SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Most towns have parking problems, normally in the downtown area. Whether you are a Springfield, a Republic or an Ash Grove resident, there are ways to get more parking without paving, striping or getting a permit.

For starters, it is important to find hidden parking, according to David Burton, a county engagement specialist in Greene County with University of Missouri Extension.

"Not everyone can park at the front door of your business. But many times, if you look behind businesses, along alleys and in neighboring blocks, you will find hidden lots and spaces. Sometimes business owners and staff use them, sometimes they’re not used very much at all," said Burton.

If a person does not know of any lots on their own, Burton says to try walking up the alleys. Doing a “walking audit” and counting spaces can be a fun project if done with friends or fellow business owners.

"Typically, the problem is that not all of these spaces are easily accessible," said Burton. "Some alleys and backlots can seem unsafe and most businesses do not welcome people walking in their back door and cutting through to a different business."

One of the most common issues is that there is no easy footpath from those hidden spaces to the main street. 

One option, according to Burton, is to create hallways people will use from parking lots away from Main Street.

"Sure there needs to be space to walk, but you also have to make the space obvious with signs and such," said Burton. "It doesn't hurt if you also make it fun and attractive."
Individuals can use plantings, grasses, gravel, stones or sidewalks to make the surface more appealing and practical.

"I visited a community recently where I parked in a lot off Main Street and I followed a defined walking path between two buildings to Main Street. Paving stones were used along with art and signs. It was pretty and it made the path of travel obvious as the way to move people from the alley to Main Street," said Burton.

The first step to creating these paths is to do an inventory of parking spaces a street or two away from Main Street. The next step is to bring interested parties together for the development of solutions. Do not make it a meeting for blame, that really goes nowhere.

"Many times, there is plenty of parking within a few blocks of a popular destination, but drivers do not know how to find it. Sometimes there is also a tradeoff between closer parking, which has a meter and a charge versus farther-away parking which is free," said Burton.

It is also important for communities to enforce existing parking laws which are designed for safety and accessibility for everyone.

"The truth is, not everyone will get to park immediately in front of their destination but you can make walking to a business safe and fun," said Burton.