Modest fixes for parking at least half right

As a committee looking at the issue properly notes, Bainbridge has two downtown parking areas – retail Winslow, where shortages of free on-street parking limit the growth of businesses, and the ferry terminal, where parking is costly but also scarce.

While the areas are quite different conceptually, they lie in close proximity geographically. Too often, Seattle-bound drivers who can’t find a spot at the terminal (or want to dodge the daily toll) park downtown, adding to problems there.

In the retail core, the committee says – rightly, in our view – that there is no one magic solution. The group didn’t kibosh the notion of a parking garage. But it suggested at least tacitly that until someone – the city, the business community or whomever – actually steps up to pay for it, resources may be better spent on more modest improvements like parking along Madison and the development of small surface lots on the outskirts of town.

There is a place for more diligent enforcement of the short-term parking restrictions. But that’s a delicate proposition. Nobody minds seeing other people get a couple of tickets, thereby increasing the chances that we can find a spot of our own when we go downtown. We’re less enthusiastic about being ticketed ourselves, particularly if we’re actually shopping or dining. And driving shoppers to Silverdale is hardly the objective.

But as the committee noted, downtown parking is not so much missing as misused. If folks who are going to be

downtown for a while (especially employees) refrain from grabbing spaces on Winslow Way, there will be a lot more spots for the short-term shopper.

The elephant in the living room is ferry parking, some of which spills into downtown. Even in the terminal area, though, it’s not a pretty sight – our collective vision for our “Gateway” should be a vibrant neighborhood, not a parking lot.

But landowners would prefer to collect the steady stream of low-cost, low-risk income that surface parking provides than the longer-range plan of putting the parking underground and developing the surface.

While the parking committee correctly notes that economic incentives must be altered – and this may require some sort of major jolt – it’s hard to gin up much enthusiasm for removing the city’s cap on ferry parking, which could lead to a lot more of it. The committee’s theory is that more plentiful ferry parking would become less profitable, thereby prompting redevelopment. While that’s possible, we doubt that speculative gain would offset the visual blight, environmental damage and increased traffic that unrestrained ferry parking would cause.

We don’t have an answer for the ferry-area parking, either. In the meantime, the committee’s study does proffer a good start for improving parking in the retail core. And we hope partnerships with those owning smaller private lots will follow, adding them to the downtown parking pool.

A few, straightforward moves – uniform signage, revised time limits, better enforcement – can optimize the resource for merchants and patrons alike.

Let’s quit feeding the meter and move along.

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