Take the long view on parking

While studying Winslow parking and the feasibility of a merchant-financed garage, Anthony Gibbons gave considerable thought to the relationship between people, prosperity and automobiles.

As detailed elsewhere in this issue, his report dashes hopes that a garage could come courtesy of downtown property owners and merchants. Either the garage won’t happen, or it will become a city responsibility. And because the latter scenario involves your tax money, his views are worth considering.

In the short run, Gibbons says our parking challenge is making better use of the available parking in the downtown area, albeit not right on Winslow Way. (No argument there; we called months ago for the organization of spaces through a downtown parking district.) Because part of the problem is perception and habit. Mall-goers park hundreds of feet from the entryway, then walk hundreds more feet to a specific store. Yet those same shoppers find it abhorrent to park on Bjune or Brien to patronize Winslow Way businesses.

“It’s a force-of habit issue, and a training issue,” Gibbons tells us, adding that other communities have managed to “train” their downtown shoppers by simply directing them, through signage, to off-street parking alternatives.

But there’s more going on, he suggests, than simple cussedness. When shoppers go to a mall, they do so intending to hit several stores, grab a bite, and maybe see a movie as well. When we’re going to spend several hours under one roof, a 10-minute hike to and from the car is a relatively small proportion of the total elapsed time. But when the plan is to pop into the hardware store to buy a widget, we’re put off by a walk longer than the time for the errand.

A certain amount of self-selection – i.e., you, and the choices you make when you go to town – may be in order. If you’re going to spend several hours downtown while you read the newspaper over coffee, browse the bookstore and hit a few other stops, why not park in one of the out-of-the way parking spots, leaving Winslow Way spaces for somebody who needs to make a quick stop at the bank, pick up a prescription or buy a ream of paper?

To reinforce the notion that Winslow Way parking should be for the short-timers, Gibbons has an idea we find rather charming – free parking meters. Pull in, turn the crank, and get 15 or 20 minutes for free. Once the red flag pops up, though, the ticket you get won’t be free. One could simply run out and reset the timer, but Gibbons guesses that doing so would be more trouble than it’s be worth, and that longer-term lingerers would simply find somewhere else to park.

In the long run, Gibbons says, a multi-level garage in Winslow will be necessary. As he tells us, “The population of Bainbridge Island is going to grow, and if we want Winslow to provide for that population, it has got to grow also, and the amount of available land is limited.”

It’s not whether Winslow will survive, so much as what kind of downtown it will be. If businesses must provide their own parking, the future will belong to large-scale redevelopment, as proposed at one point for Lundgren Station and properties to the east.

Another possibility is that only those businesses that thrive on “browsing” – with customers making longer visits – will survive, while those whose patronage is quick-trip shoppers will perish. “If you want to maintain diversity of businesses and ownership, in the long run, you will need a garage,” Gibbons says.

How to finance it – that remains the challenge.

We still have some short-term solutions to try, but in the long view of downtown parking, the meter’s running.

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