As the city is poised to take on more development in the coming years, Islanders turn to each other and say, “More?” How will it all fit? And what about parking? We hope that new residents who choose to reside in the new apartments will come as perfectly formed commuters without cars. But we know better. More people means more pressure on traffic and parking in the Town Center.
Yet apparently there is enough parking in the Town Center. Who knew? Counts by city staff and a study by a consultant say there is. Yet residents, shoppers and even Mercer Island City Councilmembers are not so sure. Parking is available. The problem is that it is not exactly where we want it to be — or where we can easily find it.
Hard evidence can be deceiving. Each of the newer multi-use developments in the Town Center was required to provide adequate parking for building residents, businesses and their patrons. But those lots are hard to find. The bright blue ‘P’ signs don’t say if the parking is public or not. Entering these buildings is intimidating — requiring a shinny through a narrow alley or tunnel, where again, the driver must circle looking for the public spaces while avoiding other cars coming and going. It is claustrophobic and intimidating.
Yet parking is not a right. Cars take up valuable real estate that here, more often than not, is privately held. The only place that makes sense for adding spots is along 77th Avenue S.E., which is not without its own issues — most importantly, that of the bike lane that allows cyclists to negotiate safely through the Town Center. It also serves as the main corridor for trucks that deliver to Island businesses.
Along with city staff, the Council wants to encourage signs to direct shoppers to available parking places, a practice called ‘wayfaring.’ It is a pleasant-enough sounding word, but it does not capture the frustration of circling a block and dodging pedestrians, looking for a vacant spot.
After a thoughtful discussion, the Council wisely decided to delay any further studies or changes, knowing that the mixed-use developments slated for the next few years, both real and imagined, will change the landscape once again.
In the meantime, we will have to walk a few extra blocks. For more, see "Town Center parking is adequate - for now."