Last month I saw Kent’s Community Development Director walking the streets downtown with her safety vest and clipboard in hand.
She was double checking the proposed locations for the installation of parking meters in the next couple of weeks to make sure those spots made sense and wouldn’t interfere with anything that was already out in the public right of way.
It’s been about a year since Council gave their blessing for the next phase of the downtown parking plan which included installation of about 230 parking meters out of approximately 1,200 parking spaces in downtown Kent.
The meters are about step 4 in a multi-stage parking plan (preceded by the construction of the parking deck, surface lot and new on street parking) that tries to thoughtfully balance a mix of paid and free long term parking, and short term parking, based on the types of businesses being served by the parking.
The challenge is getting that balance right when you’ve got a place like Robeks juice bar that relies on quick easy access of really short term parking (like about 5 minutes to run in and run out with smoothie in hand) situated next to Panini’s who’s lunch and dinner customers probably need 1-2 hours of parking — and then throw in the corporate offices of Smithers Oasis and Davey Tree who work upstairs and all their daily business parking needs and things can get complicated pretty quick.
Having a downtown that people want to park in is a problem we’re happy to have but after investing so much in the economic recovery of downtown, the last thing anyone on the City staff want is for parking to become a problem.
The beauty of the “mixed use” development in downtown Kent is in the mix; how the diverse pieces all comes together to make a unique whole — but that’s also the biggest challenge.
Different uses have different parking needs in a shared common space. What works for one may be a problem for their neighbor.
In shared space the solution seems to be making sure the businesses and customers have what they need, when they need it, rather than necessarily getting everything they want. Who doesn’t want a personalized reserved spot right next to the front door? But how many of us really need it?
For some that might mean a little longer walk than they’d want but if it means keeping a few more spots open for businesses that live and die on quick stop-n-go parking, then that’s what needs to be done for the good of the whole.
Admittedly, there’s a lot less room for selfish interests in shared space. That’s part of what makes downtowns special — it functions more like a neighborhood than a shopping mall. Neighbors look out for one another and that includes parking.
I think that’s what makes downtowns so popular — that feeling of shared space where people mix, mingle and pitch-in for each other. Maybe that sounds like old school, rose-colored glasses stuff but when people talk about the great old downtowns that they grew up with, that common spirit comes up every time.
The funny thing is most of those great old downtowns had to deal with the same sorts of parking problems — and many, including Kent, found the answer in a mix of free parking and metered parking.
Here’s a shot of Water Street in downtown Kent from the 1960’s, complete with American Flags and parking meters. As much as things change, some things are good solutions no matter what era they come from.
“Quarters for Commerce” helped support hometown businesses in 1960’s and we hope it will be just as good in 2014.
The new parking meter poles will start popping up in September and October but they won’t likely go online until November. We still have to present City Council with the changes we need to make to our City Parking Ordinances to reflect the return of meters in downtown Kent but I know that the merchants are anxious to see them turned on in time for the holiday shopping season.