Council rejects most commuter parking options, including 77th Avenue restriping

Parking can be hard to come by in Mercer Island, so the city considered restriping 77th Avenue Southeast to add to the spaces available in garages and the Park and Ride. File photo

After discussing short-term commuter parking options provided by Sound Transit and city staff at the Aug. 7 meeting, the Mercer Island City Council concluded that there were “no easy answers” and only “less than ideal solutions” to the Island’s perceived parking problems.

Since the South Bellevue Park and Ride and the Interstate 90 center lanes closed, the Mercer Island Park and Ride has been filling up about a half hour earlier, said Mayor Bruce Bassett. But overall, “the chaos that we feared hasn’t ensued at the north end,” Bassett noted.

The council had tasked Sound Transit to secure 100 parking spaces within 90 days of the tentative approval of the loss of mobility settlement, who, with the help of staff, identified about 118 stalls that were either underutilized, could be leased from churches or could be created by restriping 77th Avenue Southeast in downtown Mercer Island.

Staff met with the Chamber of Commerce, Neighbors in Motion (NIM) bicycle group and other Town Center businesses, property owners and residents to gather input on this option, but the council decided to hold off on that decision. They redirected the focus to the Town Center permit parking program, to make that more accessible to Islanders.

Some council members also wanted to research the possibility of using the South Luther Burbank Park lot for commuter parking, and possibly charging off-Islanders to use it.

“The question starts to arise,” Bassett said. “Is it time for Mercer Island to start charging for parking, so we’re not the mecca of free parking?”

Assistant City Manager Kirsten Taylor said that the city could work with Metro on its Value Pricing Pilot Program, which is funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

“The ability to reserve a space at, or near, full Park and Ride lots could enhance the reliability of transit as a commute option,” according to the council’s agenda bill. “In addition to increasing the number of spaces available, a key benefit is the predictability of market-priced parking.”

Three months into this pilot program, Metro has 147 stalls available in twelve locations throughout King County, with 33 permits issued. Thirteen stalls are available on Mercer Island in the Aviara building in Town Center, as they were formerly reserved for the Mercer Island Care And Rehabilitation Center. Ten of these stalls are rented, seven by Mercer Island residents.

Sound Transit’s Tia Raamot noted at the meeting that the agency was able to secure more parking stalls along the 550 route in Bellevue, hoping to capture transit users before they reach the Island. The lack of parking options along the 550 was the main criticism the Mercer Island City Council had for the South Bellevue replacement plan.

The council also agreed to encourage private parking and transportation solutions, such as the Amazon shuttle that stops at the Old Boys and Girls Club and Island Synagogue, though a code change will be needed for those services to continue.

Some council members encouraged engaging in a dialogue with frequent bus riders, which would be helpful to the city as it plans improvements and decides how to allocate the $240,000 that is dedicated for short-term (light rail construction period) parking, under the settlement. Any unused money is transferable to the “traffic congestion and bike/pedestrian impacts” allocation of $5.1 million.

In other commuting news, Metro is currently planning route improvements to the popular 630 shuttle based on feedback received from a May 16 community meeting. Frequent 630 riders requested that the shuttle begin at the south end Mercer Village Shopping Center, and have requested a larger bus to accommodate the increased ridership.

Bassett said the council should “slow down a little bit and think more broadly about how to solve this access to transit problem more holistically,” and “not jump to half solutions tonight.”

The council ultimately decided on a “wait and see” approach, as traffic patterns will likely change in the fall. They also decided to do more outreach to the bus community, starting in September.

The council’s next meeting is Sept. 5, as the Aug. 21 meeting is canceled and the meeting day is changing from Mondays to Tuesdays.

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