If you build it, they will…complain about the parking? That seems to be a common theme these days as parks, communities and sports facilities increasingly look to adding pickleball courts, taking advantage of the wildly popular sport.
However, it is because of pickleball’s popularity that problems can arise, namely the parking. Many facilities find that an influx of new players has not been properly planned for, and when spaces fill, it becomes a source of complaints. It is a story that is playing out nationwide.
Reporters at the Durango Herald noted that the Colorado-based Smith Sports Complex, currently used for youth field sports, including soccer and lacrosse, is seeking to add six pickleball courts to cope with the demand for the sport.
Unfortunately, the pickleball courts come at a cost: the loss of 42 parking places. And that’s where the friction has begun. Parents are upset, saying that parking is already at a premium during youth sports events, and that they are worried about the congestion – and possible safety hazards to children who will be crossing the street to reach the fields.
“That’s one of our concerns, is the safety of the children,” said Nora Foutz, president of Durango Lacrosse Club. She said youth sports officials were upset that the city didn’t talk to them about the project before revealing it to the public.
“We weren’t engaged about this plan,” she said. “And I understand that they’re getting a lot of pressure from the pickleball people – they want their courts. Totally get that.”
“To add six pickleball courts – even if they went with (removing) 40 parking places, I don’t think they’re taking into consideration that six pickleball courts is 24 more people if they’re all playing doubles,” said Doug Wallis, president of the local soccer association. “... So you’re really filling up 64 places. If you really think about it hard, the people waiting to play next are going to be parking, waiting to use the pickleball courts,” he said. “So you’re probably taking away another 30 or 40 total spaces on top of the 40 that’ll be eliminated by the pickleball courts themselves.”
It's a scenario that is playing out in other areas as well. In Victoria, British Columbia, a pilot project to move pickleball players into a barricaded parking lot in a local park ignores a human-rights complaint filed last year by people with disabilities asking for vehicle access to that space, say the complainants. (The park reopened after being closed in 2020 because of concerns over the pandemic. It was eventually reopened but the parking lot remained closed. Individuals with disabilities put in a request that the parking lot be reopened because it is a close access point to park amenities, including the playground, waterpark and other amenities. The representative individuals and groups argued it was the closest and most convenient access for people with limited mobility.
“If you’re going to give it to anybody, give it to people with disabilities,” said Susan Sims, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and who had lobbied to get the parking lot handed over for accessible use. “How did the pickleball players get the space before us? How is it that they ended up at the top of the list when we’ve been waiting two and a half years to get back into the park?”
State College, Pennsylvania also had to deal with discord on the issue. The player load at four courts that had opened at a park in 2019 had increased stratospherically in the pandemic, and because the courts did not have parking, players began parking in nearby neighborhoods, which irritated residents.
As part of their work on addressing the issue, officials closed the courts on Mondays cut back on court hours. At the same time, they announced, four new pickleball courts would be built in another local park, on top of an existing tennis court. (Recently, five dedicated pickleball courts opened at the YMCA in the area as well).
The Trussville Senior Center, in Trussville, Alabama, is adjacent to a plot of land where a total of 12 pickleball courts (four outside and eight under a roof-like structure) will be built, according to the Trussville Tribune.
The courts have not even made it off the drawing board yet, but already, senior center users are concerned about the parking problems. Trussville Mayor Buddy Choat stated that most pickleball played on the Trussville courts will take place in the late afternoon or evening and on the weekends, and that he does not believe there will be any conflict.
“The senior citizens leave the center around 4:30 p.m., so right now, the parking lot would be available for use, and we will continue to let [pickleball players] park along the drive like they have been doing for disc golf,” Choat said in a previous interview. “Also, the Senior Citizen Center is not open on the weekend, so parking would be available then.”
Even in Marco Island, tensions between pickleball players and tennis players have run high over court use and congestion at the city’s public racquet club.
We don’t have any problem with pickleball, but it doesn’t belong at the racquet center,” claimed Marie Johnson at a recent forum covered by The Coastal Breeze. “There’s no room on the courts, there’s no room in the parking lot. I’m going to do some simple math here. You need 132 parking spaces and we have 54. Why do we have to live continually crowding pickleball on the racquet center?”
But a second resident, Lori Larkin, spoke up, and seemed to sum up the entire issue.
"I don’t play tennis,” Larkin said, "but I love everybody who loves their sport. And I’m sorry, statistically, it’s ridiculous how many people are playing pickleball compared to tennis right now. Naples has a 64-court facility and they still don’t have enough. You can’t make pickleball go away. It’s here and we need things. I just think we need to do everything we can. The tennis players need somewhere to play, but we need more courts for pickleball. I think it’s good for us as players and it’s good for the city."