Downtown Richmond businesses long have struggled with the problem of non-patrons parking in the best spaces in front of stores and leaving vehicles in place for hours and sometimes all day – a huge deal for owners trying to make ends meet.

Without parking space protection, downtown merchants suffer, business owner Jimmy Carter said.

“It kills the heart of your town,” Carter said. “Your downtown will die.”

In the absence of city help to improve the parking issue, downtown business owners may feel neglected to the point of looking elsewhere to do business. Carter tried, but failed to find a solution when he worked with city leaders.He moved his Missouri Farm and Home Mutual Insurance Co. from downtown to 400 N. Spartan Drive.

“I noticed, after we moved, a big change in perception and feel,” he said.

Richmond’s elected officials and staff are sympathetic to the issue downtown businesses face, but officials have to keep in mind what is best for the entire city, not just for one area. Infrastructure repairs rank among the city’s greatest priorities, and spending thousands of dollars on parking meters is not a cost-effective use of the money. Even less effective, from a cost-benefit standpoint, would be spending tens of thousands of dollars to pay, equip and provide benefits for a parking enforcement officer.

The question is this: If downtown merchants want a two-hour parking limit in front of their businesses, and the city cannot afford either parking meters or a parking enforcement officer, does that mean there is no solution?

The answer is no.

City leaders should have faith in public honesty.

If the city were to adopt an ordinance limiting parking around the square, followed by erecting two-hour parking signs, then most people would obey the signs. People would not obey those signs out of fear of seeing officers with stun guns and clubs doing foot patrols around the square. People would obey the law, even in the absence of police officers, simply because most people are honest and choose to obey the law.

This belief is not naive. Everyone knows there are scofflaws who have no use for rules. Everyone sees such people being conveyed regularly by van from the Ray County Jail to the doors of the Ray County Courthouse, where they go for court hearings and trials. In the end, most reap the consequences of their disregard for laws that are necessary to bind and protect society – each person being answerable to the other – for the greater good.

City leaders should have faith in human nature and trust that the use of signs, though not a perfect answer, is superior to no answer at all.

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