Friday, June 23, 2006

Residents ponder parking

Ketchum seeks better system for downtown

Express Staff Writer

David McDonald, like so many other drivers, does it because no one told him he can't.

The Ketchum resident parks downtown for work every day, taking up valuable spaces in the city's core.

"I do it because I can," he said.

And why not? There's no ordinance telling him he can't.

"I'd walk two or three blocks, but I have no idea where there is (a city lot)," he said. "Give us direction."

The city of Ketchum is reviewing parking and circulation as part of its downtown master plan process. Better directional signs could be part of the equation.

"I've been in downtown revival for 21 years," said economic development consultant Tom Hudson. "The one item that seems to bring out the most color in people's personalities is downtown parking."

Nearly 60 people attended a meeting Tuesday, June 20, at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood to talk about parking.

"It's not just about throwing more parking units at an issue," Hudson said. "It's about creating a better system. We've got to start thinking not just about parking supply but parking demand. What are we doing to encourage different kinds of driving behavior? Not very much."

The parking situation is not without remedy, nor is it without parking spaces.

The northeast quadrant of the city has 620 parking spaces; the southeast 644; the southwest 1,146; and the northwest 874. That's 3,284 units—both public and private—in 45 blocks.

Still, there remains a shortage in all but one quadrant, according to estimates.

"Right in the middle of your (civic center) it's minus 167," Hudson said. "That should be a concern."

The city could reconfigure streets to make more spaces. Going one-way on some streets could provide more than 200 additional spaces by placing diagonal stalls on both sides.

River, Second and Sixth streets and Leadville Avenue are potential candidates.

The downside is it can be confusing to visitors and consequently can hurt businesses.

"One of the biggest negatives in a downtown is a one-way system," Hudson said. "If you do this, it's going to make things complicated."

Results of a straw poll taken at the meeting Tuesday indicate mixed feelings on the idea.

Of 50 responses, 23 were "very uncomfortable" or "uncomfortable" with swapping two-way streets for more spaces. Sixteen were "comfortable" or "very comfortable" with the trade-off, and 11 were neutral.

An alternative design idea proposed is to create back-in diagonal spaces, pulling forward of the spot, then easing in on an angle.

"With traditional diagonal parking, think of your body position as you're pulling out," Hudson said. You crane your neck, there's a vehicle blocking your line of sight, and you would have loaded your groceries while standing in the street.

"It's dramatically easier to do this," he said. "The statistics are there. This is safe."

Another poll question indicated many people are amenable to the new parking method.

Out of 50 respondents, 27 were "comfortable" or "very comfortable" with the idea.

Another option is to focus not on cars but on pedestrians.

"If we have a surplus (of spaces) in one area and a deficit in another, can't we improve the 'walkability' between the two?" Hudson asked.

Is it fair to make people walk? Is it fair to tinker with the system at all?

Whether there should be any regulation at all is a matter for Ketchum residents to decide, Hudson said.

"I've heard a number of people say, 'Leave us alone. Let the private sector sort this out,'" he said. But, "if it's one great big parking lot, are you satisfied? What is the draw that makes people come there?"

Hudson noted that there are many places where people can't park right in front of their destination.

"But you still went there because of some reward," Hudson said. "How many rewards do you have?"

In addition, "Our retailers are suffering a lot of the time because they don't have the turnover they need," he said.

Some people blame employees for taking up parking spaces close to stores.

"As we look at employees, we often say they're the ones abusing parking in the downtown core," Hudson said. But, "Where else do we expect them to park? It's pretty dark. I know we have a sensitivity to lighting up the sky, but lighting up the street is another thing. It's downright dangerous."

On another poll question, 38 out of 50 people were "very uncomfortable" or "uncomfortable" with the suggestion that the downtown parking system doesn't need improvement.

No matter what destination the process gets to, the ride there could be bumpy.

"It's bound to be, right now, a stage of controversy," Hudson said after the meeting. "Nearly everybody believes there needs to be action, but which direction? Our challenge is to embrace our sense of community and to think bigger than our personal interests."

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