Tuesday marks the official start of summer: a season characterized in Ann Arbor by hordes of orientation students, the Art Fair and — with many students out of town — anti-student legislation before Ann Arbor City Council. While the ban on outdoor couches proposed last summer has yet to reappear on the agenda, City Council has received petitions from the Oxbridge and North Burns Park residential associations to limit street parking in their neighborhoods to those with residential permits. Though creating more residential parking districts may appeal to homeowners seeking more spaces on Ann Arbor’s crowded streets, it will do little to address the parking issues facing all who live and work in Ann Arbor, and it could benefit homeowners only by inconveniencing students, renters and commuters. City Council should not create these parking districts; at a minimum, it should delay any action until the fall, when students’ voices may be fairly heard.
The petitions request the city to issue residential permits for street parking in the Oxbridge and North Burns Park neighborhoods. Those without permits would be restricted to two hours of parking during daytime hours.
While homeowners in these neighborhoods may encounter difficulty finding street parking, their troubles are not unusual. Simply put, too many people — homeowners, students and commuters alike — are bringing too many cars into Ann Arbor. Restricting parking on public streets to a particular segment of the public will do nothing to remedy this situation.
Rather, expanding parking districts will only shift parking to other neighborhoods, creating an incentive for those neighborhoods to push for their own parking restrictions. Indeed, the previous creation of a similar parking district in the Old Fourth Ward likely exacerbated the parking problems in the neighborhoods currently seeking restrictions.
Students and commuters who use street parking will certainly not enjoy dealing with new residential parking districts. Furthermore, both neighborhoods contain significant numbers of renters, with renters representing a majority on some blocks, according to census data. Even though these renters — primarily students — are bona fide residents of the neighborhoods, they will likely encounter difficulty securing residential parking permits: the city will only accept permit applications from their landlords, who are not exactly known for their eagerness to aid students.
Students still in Ann Arbor should voice their opposition to this plan. In particular, Greek organizations with houses on Cambridge Avenue, which runs through both neighborhoods, should step up to stop a plan that will be detrimental to their members. And all University students, regardless of where they reside, should note that the gerrymandering of wards for Ann Arbor city elections divides the student vote and makes it tough to elect a student voice to City Council to oppose plans that harm students. City Council should recognize this fact and have the democratic decency to put off debate on the proposed parking districts until the fall.
Regardless of whether the council eventually passes the parking restrictions, parking in Ann Arbor will remain high in demand and difficult to find. Ultimately, only increased reliance on walking, biking and public transportation can cut down on the onslaught of vehicles clogging Ann Arbor’s streets and competing for parking spaces each workday. By fostering policies that enable people to live and work in Ann Arbor without needing cars, City Council can perhaps spare itself the need to determine exactly who deserves to park on public streets.