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Town Center parking: For whom the bell (might) toll

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More parallel parking may be coming to the Town Center, two-hour parking restriction to be considered

City officials want to make it easier to find parking while grabbing a latte or lunch from the Town Center. To do so, city staff are looking for places where more street-side parking can be added with new time restrictions.

City administrators do not have a finalized plan and have not recommended any changes to the City Council. But the city is considering changes that would allow more street parking, according to Steve Lancaster, the city’s Development Services director. Two low-cost options to free up some parking would be re-striping some streets and limiting parking to two hours.

According to Lancaster, some roads in the Town Center could be re-striped to add more street parking. His staff is looking for the best locations to do so. He said an inventory was taken to document available parking in the Town Center — the locations, number of spots and current parking restrictions.

“A usage survey of peak hour on-street use showed that in the northern part of the Town Center during the peak hour, parking was fully utilized. That tells us we need to be thinking about freeing up some parking capacity,” Lancaster said.

There will be a study session before the City Council’s regular scheduled meeting on July 7. The study session will focus on where parking could be added to the Town Center by re-striping and removing the center turn lane with a curb lane along one side for parallel parking.

One such street that could have more parking spaces is S.E. 28th Street. Terry Moreman, the director of the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce, said she is going to talk with local businesses about making such parking changes. She said re-striping for parallel parking might help attract more customers but might also make it difficult for delivery trucks to access businesses.

“I have to talk with business owners to learn what their feelings are. They are dependent on parking, and we need them to be a part of the discussion,” said Moreman.

Finding parking places for Town Center employees is also important, said Moreman. Several businesses do not have room for their employees to park and locating alternate places for those employees to park would be helpful, she said. However, it is not just employees who have a hard time finding parking. The lack of parking spaces has been an issue in the Town Center dating back to the redevelopment projects beginning in 2004. As city leaders changed development codes envisioning a pedestrian-friendly downtown, there have been some roadblocks getting there. Construction workers, cafe patrons, commuters and shoppers flood available parking.

In response, the city is looking for ways to create new spots. Last January, during its annual planning session, the Council directed Lancaster to look at the parking situation. At that time, Councilmember Dan Grausz expressed disappointment that retail spaces in the new developments were empty.

“Anything we can do to promote retail I’d like us to do,” Grausz said in January. Mayor Jim Pearman also suggested during that meeting Lancaster consider re-striping streets to add more street parking.

Signs posted in some Town Center parking lots warn drivers of enforced “No walk-offs” policies that prohibit shoppers from parking in one lot and walking to other nearby businesses. City leaders have tried to discourage this but do not have the authority prohibit it. Street parking would allow shoppers to park in one location and shop anywhere in Town Center. Adding a time limit would allow the turnover needed to keep parking available. City officials have also stated new redevelopments that allow two-hour parking for patrons are also making it easier to find parking.

Moreman said she hopes the city thinks through the idea of restricting parking to two hours because it would affect businesses.

“Two hours doesn’t seem that long if you want to encourage people to go from store to store,” Moreman said. “I don’t want [business owners] towing each other’s customers or developing negative feelings toward one another. I don’t want anyone put off by parking regulations.”

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