Report: Take small steps for downtown parking

Downtown Winslow’s parking problem – a happy problem, but a problem nonetheless – doesn’t have a single, magic solution.

But modest steps like adding spaces on Madison and small lots at the edge of Winslow can keep the situation manageable until economics change and more global solutions become practical, according to the initial report of the city’s parking committee.

“Instead of looking at a huge garage, the city could spend a small amount of money wisely and create a few parking spaces quickly,” said architect Bruce Anderson, committee chair.

The 12-person committee – formed over two years ago but largely inactive until this summer – will present its initial report tonight to the Bainbridge Island City Council, giving a snapshot of the group’s activities.

The report includes questions on some issues, conceptual suggestions on others, and specific recommendations about still others. The future mission of the group will be to come up with more concrete recommendations in areas where answers have yet to emerge.

The report observes that a parking shortage is one sign of a healthy downtown, “(reinforcing) the idea that Winslow is a desirable place to live, work and visit, and reflects the vitality of our island’s core.”

For downtown shoppers, on-street parking is the most attractive option. The report asks the city to “clearly favor on-street parking” downtown.

“I’m confident we will propose parking on parts of Madison Avenue – especially lower Madison – consistent with the proposed alterations that the city put out a year ago,” Anderson said, referring to a city plan for additional crosswalks and center islands.

But additional street parking won’t help unless it’s made available to would-be business patrons. Too often, Anderson said, on-street parking close to businesses is taken up by employees.

To address that problem, the committee proposes moving employee parking either to streets farther away from retail stores – to Bjune Drive, if not farther – and to develop smaller, perhaps 20-space, surface lots near downtown.

“We’ve developed a list of half a dozen sites that we think might be suitable,” Anderson said, declining to specify them pending possible negotiations with the owners. “Some might be developed in part, with part of them used for parking.”

Money for that could come in part from money developers pay for “in lieu” spaces when their site can’t accommodate the required parking. The only money in that fund is from “the Winslow” development at the old Doogal’s site.

While that “in-lieu” money had been tentatively earmarked by some for a downtown parking garage, the committee suggests that it might more usefully be spent on peripheral surface lots.

The committee also recommends more consistent signage, to let drivers know where parking is available, and will consider the possibility of extending city enforcement to private lots – such as the Town and Country lot – where the owners permit downtown business customers to park.

The report also recommends tighter enforcement of the time limitations for downtown parking, to prevent ferry users from fleeing terminal parking in favor of downtown streets.

Recommendations include hiring another parking enforcement officer, extending the hours in which the duration of downtown parking is limited and boosting the fines, particularly for sequential violations, to make the cost of a parking ticket high enough to actually deter violations.

Committee vice-chair Kevin Dwyer, Chamber of Commerce executive director, believes parking problems may be easing a bit, at least temporarily.

“I think the city is doing a better job of enforcement, and with layoffs, there may be fewer people taking the ferries,” he said.

The committee recommends that the city establish an internal “parking unit,” comprising designated personnel from various existing city departments.

The “unit” would be responsible for policy, enforcement, revenue-collection and lot construction.

The report stops short of endorsing the on-again, off-again proposal to build a parking garage on city-owned land south of the town square.

But it does recommend building-code changes that it believes will ultimately help encourage private businesses to move parking into underground structures.

The ferry terminal presents a different problem, Anderson said, namely that surface parking there is a highly lucrative use of land, especially in light of the city’s cap on the number of ferry parking spots.

The city’s ultimate vision, spelled out in the Comprehensive Plan, is for the owners of the ferry parking lots to redevelop the land, putting the parking underground, and using the surface for commercial and residential development.

The problem, though, is getting from here to there.

“The incentives currently in place clearly haven’t been sufficient to create structured parking there,” he said.

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