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"Are we losing the space race?Ferry parking regularly spills into downtown, vexing merchants."
"You could see them sporting Mariners caps and oversized tickets to the All-Star baseball game in Seattle, circling in vain for a parking space at the ferry terminal.Then you could see them give up, drive back into downtown Winslow, leave their car in a two-hour parking space and catch the boat - in so doing, joining the growing legion of illegal ferry parkers.We are in danger of being strangled by a string of vehicles looking for non-existent parking places, said Mayor Dwight Sutton. They are occupying our streets and not doing anything at all for downtown.While it takes a high-profile event like July's baseball All Star game to cast the problem in dramatic relief, proximity to Seattle is both boon and bane of Bainbridge.Island residents take advantage of the fact that the big city is only 35 minutes away. Studies show that almost half of island households have at least one daily cross-sound commuter, and those who don't go daily do go frequently.But thousands of people from the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas use the Bainbridge boat to cross Puget Sound.Many ferry users drive on, of course - 200 or more vehicles at a time. But the overwhelming majority walk aboard, and before they do, they have to get to the terminal. When they drive, that means finding a place to park. And with the cost of parking going up and terminal parking lots regularly full by 9 a.m., more Seattle-bound drivers are leaving the vehicles on the streets - either taking their chances with an overtime parking ticket in Winslow, or finding a space outside of the two-hour-parking zones in the downtown core, says Katie Jones, traffic enforcement officer with Bainbridge Police.People park west of downtown on Grow or Lovell, or up on Hildebrand or by Wing Point, Jones said. A lot of those cars have bike racks on them.People are parking in the neighborhoods, then riding their bikes the rest of the way to the ferry.Sandy Martin, director of the Team Winslow merchant association, said illegal parking is not confined to the streets, but also occurs in lots like those at Town & Country or Winslow Green.Whenever a lot is large enough that people feel they will be invisible, Martin said, you have people parking their cars and running for the boats.Space raceLike invasive weeds, commuters' cars from Bainbridge and elsewhere tend to choke out alternative and perhaps more desirable uses, like parking for downtown store patrons or for folks who want to use Waterfront Park or the Commons.I have people stop me when I'm on the street and ask where they can park to go to lunch, Jones said. I don't have anything to tell them.Jack MacArthur, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, says parking shortages in downtown Winslow tie directly to what is happening in Seattle.It's particularly bad when there's an event downtown, like Seafair or a Mariners game, he said. People just park and go.Part of the problem, Jones says, is that illegal parking is not effectively deterred - in fact, for the average driver, it may be economically rational.It costs $10 to take your car each way. Parking in Seattle is expensive, and people were charging up to $50 for parking at the All-Star game, she said. So even if you get a $20 ticket here, you come out ahead.And unlike Seattle, Bainbridge doesn't have escalating parking penalties.We don't have an extended fine like they do in Seattle, where if you park for more than two hours, you get a $20 ticket, then if you're still there for another two hours, it's another $50, and so forth, she said.Nor do the city ordinances permit illegally parked cars to be towed unless they're obstructing traffic.Challenges of enforcement And there's more basic enforcement problem - Jones is the city's only parking officer.I have to take care of the city parking lot at the ferry, Jones said, and I can't be both there and downtown.In fact, when Jones went on vacation last week, parking enforcement in Winslow simply stopped altogether.The city council has in the past considered adding a half-time parking enforcement officer for weekend work - possibly by contracting with a private firm - but the proposal has never made it into the final budget.We'd certainly use it, and it would pay for itself, Police Chief Bill Cooper said.We could keep two full-time parking enforcement officers busy on this island.The underlying problem, though, is a lack of alternatives - not enough parking spaces at the terminal to meet the demand. The Winslow Master Plan, part of the city's comprehensive plan, limits the number of parking spaces in the terminal area east of the highway to 1,121, with another 173 spaces in the commercial lot behind Gateway Towing.In the short run, Jones says the only solution is for commuters to not drive all the way to the ferry terminal area expecting to find a parking place.People need to use the park-and-ride lots around the island, she said, pointing to designated lots at Bethany Lutheran and Bainbridge Christian Assembly churches, and off Phelps Road off Highway 305. Or they need to take a bus or a cab to the ferry.In the longer run, many say there simply has to be more parking available near the ferry terminal.We can't keep expanding parking out, Jones said. It's going to have to go either up or down in parking structures.This problem isn't going to go away, either, she said. It will just keep getting worse. "