Council scuttles shuttle plan

Downtown employees may not take advantage of the program, some say.

A stalled shuttle service proposal will receive a tune-up before rolling onto Winslow’s streets.

“This (shuttle service) has to happen,” said Councilman Kjell Stoknes after Wednesday’s council meeting. “But there’s some concern that it won’t be used by people working downtown.”

Stoknes and other councilors expressed general support for the free shuttle service before sending the proposal back to the Public Works Committee for revision.

Under a proposed agreement with Kitsap Transit, the temporary shuttle service would run from downtown to Ordway Elementary School’s parking lot. A new park-and-ride lot would have to be found in the fall when Ordway’s classes are back in session.

The service, which would cost the city $135,000 over six months, was endorsed by the Winslow Tomorrow project and some business owners. They hope to encourage more downtown workers to park their vehicles outside the Winslow core, freeing downtown parking spots for shoppers and tourists.

“I wish I could support this because we need to remove the problem of employee parking downtown,” said Councilman Nezam Tooloee on Thursday. “But what was proposed doesn’t solve any problem well.”

A key concern for Tooloee is the limited parking at Ordway.

“Ordway has a capacity of 60 parking spots,” he said. “If we’re lucky, 60 employees will do this. But at (over) $130,000 for six months, that comes to $400 per month per stall. You know what? That’s awfully pricey rent for parking.”

For comparison, Tooloee pointed to privately run parking lots downtown that rent stalls for under $50 a month.

“The (city’s) numbers are out of whack,” he said.

Tougher parking rules for downtown workers must be combined with the free shuttle service to effectively free-up more parking downtown, Tooloee said.

“We need to remove employee parking downtown,” he said. “The city should not just require it, but the city should take the lead.”

The city could partner with churches for use of parking lots to absorb most of the city’s 140 employees, Tooloee said.

Workers employed by downtown businesses should follow suit to avoid construction of new parking lots in Winslow, according to Tooloee

“You look at Winslow and its area is already 50 percent parking,” he said. “That’s a dubious distinction we share with Los Angeles.”

Stoknes also believes the shuttle service’s success depends on tighter downtown parking rules.

Over 100 downtown employees take advantage of permits offered by the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce which allow parking on Bjune Drive and a city-owned lot southwest of the Playhouse.

As long as these spots are offered, many employees will opt for downtown parking rather than dropping cars off at park-and-rides, Stokness said.

“If it’s so convenient to find parking places downtown, why would anyone bother (with the shuttle)?” he asked.

Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce director Kevin Dwyer agreed the permit parking system is a “Band-Aid” approach to a growing parking problem, but warned against stricter measures for workers or costly ventures for their employers.

“A lot of businesses are having marginal success at best and don’t have a lot to pay for employee parking,” he said of proposals that might require employers to chip-in for higher parking costs.

Many of downtown’s estimated 700 workers live off-island and may be less inclined to use the shuttle service, Dwyer said.

“A lot of sales clerks and bank tellers don’t live on Bainbridge,” he said. “Driving from off-island and then having to take the bus may not sound good to them.”

Dwyer also said forming partnerships with churches for use of their expansive parking lots has been challenging in the past.

“Churches have been a little less than willing (because) many hold functions, funerals or have schools other than on Sunday,” he said.

Dwyer ex­pressed disappointment with the stalled shuttle proposal, but said he’s hopeful that revision will work out some of its kinks.

“It’s too bad,” he said. “It would have been an interesting experiment, but we may get to look at it again and come out with a firm plan.”

The need for a plan that effectively gets downtown workers out of their cars and onto the bus is a key reason Councilman Bob Scales voted for a revised proposal.

“Kitsap Transit has suggested that if this pilot project is a success that they’ll pickup the run and fund it on a permanent basis,” Scales said. “We want to have a higher likelihood that employees will use the shuttle system and have enough riders so Kitsap Transit will pickup the tab.”

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