Downtown Tuscaloosa parking woes may soon be addressed
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Zhoee’ Williams
Locals and visitors traversing downtown Tuscaloosa say finding a decent parking spot in the area is nigh impossible, despite a large parking deck existing nearby.
Tuscaloosa’s Intermodal Facility, which features a large parking deck, is located at the corner of Seventh Street and 23rd Avenue downtown. But there are no signs directing visitors there, and it can be easy to miss.
Customers, workers and business owners say they’re frustrated with the city’s two-hour parking limit on weekdays, relentless ticketing over said two-hour parking limit, and the minutes-long hike they often have to take on the way to their downtown destination.
The Strip near the University of Alabama campus is also facing an increase in parking woes after the city removed the parallel parking spots along University Boulevard last year. Those spots are now loading or pick-up zones for delivery personnel.
Large, promising-looking lots like the one at Publix and those on the University of Alabama campus are no-go zones for anyone who wants to visit a spot on the Strip. The lot across the street from Publix in the shopping complex containing places including Moe’s, the UPS Store and A Nail & Spa, is often full, even during slow times.
“Parking, from experience, is overpriced and gives nothing back in return, said A Nail & Spa employee Hoai Huynh. “Some parking lots look like a warzone and they are constantly monitored by parking police which is sometimes borderline harassment. They oversell the parking spots and there are times there aren’t spots even when you have paid.”
Meanwhile, downtown business owners say they’re losing customers because of the parking shortage.
Owner of Twice As Nice consignment shop Rhonda Tew said she receives calls all the time from people “who would love to shop,” but they’ve been driving around downtown for so long that they decided to leave. Tew said years ago, downtown parking wasn’t near as much of a hassle. Now, it’s bad for business.
“Sometimes customers park in the Intermodal Facility and walk to my shop, but the walk is so long and there are so many panhandlers that they get scared off. I wish there was some type of trolley or transport situation to and from the Intermodal Facility that can drop off and pick up people at night to make the area more safe,” said Tew.
Tuscaloosa does have a bus system, but it’s focused on inter-city travel, not short downtown stops.
An employee at Twice As Nice consignment shop said she has to park three blocks away and walk to work every day.
“On serval occasions, I had to drive around for 20 minutes just to find a parking space, then I have to move my car so I don’t get a ticket,” said Ellery Hill. “Safety is a problem because it’s not well lit at night, and walking back to your car that is three blocks away sucks.”
An employee at Babes Doughnut Co. said she parks where she can, but risks getting a ticket because of the two-hour limitation in many spots. She said she takes a break to move her car before she gets a ticket, and finding another spot can be a complicated endeavor. She said the Intermodal Facility being the only major parking hub for everything downtown doesn’t make sense.
Katie, a manager of the Pants Store said her biggest frustration with parking downtown is that there’s nothing businesses can do to fix it, but it’s something major that’s affecting them and their customers.
“People will drive by and see that there aren’t any parking spots and not come,” Katie said. “Sometimes I will even run their items out to their car so they don’t have to struggle parking with kids in the car and worry about carrying a car seat just to shop for 10 minutes.”
Katie said she thinks the Intermodal Facility is a good parking solution, but it needs more visibility.
“If someone is going to be downtown for three or four hours, they should park there instead of in front of a business,” Katie said. “I don’t feel like the deck is utilized enough for the number of people who are here downtown, so it’s a daily struggle.”
For downtown business owners, it’s an issue that’s past due for the city to solve.
“You would think that business people having an issue about parking every day would be more of a concern to the city,” said Katie.
Tuscaloosa Communications Director Richard Rush said the city understands there are parking issues in the area. In fact, the results of a study on downtown parking will be released this month. Birmingham engineering firm Kimley-Horn is doing the study.