I am tired of people criticizing cruise ships in the name of preserving livability in the City of Charleston. Not that I have any special love for the cruise industry, but if one wants to improve livability in the city, don't reduce cruise ships, reduce parking meter attendants.
Dealing with heavy traffic around the Market on occasion is a nuisance. Coming back to your car after a two-minute walk to the post office or a restaurant and finding a $15 or $45 ticket is seriously aggravating. Which do you think has a more negative impact on the average Charlestonian?
I have nothing against parking meter attendants, and I realize that they are fine folks who are just doing their jobs. But from a policy standpoint, parking tickets should be given to make parking more manageable in the City of Charleston, not to generate revenue. Parking is admittedly difficult, particularly in many downtown areas, but is that caused by scores of drivers deliberately staying over their allotted parking meter times or simply a shortage of parking spaces? Would most people trade receiving a parking ticket for having to drive around a little longer to find a parking space? That seems to be the choice citizens have when we talk about how aggressively our parking regulations should be enforced.
Overly aggressive parking enforcement leaves the same bad taste that speed traps in small towns do. The ticket recipient feels targeted as the result of revenue considerations rather than an effort to preserve public safety, combat congestion, or, in this example, enhance livability. Add to this sentiment the feeling that parking tickets punish activity that is often accidental, rather than the conscious breaking of a traffic ordinance. Put more simply, there is a strong argument that someone who consciously runs a red light is far more culpable, and therefore deserving of punitive action, than someone who is stuck in line at a business and gets to a parking meter 10 minutes late — and that's not even mentioning the fact that a person running a red light has a far greater potential to harm innocent people.
Many cities have experimented with giving drivers a 10-minute grace period when their meter runs out of time. Even if this approach does not reduce the amount of parking citations issued, it does convey the sense that the ticketing authority is working with you as a driver rather than trying to catch and punish you. It also reduces the possibility that a driver returns to their car the instant that an attendant is writing them a ticket, which he or she subsequently refuses to discard in your presence. No city feels very livable in those moments.
Obviously, the choice between less cruise ships or more parking enforcement is a false dichotomy. The issue of whether more ships come into Charleston largely is left to the State Ports Authority, while parking enforcement falls under municipal government. But if we are going to have a serious discussion about livability in Charleston, we must analyze each governmental decision by weighing its financial benefits against its impact to citizens.
The financial benefits of the cruise industry and a thriving port are great. The impact on livability, at least with the level of cruise traffic we currently have, is a mere nuisance. There are other governmental policies that generate far less benefit to our city and are far more intrusive. I would cite aggressive parking enforcement as an example of one such policy.
While critics can quibble about the amount of incremental financial benefit our local businesses receive every time a cruise ship makes call, there is no question that the financial rewards go much further than municipal government collections. As we broaden the discourse about livability in Charleston, we should make an honest assessment of how certain governmental policies actually harm or benefit us. I would take a thriving port and more sensitive parking enforcement any day, and I would tell the people who do not like it they can always move to the suburbs.