Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"City still trying to solve parking problem"

At last Saturday's GOP caucus, one of our elected officials told me that his wife had found a news story published back in the Fifties in the Pullman Herald. It was about downtown parking. He said it could have been written today. It was a problem then and it's a problem now. There is no easy solution. Geography has dictated that downtown will never be able to have a lot of retail or a lot of housing.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Round-table discussion brings stakeholders together to share ideas, potential solutions

The Pullman Planning Commission mixed things up Wednesday, opting for a round-table discussion to fuel solutions to the city's downtown parking issue.

Stakeholders in the downtown area - including business owners, residents and developers - led the conversation, which was designed to create more open dialogue than has been possible at the commission's testimony-based public meetings in the past.

"I think we've all found out we're on the same team and want something good for Pullman," Commission Chairman Stephen Garl said. "Where it all shakes out, I can't say."

The City Council set a March deadline for the commission to recommend formal solutions to the parking issue. The council voiced a desire for more definitive ideas after it was presented in December with broad short-term suggestions such as better identification of public parking areas, the possibility of a downtown residential parking permit program, and increased enforcement to discourage long-term parking.

The downtown area - bordered roughly by State Street to the west, Spring Street to the east, Whitman Street to the north and McKenzie Street to the south - is in the city's central business zone.

Parking currently is not mandated with downtown development, even if it includes living space - an issue some have said creates competition for spots between downtown retail customers and residents.

Wednesday's meeting yielded solutions ranging from increased parking enforcement by police to asking the public for money to create a long-term parking structure. The group also discussed how to better utilize a Washington State University parking lot near Reaney Park, decreasing the central business zone and extending two-hour parking limits to three hours.

City Planner Pete Dickinson said the committee may have rehashed some of the same ideas, but the meeting garnered more of a consensus and a desire to remedy the parking issue with a long-term plan before it escalates.

"It shows that all are in understanding," he said. "It was good to get them all in the same room."

Dickinson said the commission is free to suggest any solutions it sees fit, but he urged members to address one issue in particular. In past meetings, the commission has debated altering city code to mandate new residential development in the district provide off-street parking.

Such a move would ensure that residents living in the downtown area have some off-street parking for their vehicles.

The City Council also has discussed the issue at length, and Dickinson said the commission should formally give its opinion regarding a possible code change.

"That's something ... I will insist upon. That's been the elephant in the room," Dickinson said. "It'll be a yes or no, but it'll have to be explained."

The commission is expected to revisit the issue Feb. 27. Garl said commission members and the public are encouraged to take the next several weeks to let the issues digest, and then bring solutions to the table. The group will then reconvene and begin to discuss feasible solutions.

"The solution will be a multi-set of suggestions to be considered," he said. "There is no silver bullet."


April E. Coggins said...

Parking in my area is not a problem except for certain times of the day. We are near two popular taverns that serve lunch, a restaurant and a finger nail store. Competition for parking is fierce during a few hours of the day, the rest of the time our area is quiet. Lunch time and about 4:00 in the afternoon it's difficult to find parking. Other times, you could throw a rock for two blocks and it wouldn't hit a car. We actually have minutes of time that no cars at all will travel on Grand Avenue. It's depressing, but that's another well covered story.

In my opinion the answer is this:

1. Create hourly parking rules. During peak hours, limit parking time. Do this block by block. Every block is different, recognize that fact.

2. Enforce the parking time restrictions that are already in place. Don't ignore the problem then follow with more restrictions, hoping that more laws on the books will somehow make the clueless (usually college student employees) people pay attention. That approach doesn't work and only infuriates the people who already abide by the laws.

3. Make parking violation fines progressively more expensive. An occasional over limit parking violater is not the problem. The problem is the habitual over
limit parkers. I watch the same vehicles park overtime every day, every week, in the same spot for hours. There is little to no enforcement. See recommendation 2.

We must also recognize the mall factor. I have customers who have to back into a parking spot and they complain, even though they have parked exactly outside our front door. The customer would rather pull in to a parking spot and walk the equivalent of several city blocks than back into a parking spot. It doesn't have to make sense, it's their perception and no amount of restrictions will change it.

April E. Coggins said...

And one more thing, parking tickets in Pullman are nothing more than a parking permit. Typically, a vehicle is only given one ticket even though they may park overtime for several days or months. There is no follow-up. If this is the policy then it needs to be sold as such. Stop calling them "tickets" and rename them "parking permits" which will calm down the anger of the overlimit parkers.