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City boosts Town Center parking

Island residents will have to look twice next week when parking in the Town Center. Parking signs throughout the downtown area, from S.E. 32nd Street all the way north to Sunset Highway, will be changing this week as part of a new City Council ordinance. The new parking plan was designed to “better meet the needs of Island residents who want to park and shop at Town Center businesses.”

The majority of streets, according to City Communications Coordinator Joy Johnston, will be turned into two-hour parking zones, allowing for local, drop-in shopping. Such areas include the north end of 76th Avenue S.E., the Boyd Building parking lot, which serves Roberto’s Pizza, Finders, Tatters and neighboring merchants, the north end of 78th Avenue S.E. along Island Square, and 15 new head-in parking spots on S.E. 28th Street across from QFC.

Although the majority of these changes will be implemented by parking signs only, the S.E. 28th Street parking arrangement will include re-striping and narrowing of the road.

Currently, the street is made up of three lanes: a westbound and eastbound lane, and a middle turning lane for access to the QFC parking lot. This week, the middle turning lane will be taken out to accommodate 15 head-in parking spaces — striped at an angle — outside the Island Square apartment complex. The new spaces will provide parking for S.E. 28th Street retail, which currently includes Noah’s Bagels, Glisten tanning salon and United Studios of Self Defense.

All three merchants are thrilled about the news.

“It’s going to be wonderful to have parking right outside,” said Jennette Brann, chief instructor at United Studios of Self Defense. “From a business standpoint, it’s good for customers to pull up. It’s more personal and convenient for curious people to come in and get a look at our studio.”

Dave Rosen, a manager at Noah’s Bagels, agreed.

“This will absolutely help business,” he said. “People will spend more time in our store. Plus, it’s a lot safer — we won’t have people running across the street from QFC any more.”

Indeed, jaywalking across S.E. 28th Street is one thing that the city is hoping to alleviate with the new parking structure. Since there is no parking outside Noah’s and neighboring stores, many shoppers park in the QFC lot across the street and walk over. Although “no walk-off” signs are posted in the lot, not everyone abides.

According to City Development Services (DSG) representative Joyce Trantina, studies show that the proposed head-in parking stalls, which include two 30-minute spaces at each end of the block, will deter shoppers from jaywalking across the street.

“[Transportation Manager] Nick Afzali has statistics that people psychologically are less inclined to cross through the street if there are cars parked on the other side,” she said.

Rosen, who has worked at Noah’s for two years, agreed. Jaywalking, he added, is a big problem.

“We have people running across the street with bagels and coffee all the time,” he said. “The city conducted a traffic study where they counted jaywalkers during the lunch period. They counted 70 jaywalkers at each end of the street.”

The main objective of the 15 new parking spots, however, is to facilitate shopping in the Town Center. Although various parking places exist downtown, visitors struggle to find short-term spaces that allow for coffee breaks, lunching or brief shopping at Island merchants.

“The whole picture is to promote more turnover, so people aren’t there the whole day,” said Johnston. “The two-hours spaces can be used by residents who want to stop in, have lunch and leave. The issue was that people were parking [downtown] the whole day, which made stop-in shopping harder.”

But not everyone agrees that the new parking arrangement will help alleviate Mercer Island’s downtown parking problem. During last week’s Mercer Island Reporter “Speak Out” interview, several Island residents told the Reporter that the new S.E. 28th Street arrangement would make little difference downtown.

The Town Center, according to Islander Douglas Rogers, needs much more than a handful of streets with two-hour spaces. The problem is bigger than that, he said, and will only grow with burgeoning development.

Yet the city, according to Trantina, is doing the best it can. Overall, the new plan will increase downtown parking from 218 spots to 256. This number includes 90 time-limited spaces, 76 permit-only spaces and 90 unrestricted parking spots.

What’s more, the DSG analyst pointed out that as soon as construction along the Sunset Highway is finished in 2010, the city will add 11, four-hour parking spaces.

“These are intended for folks to catch transit at the Park and Ride. Two-hour parking on the street isn’t long enough for trips to Seattle or Bellevue, but four hours will allow Islanders to do daytime shopping by bus,” she said.

Changes to Town Center parking signs begin this week, along with the re-striping of S.E. 28th Street. Parking tickets, however, will not be enforced right away, Johnston said. The city is granting residents a “grace period” to become acquainted with the new time-limit signs downtown.

To view the map of the Town Center parking plan, visit www.mercergov.org/TownCenterParking.

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