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Winslow’s parking woes

To fill their store with holiday customers, Winslow merchants need to empty the downtown streets and parking lots of employees, giving shoppers a place to park.

“National studies show that a parking place translates into revenues of $40 to $50 per hour, or about $96,000 per year,” said Kevin Dwyer, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce. “An employee parking in front of your store means you are potentially giving up a huge amount of revenue.”

Over the past year, Team Winslow has urged merchants and employees to “Park Where It Makes Cents” – off the main streets – to free up spaces in front of businesses for customers.

But the problem is that there are no alternatives for employees. While over 200 workers have signed up for the Chamber’s employee-parking program, which seeks to substitute more more out-of-the-way spaces for prime downtown spots, there are only 100 such spaces available. Those spots are in a gravel parking lot south of the BPA Playhouse and on-street spaces on Brien and Bjune Drives, where permit-holders may ignore the two-hour restriction without being ticketed.

On a short-term basis, the Chamber wants to expand employee parking to the under-used short-term commercial parking lot on Ericksen Avenue at the old Doogals site and to the lot south of Bistro Pleasant Beach.

The City Council will be asked tonight to consider a resolution permitting those uses, at least on a temporary basis.

“The owners of those lots have expressed a willingness to participate, and we are working out how much it would cost,” Dwyer said.

Mayor-elect Darlene Kordonowy said she favors the employee “off-street-parking” program for as long as the space is available.

“I don’t see any reason that this should just be limited to the holidays,” she said.

The seasonal crunch is prompting a renewed search for a longer-term solution to downtown parking.

“The holiday season will pass, but not the need,” Mayor Dwight Sutton said. “We need to look at what we can do in the long haul.”

Perceptions

There is no clear consensus on extent of the problem. A map distributed by Team Winslow last year showed 693 “public parking spaces” within a block of Winslow Way; 109 to the north and 311 south, complementing 273 on-street spaces. Perhaps only half of those, though, are actually publicly owned, the others being in private lots designated “For Customers Only.”

Nor does everyone agree that Winslow has a parking crunch. Long-time downtown merchant Dana Berg, proprietor of Dana’s Showhouse in Winslow Mall, doubted claims about the shortage of spaces. “It sends a message that there’s no parking, and I wanted to counter that with some statistics.”

So on three days between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3, Berg surveyed parking areas around town – at noon and 3 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 a.m. on a Saturday. She included quasi-public spaces, those posted for use by patrons of specific businesses like Town and Country and American Marine Bank.

What Berg found, she says, were “hundreds” of spaces available within a two-block radius of T&C.

Most plentiful were off-street spaces in the lower-level lot between Eagle Harbor Books and Heart (13-15 open at any given time), and in the city hall visitors’ lot (11-14). She also noted that the 30-space Doogals lot is generally empty, perhaps because property owners are charging $1-$2 for part-day parking.

“That’s part of the problem – people expect downtown parking to be free,” said Mayor Dwight Sutton.

Parking tended to be tightest in the Winslow Green lot and on Winslow Way, with as few as three and as many as 11 spaces open the length of the street.

Berg has made her findings available through the Team Winslow downtown merchant association, of which she is a board member.

Sandy Martin, Team Winslow director, suggested that that complaints about parking reflect how shoppers use downtown as opposed to commercial areas elsewhere. Parking at the far end of a mall lot for hours of shopping seems reasonable, she said, while walking down the street to reach a single destination is seen as inconvenient.

“If they don’t find a space in front of (the right) store, it then becomes a parking ‘problem,’” Martin said. “It has more to do with our expectation of the experience.”

Berg argues that neither patrons nor merchants should expect to find a space right in front of a store – that, she says, would be the mark of “a dying town.”

“We should be celebrating that it’s so busy down here, rather than bemoaning it,” she said.

Solutions

To tackle the parking issue, Mayor Sutton will try to breathe new life in the next couple of weeks into a downtown parking committee headed by architect Bruce Anderson.

“We need to initiate a master plan,” Sutton said. “It will take three or four years to put it all together.”

One frequently discussed component of the plan has been a parking structure between the farmer’s market plaza and the alley running behind the stores on the north side of Winslow Way.

The parking structure now shows up in the city’s plan for capital facilities as being designed in 2005 and built during the following two years. But no agreement has yet been reached on financing that project.

One possibility is a Local Improvement District, in which a geographic area to be benefitted by the project is determined, then assessments are made against properties within the district.

“We need to deal with the real practical problem of who should pay for what proportion of the cost,” said city administrator Lynn Nordby.

In anticipation of the parking project, though, the city has pushed back plans to rebuild the portion of Winslow Way between Madison and Ericksen avenues to 2008.

“It makes sense to have the parking structure in place before we do the reconstruction on Winslow Way between Ericksen and Madison,” city public works director Randy Witt said.

Another piece of the puzzle is the spillover of ferry parking from the terminal area into downtown. Terminal parking demand generally exceeds the supply of spaces, which are strictly limited by city ordinance.

“The purpose of that was to avoid parking-lot sprawl, and to be responsible partners to encourage mass transit,” Sutton said.

Kordonowy agrees that any solution to Winslow parking will involve reducing the number of vehicles travelling to the ferry terminal.

“The city has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Suquamish tribe that may help us talk about park and ride lots,” she said.

“I want to talk to them about possibly using some of the parking area at the casino for ferry users, and look as well at the parking lots of those firework stands.”

A further remedy is for law enforcement to crack down on parking abuses. In January, Martin and Team Winslow will take proposals for tougher enforcement before the city council, which she hopes will increase parking availability without actually increasing parking.

Ordinance changes, she suggested, could allow the police department’s parking enforcement officer to issue multiple tickets to cars left in the same “2 Hour” space all day, and to write citations for “chain parking” — moving a vehicle from space to space to avoid citations.

Martin would also like to see Bainbridge Police use a parking “boot,” a metal device clamped to a vehicle wheel to render it immobile until fines are paid.

“They have those in Denver, and they really work,” Martin said. “(Drivers) really get the message.”

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