buildings, but that would tie up a meter for up to 16 hours a day if parking were free, White said.
White encouraged people to compare what Carlisle charges with what other similarly sized downtowns charge, and to compare where Carlisle is with its vacancies, restaurant and store growth and vibrancy.
“We’re doing well. It’s fair enough for a quarter or two,” he said.
But, Taby said, the meters need to be marked more clearly to indicate when parking is free.
“On a Saturday if I’m out and about downtown I usually tell at least one person I come across on my path that they don’t need to put money in the meters on Saturday,” she said.
Knowing that the borough can’t please everyone, Taby said the most important thing is to focus on safety and to provide as much clear information as possible.
“Some people like the ease of a large parking lot and big box stores, while others enjoy the experience of maneuvering throughout the downtown and wondering around enjoying their neighborhood pub, coffee house, and independent bookstore. Both types of people live and patronize Carlisle and I think we’re lucky to live in an area that has have something for both types of folks,” she said.