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Town Center parking is adequate – for now

The Mercer Island City Council has revisited the ways that streets in the Town Center might be reconfigured to add more parking.

Working from a 2008 study, the City Council took a look at the existing parking situation in the Town Center and mulled over the possibility of adding parking along 77th Avenue S.E. and what the impacts would be on cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, employees and business owners.

At issue is how to keep things moving in the Town Center — allow shoppers and employees to park, and be able to go place to place without moving a car multiple times, respect the property rights of those who own parking lots, accommodate large delivery trucks, keep the flow of pedestrians, cyclists and strollers safe and moving along — keeping things sustainable, safe and mobile.

Particularly on the North end, parking is often fully utilized. Drivers are frustrated by the time it takes to find a spot to park. Those who come mid-morning to take transit into Seattle or Bellevue — who cannot find spots to park in the Park and Ride — have few alternatives to park their cars. Some shoppers park in private lots and proceed through other lots to shop at other businesses, a practice that frustrates businesses that operate the lots for their patrons. Business and building owners want to ensure that spaces in their parking lots are for their own patrons and employees. A few years ago, signs went up at private lots informing those parking their cars that they cannot “park and walk off” or they may be towed.

The Town Center parking situation was more formally studied in 2008 by KPG, an engineering consulting firm. The report described the friction between three types of parking ‘user groups.’ They are business customers and their employees and Island residents.

In 2002, the city set up permit parking primarily to discourage overflow parking from the Park and Ride lot on North Mercer Way. The Town Center is presently divided into areas that require permits to park all day, two-hour zones and unrestricted parking. Limited-time parking is to also encourage more turnover in parking spots to allow patrons of local business to park near stores.

The inventory of parking in 2008 was 207 spaces. Demand exceeds capacity in the north subareas of the Town Center about 85 percent of the time. Yet other subareas were underutilized.

The KPG report describes three ways that potential parking places could be added or expanded. They include finding ways to point drivers to underutilized parking, adding or changing time limits, and creating more spaces by re-striping and adding angled parking.

Since that report, angled parking has been added on the north side of S.E. 28th Street between 78th and 80th Avenues S.E.

Other potential parking areas identified in 2008 are along 77th Avenue S.E. from Mercerdale Park to S.E. 27th Street and potentially along S.E. 27th Street.

However, enforcement of these restrictions is sporadic.

“There is no ongoing regular parking enforcement in the Town Center,” City Traffic Engineer Patrick Yamashita told the City Council during a study session on Nov. 17. “It is only enforced on an as-needed basis and as resources are available.”

Yet as each of the Councilmembers related their own experience or frustration of parking in the Town Center, the perception of most Islanders is that parking is scarce and a hassle.

 

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