Is there too much free parking in downtown Nashville? That surprising comment comes from a Metro councilmember who said free parking supplied by employers contributes to the city’s traffic problems.
Look around when you're driving downtown.
How many cars to do you see with one person in them?
"Some 84% of people who work downtown, drive downtown alone. There, in a nutshell, is our traffic problem,” said Angie Henderson, a Metro council member.
Henderson is calling on employers like Bridgestone Americas to incentivize their employees to avoid one-car, one-person commuting.
"If you have free parking at your employment, you are almost guaranteed to make that trip alone," she said.
She tweeted an invitation to Bridgestone’s incoming government relations representative, saying she looks forward to “hearing how you & Bridgestone are working” in 2019 to reduce "the negative impact of your employees driving by themselves to park in your tax-abated garage."
In 2015, Bridgestone got 52 million in tax breaks to entice its corporate headquarters to locate in downtown Nashville. Among other incentives, Bridgestone won’t have to pay property taxes for twenty years.
"I do think it's incumbent on major employers who are recipients of incentives to work with the city on this," Henderson said.
Bridgestone has its own parking garage with 1100 spaces. They also contract with the convention center for another 600 spots, which is 1/3 of the available parking in the Music City Center’s parking garage.
Music City Center recently spent millions of dollars to buy additional land in downtown Nashville to expand its parking capacity.
Bridgestone pays the convention center for the use of its 600 parking spaces, then provides the parking to Bridgestone employees at no cost.
It’s a good deal for employees, but not good for Nashville traffic, Henderson said. The city struggles with too many commuters on the road.
Metro is pushing companies to get their workers to use other options.
There's a new metro initiative called "Nashville Connector", which is operated through Metro’s planning department. The program offers to customize plans to help employers think "outside the car." Nashville Connector encourages employers to offer incentives to employees to ride the bus, carpool, take a train, or walk or bike to work.
Bridgestone Americas declined to be interviewed for the story, but sent the following statement:
We continue to incentivize, not mandate, the use of transit options, while providing parking options and embracing flexible hours for our employees. Among the many efforts we take to make Bridgestone a great place to work, our company offers a robust program of employee benefits built around commuter transit options. Bridgestone continues to offer employees a pre-tax benefit account to pay for the use of public transit as part of their daily commute to and from work. Regarding transit-related investments we make in our workforce, Bridgestone offers full-time employees WageWorks commuter benefits. With this program, employees can use pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified commuter expenses. (Funds are withdrawn from our employees’ paycheck before taxes are deducted.)
A Bridgestone representative wrote that the company has reached out to Councilmember Henderson.