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Gridlock Guy: Our city’s parking problems are a reflection of our traffic woes

Atlanta gets more flack than Roberta about how slow its traffic moves. While rush hour, lack of mass transit, and often just plain sloppy organization with big events are killing drivers softly with a very slow song, another vehicular problem needs consideration. Businesses, organizations, and cities need to do better with how they handle parking.

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Traffic can move fine on the roads, but if the parking situation is a crawl, the road gains are lost in the garage. If people in cars then have to walk a long, convoluted way to their destination, they get even more disgruntled. If this same parking is expensive, then the experience really starts at loss.

The WSB Traffic Team and I learned plenty about the Atlanta Braves parking plan in several phases during 2016, as the team rolled out its intent to have satellite parking locations at 360 degrees around SunTrust Park. The plan put in place involves leasing parking lots from office buildings in the after-work hours around game time. The parking is available in all cardinal directions of the new stadium, cleverly creating multiple entry and exit points for traffic.

But the parking for Braves games has major flaws. Finding the lots is confusing, even whilst pointing GPS’s to their exact addresses. And the entrances and exits for cars and people for the lots are sometimes highly inconvenient. I parked in Lot 32 for a recent game and entered in one entrance in my vehicle, only to be sent to a pedestrian-only exit that is further away from the stadium’s gates and requires an uphill climb. For fans rushing to the games, 10-15 minute walks could very well make seeing the first pitch difficult.

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Braves parking is highly expensive, as is parking at many other busy events around town. Fans largely have to buy Braves parking online, which involves $3 service fees. That puts Braves parking at roughly $20 per space. If fans are having to pay extra money to buy the spaces online, they should at least have a shorter foot commute to the gate.

Day game parking is very limited, as many of those offices that lease the parking have to use the capacity for their employees. Fortunately, day game crowds are smaller. But this fact shows that the Braves’ parking plan is at least somewhat shaky.

I have parked twice for $13 (with the fees) at Lot S60 at the Cobb Galleria, which is a reasonable fee. Not only is the walk to the stadium far, however, but it’s also complicated. Parking at S60 involves going down an elevator, through an inconspicuous set of doors and through a tunnel to another elevator, then up and through a curved walkway in front of some restaurants, finally to the pedestrian bridge. That bridge crosses both I-285 and Circle 75 Pkwy., dumps into another parking garage, then sends fans down more stairs, finally to land in The Battery, the mixed-use fan zone outside of SunTrust Park. Imagine one navigating that trek without the virtue of following the herd — there isn’t much signage.

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The Braves have shuttles, assistance, and close parking for those who need it or who want to pay for it. But if Braves owners Liberty Media really wanted a full, gleaming conglomerate of real estate, why didn’t they invest in better parking and a better system? They certainly had the backing in funds from the Cobb County government.

By the way, Cobb County’s inability to bring mass transit northwest of Atlanta is on infamous display at the largely successful Battery Atlanta/SunTrust Park complex. Fans who want to avoid the parking headaches have very little, if any, mass transit options. That leaves ridesharing, which the Braves have made room for, but doesn’t lighten the traffic load.

The point of this exercise is not to blast the Braves or Cobb County, but to show that Atlanta’s great economic successes often are successful to a certain point. Sure, so-and-so city or county landed the big, rich whatchamacallit company or sports team or annual event. Private and public sectors held hands to fund and construct a citizen-friendly experience with unheard of amenities. But the devil is in the details. I wrote part of this article at a new Starbucks that is attached to brand new stores, but has tight and horrendously sparse parking. In a metro area so dependent on cars, this was a major oversight. But entrepreneurs are trying to shoehorn new revenue streams into wherever they can.

If driving to the whatchamacallit is bad and the parking experience is even worse, is the whatchamacallit really that successful? Engineers and city planners really need to account for the fact that despite what many people say, they are not just giving up their cars. Successful events and places in Atlanta need accommodating ways in and out and plenty of parking spaces. Parking isn’t as sexy as a trendy brew pub, but it is arguably just as, if not more, important. The same holds true for the roads leading to these parking lots of these happening places. Metro Atlanta businesses and governments must work better than they have together to value transportation as much as the shiny new bells and whistles.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.

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