Progress on parking, at a glacier’s pace

Those alarmed over global warming can take comfort that at least one prominent glacier shows no signs of melting.

Monolithic to the last, the Bainbridge Island City Council (motto: “Never enough discussion”) appears unlikely to be worn down by the dawn of warmer epochs, nor is it likely to become a threat to the land speed record. But the municipal glacier did manage to inch itself, if not foward, at least out of the way of others’ progress last week.

The council approved some $3 million in funding to advance implementation of the Winslow Tomorrow project, giving hope for downtown interests who’ve long rallied for a public parking garage and other improvements. The below-grade parking structure could be integrated with a new cultural/commercial corridor just south of the current town square and farmers market area. It could also link with future underground parking on adjacent properties, allowing private money to provide more of the needed spaces as properties redevelop in future years. (For a good visual representation of how this might play out, stop by the Winslow Tomorrow office in City Hall and see Sandy Fischer and the many renderings available for review.)

That the council could be so nudged is a testament to those downtown advocates who’ve tried to keep the Winslow Tomorrow planning initiative moving forward toward tangible results. It was by no means certain, on an evening when one councilman chided his colleagues for bogging down in “bureaucratic rhetoric” and earned robust applause from the gallery.

Most vexing was the apparent sentiment in some corners of the dais that the garage needed further study by the City Council before it could be – yes – further studied by the city staff. Vexing, since a downtown parking garage has been discussed by the council off and on for at least five years with little to show for it. At millenium’s dawn, the city’s Capital Facilities Plan showed the parking garage being designed in 2005 to be constructed over the next two years; go stand in the middle of the gravel parking lot next to the market square, and you can see for yourself how well that schedule played out.

Subsequent efforts foundered when nobody could figure out what to put on top of the garage – a cultural facility? affordable housing? – or quite how to pay for it.

Meanwhile, countless studies and recommendations for managing downtown parking have come and gone, likewise without much action. Most recently, a summer-long pilot program to shuttle in downtown employees from remote parking areas appears scuttled over (admittedly, legitimate) council concerns of cost and participation. About the only thing accomplished in recent memory is the hiring of a second parking enforcement officer, which offers hope for parking demand management but does nothing for supply.

No, a parking garage isn’t the panacea for all of our downtown parking woes. But it’s an integral part of any long-term solution, and one that’s been talked about at City Hall for veritable epoch.

Thankfully, the glacier moved. Feel the momentum.

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