Ferry parking plan already too ripe

Asked what long-term investments he makes these days, an elderly friend of ours recently quipped: “I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.”

We certainly don’t fault our friend’s focus on quick returns for his portfolio. But such strategies make less sense in our civic sphere, as when, for example, the city is asked to consider a rezone to add 200 ferry-related parking spots west of Highway 305 near the Winslow Ravine.

The plan – as reported elsewhere in this issue, from the folks who own the Diamond-managed parking lot next to the terminal – may look like just the ticket for the ferry-parking crunch. But like a lot of “yellow banana” solutions to long-range problems, it’s a deal that can spoil too quickly.

Terminal-district landowners are all too happy to accommodate the demand for parking. The business generates a steady and dependable cash flow with little up-front cost, little ongoing maintenance and almost no risk.

Yet parking remains a dreadful land use. It’s not particularly charming, and when used by those leaving their car here as they travel elsewhere, it contributes nothing to the vitality envisioned for downtown Winslow.

So where can we find some green bananas?

One “win-win” scenario, envisioned in the Winslow Master Plan, would be underground ferry parking. That would not only increase the parking available, but would free up surface space for the kind of close-in density needed to put half of the island’s inevitable growth downtown.

That’s a long-run winner economically; the landowners could get considerably more parking than they can now, and still have the surface available for development.

The obstacle is short-range versus long-range thinking –

yellow bananas versus green. The immediate and risk-free rewards of surface parking may look too good to pass up.

The city can change those horizons. A phase-out of ferry district surface parking over, say, 10 years, seems practical and could probably pass legal muster as well. But it would require planning, starting now, to preserve an adequate supply of ferry parking today while the longer-range work is going on.

One place to start might be with the pending Harbor Square project (formerly Winslow Landing) on the north side of the street. The city could offer that project more underground parking, to absorb ferry spillover during work elsewhere.

The city also needs to consider whether the lot it leases from Washington State Ferries – next to to the passenger terminal, beneath the “WELCOME CITY PARKING” sign – might be converted to underground parking.

And there needs to be a dialog with the Diamond-managed lot owners – perhaps giving short-term approval of the new surface spaces they’re seeking, in exchange for long-term undergrounding of all spaces.

Given the choice, we’d see expansion of ferry service elsewhere around Puget Sound, to reduce parking pressure on the Bainbridge terminal zone. But considering the sorry outlook for the state budget, we’re not confident service can keep pace with the region’s population growth.

Yet ignoring the long-range parking demand is no answer, any more than a quick fix. Let’s look now for a sensible plan – and green bananas that will ripen in time.

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