Main Street Bridge Parking
You may have seen the article in last week’s paper concerning the barricades on the bridge. I thought it was worth sharing some thoughts on this since people in the community have been asking lots of questions about it.
Last year at about this time Council authorized putting new parking spaces on the bridge for a 2 year trial period based on a recommendation of the Transportation and Parking Committee. The Transportation and Parking Committee made that recommendation after listening to the appeal of downtown businesses for more parking and reviewing the engineering and traffic safety standards related to parking on the bridge.
While parking on the Main Street bridge is new in Kent it’s not unheard of and given the fact that our bridge is basically right in the heart of downtown where parking is at a premium I think Council was anxious to try to respond to the businesses who were pressing the city to do something to relieve the strain of parking, especially on the west side where the new doctor’s, lawyers and financial offices were doing a great deal of new business. Plus, with the size of the investment in renovating the Dam, it also gave people an easy place to park and access the river.
As a temporary experiment we had to arrange the parking in a way that was safe without investing too much money into something that could be removed at the end of the 2 years. As you know, we tried a variety of barrels and barricades and while these were visible to motorists, they were not particularly attractive or effective. Over the course of the first year we went through a number of different styles trying to find one’s that were stable and safe but time and again vandals tossed them over the bridge, tipped them over or took them away all together. And each time we had to spend more money to buy new ones so the tab was rising on our “temporary” solution.
Meanwhile, the parking spots were becoming increasingly used. I know the whole parking on the bridge thing is an easy target for critics because it is a change from how things used to be and it has slowed traffic slightly that is trying to turn right at the Bissler building so people jump at the chance to throw darts at the idea. But to be honest the doctors and lawyers have sent letters thanking us saying that the bridge parking has definitely helped their businesses and with all of us clamoring to restore business vibrancy downtown, parking on the bridge seems to be one of the few things that is actually succeeded at doing just that, at a relatively small inconvenience for people trying to cut through downtown.
Back to the barricades. I had asked Gene Roberts to see if we could try a different approach to managing the parking and bridge traffic flow and look at something more permanent that frankly couldn’t be lifted and tossed off the side of the bridge; something I’d call semi-permanent at as low a cost as possible. In addition, given the importance of keeping the downtown looking good (which this year thanks to the consistent rainfall we’ve had the flowers look great) I added the bonus request to try to make our semi-permanent more in-keeping with the look of a historic downtown. Safety orange barrells are definitely not consistent with the character of our downtown.
Gene and the crews came up with the asphalt triangles that you see out there today. Are they perfect? No, but you don’t get perfect for free. Instead what we got was a better looking, more permanent structure that keeps parked cars safe. I thought it was a very resourceful effort and I am quite proud of what they did. I think some of the recent criticism is really not about the asphalt triangles it’s just a continuation of the core argument about whether parking should be on the bridge or not. Putting something new out there just gave people a chance that didn’t like the idea in the first place to revisit it and complain again.
Despite the few comments shared at Council this week I’ve actually had people complement the work the city has done on the bridge. I think that most people take time to settle into changes and I think that’s what’s happening with parking on the bridge. We actually had an offer by one local business to donate large planting boxes to put on the asphalt triangles to make it look even better while also further delineating the parking area from the travel lanes. Ideally what we need to do now is to find a top seal product to basically re-do the travel lanes in a nice dark black color to cover up all the previous lines that are still somewhat visible and create some visual confusion. I think Gene is looking at the option.
Maybe I’m crazy but I like what they’ve done and I will continue to cheer them on to make it even better since that is what Council asked us to do.