The pending closure of the West Milwaukee Street parking lot has some people worried downtown Janesville soon could face a parking shortage. With the demolition of the Rock River parking plaza last year, their concerns would seem to have merit.
But even with the two lots’ closure, the downtown still has nearly 2,000 spaces, the majority unoccupied at any given time.
Sure, losing the West Milwaukee Street lot will inconvenience some people, but the city plans to replace this loss with 78 new on-street spaces through the ongoing overhauls of nearby Milwaukee, Court and River streets. Reconstruction of the Dodge Street lot will gain another nine spots.
People accustomed to parking at the West Milwaukee Street lot might need to walk farther to get to their destinations. But that’s a blessing for Rock County, which has a 34 percent obesity rate, ranking among the worst in the state. Diabetes and other ailments are linked to inactivity. Health gurus even recommend parking as far as possible from a store’s entrance to add exercise to the daily routine. For anyone who wears a Fitbit or similar step-tracking device, this new parking arrangement could yield a windfall.
Of course, having to walk farther doesn’t sit well with people who view parking availability as an entitlement of sorts. But compared to other cities, such as Madison, downtown Janesville doesn’t have anything like a parking shortage. Good luck trying to find a parking spot in Madison near State Street on many days. It’s like playing the lottery, except you don’t win money when you find a spot. You have to pay to park in downtown Madison.
Which brings up another good point about Janesville parking—it’s free, even at the ramp on Main Street. And much of the downtown parking is the all-day variety. Some might say downtown Janesville is a veritable parking paradise.
Not that we want the downtown to be a parking paradise. We’d actually prefer a parking shortage because that at least means people want to come to the downtown. Parking shortages are good problems to have. Downtown Janesville suffered for years as many shops moved to the city’s outskirts, though the parking spaces created in the 1950s and 1960s never left. A glut was the result.
With downtown’s revitalization underway, some of that glut is being absorbed, such as with the pending closure of the West Milwaukee Street lot. It’s important to remember the city has never considered parking the best use for the West Milwaukee Street lot. When it acquired this land 25 years ago, the city had hopes for someday redeveloping it.
When Cobblestone Hotel announced plans to build on this lot last year, the city agreed to sell and without reservations. It’s ludicrous to think the city should have turned away a new downtown hotel in favor of maintaining a city-owned parking lot. (For its part, Cobblestone plans to provide parking for its own customers.)
With downtown revitalization efforts gaining momentum, more people will be coming to the downtown. They’ll be filling up some spaces but only some. There will still be a spot for anyone else who wants to come downtown—several hundred spots, in fact. Take your pick.