File this under, “Aspiring urbanite complains about urban problems.”
Let me say this from the outset: I moved to Durham from Carrboro seven years ago because I wanted to live in a bigger city. I daydream about living in a much bigger city, maybe even New York City, of all places.
But here’s my complaint. Durham has now grown to the point where I’m afraid to go downtown. I’m not afraid of crime nor of being unwelcome. I’m only a little annoyed about paying $15 or $20 for a simple meal. These are all legitimate fears, depending on who you are. But what really terrifies me is not being able to find a parking space.
For years now, my spouse and I have eaten dinner downtown religiously, not on weekend nights when a lot of people are dining downtown, but on Monday and Tuesday nights when our kids are with my ex. We’re regulars at Dos Perros’ taco nights. We go to Luna a couple of times a month. Sometimes we splurge at Bar Virgile or Viceroy.
But in recent months, we find ourselves looping around Ramseur, Main and Parrish streets multiple times before we can find parking. Used to be, the exit gate on the Ramseur surface lot behind Beyu and Dame’s would be open, and we could park there. Used to be, the Church Street garage would be free at night, but now there’s always an attendant collecting from DPAC patrons, even if I just want a jackfruit patacon pisao. If we wanted to go to Tobacco Road Sports Café to watch a game, we used to be able to hop the low curb on Pettigrew across from the ATC apartments and park in the dirt along the railroad tracks, but everyone else seems to have figured that one out.
I’m running out of top-secret Dirty-DURM parking spots now. On one Monday night, Julie and I orbited downtown for about 20 minutes before we finally gave up and drove to Brightleaf.
This has become, not a big problem, but a real one nonetheless. We feel like we need to change our routine, which is disorienting. We’ll probably end up more often at Thai Café or Nana Taco in Rockwood, or over by Fullsteam (I can’t bring myself to call it the DIY District) where Geer Street Garden is a go-to, or in our own Broad/Ninth Street neighborhood.
During the summer, if we have a nice long evening free, we’ll walk downtown. But if we have to drive, I suspect we’re going to be avoiding downtown a lot more, or taking the Bull City Connector. (A mental shift toward public transit is a very good thing, but it’s a major paradigm change when you’ve got to build in a lot of extra time to get where you need to go).
The other night, I started wondering how soon the Lakewood area would become a hotspot, with a new Cocoa Cinnamon location on its way and with Scratch owner Phoebe Lawless opening The Lakewood restaurant this spring. Having so much good food downtown has trained me to hop in the car when I need to grab a quick dinner. I feel this option slipping away.
My complaint here is tongue-in-cheek. This is a good problem to have. Not only do we struggle to find parking, but the waitlists at the restaurants are longer than ever. They’re not struggling to fill tables.
All I’m saying is, I never had to think much about parking and now I do. I’m not even complaining about the new meters for downtown street parking. Paid parking is actually a good way to keep vehicles moving and free up spaces. But I’m not seeing that make a difference. It still takes awhile to find a spot.
This seems to have happened all of a sudden. One week it was easy to park, the next it wasn’t. I know that’s not exactly true. We’ve been building toward this, and it depends a great deal on whether DPAC has a show or not. But this is the new reality. Welcome to the big city, my friends.