The bright green and orange signs direct you to the cheap parking downtown. $1 PARK, they say. Helpful arrows point you in the right direction.
If you're like I am, paying to park is like paying to yawn and scratch yourself.
If you're also like I am, you'd sooner pour acid on your retinas than go downtown. But sometimes, like the IRS and the proctologist's office, downtown can't be avoided.
So, OK. A buck. Fair enough.
Coming down Central Parkway, you turn left on Race, and follow the $1 PARK signs. They take you to a lot between Fifth and Sixth streets, beneath Lazarus. Convenient. Easy. Covered. A buck.
That's what the sign says, right by the ramp, in incredibly large, impossible-to-miss red: $1. You can't read the fine print, not until your vehicle is halfway down the twisty ramp. It's in black, about as clear as the 10th line on the eye chart. Smaller than life.
FIRST HOUR, it says.
First hour? What can you do downtown in an hour?
You can't eat in an hour. You can't shop. You can't go to a meeting or a ball game. It's not like you're going downtown to mail a letter, pick up some milk or drop off a kid at soccer practice.
You could walk up and down Fourth Street in an hour, and count the empty storefronts. You could talk to a bum. You could admire the impressive array of bird droppings festooning what used to be a department store.
When you are downtown, you need more than an hour.
It gets better at the $1 PARK.
If it's $1 the first hour, how much could it be the next hour? A dollar twenty-five? A buck-fifty? Two dollars, tops.
It's a dollar for 15 every minutes. Four bucks an hour.
When is $1 PARK not $1?
All the time, in lots of downtown.
You want to know why people avoid downtown? Why it's a sinkhole, a detour, a place you go when you miss a turn? Start with parking.
Some people are city animals. They use words like "vibrant'' a lot. They are cultured, literate and sophisticated. I am not.
Downtown was a place I saw when relatives visited.
Any other time, if I ever heard someone say, "You're going downtown,'' it meant somebody was in big trouble.
Cincinnati's downtown is in big trouble. Everyone knows that.
It looks like a porcelain doll with an arm ripped off. So why would you antagonize people who visit by tricking them with phony $1 parking?
While we're at it: The city's most efficient civil servants are the six meter police downtown. If the rest of the city were as efficient as they are, Cincinnati would be Disney World. But I digress.
Bob Schroer is Cincinnati's parking superintendent. He wants you to know there are actual places downtown where $1 PARK is not a come-on.
He really wants you to know that the garage where I parked is privately owned.
The city owns 1,200 parking spaces in the core shopping district downtown; 1,000 are in two garages around Fountain Square. You pay $1 to park there for the first two hours, then $2 an hour after that. On weekends and after 5 p.m., it's $1, period.
The city lots fill up quickly during the week, especially between 11 and 1. And the city doesn't have enough spaces downtown to set the market. Only 6 percent of all the spaces are city-owned, Schroer said.
"When our lots fill, the private lots are waiting,'' Schroer said. "It becomes supply and demand. If you want private people developing in the city, they have to have the ability to make money. It's a double-edged sword.''
It cuts like a knife. My $1 parking cost me $7. Next time, I'll park in Kentucky and walk across a bridge.
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