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How to get more parking downtown without adding any spaces

By Jason Freely / a couple of months ago
How to get more parking downtown without adding any spaces

Many towns have hidden parking areas that could be connected to their downtown with hallways like this one. Kendrick, Idaho, photo by Becky McCray.

Doesn’t every city have that problem? You’re about to learn a new way to get more parking for your Main Street without having to pave, stripe or get a permit. It doesn’t work in every town, but it very well might work in yours.

There is only so much parking on the main street in front of businesses. If you look behind businesses, along alleys and on the neighboring blocks, you’ll find hidden lots and spaces. Sometimes business owners and staff use them, sometimes they’re not used very much at all.

If you don’t know of any, try walking up the alleys. You might be surprised by the lots and spaces you discover.

The problem is they’re not easily accessible.

There’s no easy footpath from those hidden spaces to the main street. And some alleys and back lots (well, most) look a bit dodgy or even unsafe. Even if businesses have back doors, they may not welcome people just cutting through to get to a different business. And most people probably feel reluctant to just charge through a business’s backdoor anyway.


Cafe Alley in Ardmore, Oklahoma, can only be entered from the large parking lot in the alley. Photo by Becky McCray.


Here’s how to create safe and interesting ways for people to walk from the hidden parking to the front of the businesses.

  1. Find a physical space where people can walk
  2. Make it obvious they’re supposed to walk there
  3. Make it attractive and fun to walk there

You can use plantings, grasses, gravel, stones or sidewalks to make the surface more appealing and practical. Think of how you can add some art while you’re there, whether it’s paint, chalk or maybe fabric arts.

Sheila Scarborough spotted this hallway in Lockhart, Texas. The plants and painted rocks make the path of travel obvious and help move people from the alley to the front street.


This narrow space in Beaver, Oklahoma, isn’t ideal, but it is clean and easy to walk.

Photo by Becky McCray.

This wide lot in Ardmore, Oklahoma, offers a direct path from a downhill parking lot up to the main shopping area. The lot is wide enough for multiple uses. The planting areas could be restored. A few chairs around the little built-in table could serve as a resting point for people with mobility challenges. This pathway is so large, it could even host vendors at tables or booths along one side. That would give people added incentive to use the lower parking.

Photo by Becky McCray.

Beaver, Oklahoma, also has this pocket park downtown. The brick path effectively connects the alley parking to the front of the block. The benches, plantings and sculpture make it an appealing place to linger.

Photo by Becky McCray.

We’ve partnered with SaveYour.Town to bring you a video with more practical ways to use empty lots to spur economic development and support commerce in your downtown. Learn more about it at: SaveYour.Town Empty Lot Economic Development.

Register here

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.

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