When you think about “musician life,” many things may come to mind—late nights, unusual work schedules, glamor, grit, creativity, passion. But unless you are a musician yourself, your first thought probably isn’t “parking spots and loading zones.” However, if you ARE a musician, parking and loading are something that you think about and deal with on a daily basis—and can directly impact both the experience of the gig and the amount of income you earn.
To break it down, musicians who are schlepping gear to their gigs have to figure out a place to stop their car in order to run their instruments and equipment into the venue, getting as close as possible to the door—which can often mean stopping in the yellow zone on a corner, in front of a fire hydrant, or in any number of other spots where parking is not allowed. It can be a hazy line between “stopping”and “parking” and is a risky one—a single ticket can erase most of an evening’s earnings. But that’s not all! The musician still has to find a place to re-park their car for the duration of the gig, which can also end up costing a notable chunk of the gig-pay and involve walking an annoyingly long—and potentially unsafe—distance, particularly if the gig ends late. And if the parking is metered, the musician has to remember and find time to plug the meter or, once again, risk getting a ticket.
Parking and loading concerns, which on first thought may seem largely straightforward, in reality take many forms and can be the result of a broad cross section of financial, community, and logistical issues. Frenchmen Street in particular is an especially complicated ecosystem—many musicians have multiple gigs a week on Frenchmen, and parking is already very limited due to the dense residential neighborhood, significant bicycle infrastructure, and a grab bag of loading zones. The street has up to 6 or 8 different designations within a single block.
This creates a number of problematic scenarios: a musician regularly spending more than 10% of their gig pay on parking; another getting a $40 ticket while actively loading her electric piano into her car outside the venue—even though her wife was still sitting in the driver’s seat—after a gig that only paid $52; a solitary musician having to choose between walking a half dozen blocks to their car at 2 a.m. while carrying cash from the gig or trying to convince a friend/partner to assist with a late night pick up on a street packed with pedestrians and cars while also getting stuck behind Lyfts and Ubers stopping in the middle of intersections. These are all real situations with real impacts on our cultural practitioners.
Broad solutions are tough to find for granular problems—the knowledge about exactly where to park lives in the heads of individual musicians, based on their particular gig rotation and their own acceptable levels of cost, risk, and hassle. However, the only way to find solutions is to keep listening to and centering musicians explaining what they need. Recently, the potential re-development of the two large surface parking lots on Elysian Fields Avenue between North Peters and Chartres streets has re-invigorated the conversation about changes that could be made and programs that could be started to address parking and loading issues for musicians as a part of this redevelopment around Frenchmen Street, and throughout the city.
A meeting MaCCNO facilitated at the Royal Frenchmen Hotel pointed to a number of larger scale and more site-specific solutions. Depending on the availability of lots, individual parking passes offering deeply discounted hourly or nightly rates for musicians and service industry workers may be an option, particularly if the Elysian lot redevelopment continues to incorporate significant parking. This model could potentially be expanded to include surface lots in other areas of the French Quarter and CBD as well. For several years, shuttle service to lots for service industry workers has been discussed and could also be viable, though so far there has been no forward movement. Smaller changes could help alleviate the burden for musicians as well. Creating a designated rideshare drop-off point could greatly alleviate traffic on Frenchmen Street on busy nights, providing significantly more space for loading and unloading. Removing or reducing the Blue Bike stand in front of Washington Square Park would open up the area for both loading and parking—and remove a sore spot for many performers, who were not consulted when the massive and now almost empty rack was placed on the coveted location, creating the perception that their needs are not valued by decision makers.
Though things are finally beginning to move forward (it looks likely the City will begin creating a loading zone program within the next few months), a great deal more work still needs to be done. Even collecting the basic data like how many people actually work and gig each night on Frenchmen Street presents a logistical challenge, let alone estimating how many would be interested in a monthly parking program (or how much they would be willing to pay). But it’s work that is worth doing. On Frenchmen Street, the French Quarter, and around the city, let’s continue to ease the logistical burdens on musicians and service industry folks, help them get to their work and gigs, keep them safe, and allow them to prosper. They are the backbone on which the city’s economy is based, and it is the least we can do.
This space is provided to MaCCNO as a community service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or editorial policies of ANTIGRAVITY.
Photograph by James Cullen