Parking solutions move beyond meters

June 1, 2005

Hood River’s tourist season has begun — but the influx of summer visitors will heat up the debate over a lack of parking spaces.

“Up until the first part of June we don’t really have a problem, but there is a perceived parking problem after that. Visitors are here to walk around, so this really isn’t their issue, but most locals want to park close to their destination,” said Bob Francis, city manager.

The city council believes the busier traffic months between June-September are the perfect time to have a consultant on the scene. Officials believe any outstanding issues will be brought to light during that time period.

The city plans to spend $35,000 to hire a professional by this summer to study the alternative parking options. For example, one possibility is shuttling downtown business employees — who take up about half of the available spaces — to work from another location. Another idea is to provide a developer with a free long-term lease of downtown property in exchange for the construction of a parking structure.

The study is being done at the request of the Downtown Business Association (DBA), which has formed its own parking committee to make recommendations for change.

“We have a very active role and interest in the process because that will tell us where the weaknesses are and how they can be addressed,” said Joanie Thomson, DBA coordinator.

Meanwhile, the council has approved a 30-minute grace period for motorists when time on a parking meter expires just as the enforcement officer arrives.

“We are going to take a more customer-friendly approach and issue a warning instead of a ticket for minor infractions. However, if our officer continues along her route and then returns to find the meter still empty, she will be writing out a ticket,” said Francis.

He is asking employees and business owners in the downtown area to voluntarily agree to park elsewhere during the peak tourism months. Saturday Market is also being moved to the Columbia Street lot on June 25 to avoid the parking limitations around its current State Street location.

Francis said that at the end of the parking study, the DBA could be asked to form an Economic Development District. If that idea is approved, an assessment would be levied on the square footage or value of each property and then placed into a special fund. Monies from that pot could be used to pay for employee parking permits in city lots or other identified projects.

The parking consultant will make recommendations in October to the city council based on his/her inventory of all public and private lots and spaces. That individual will also factor in interviews with business owners about their parking needs.

More than three decades ago, officials hoped to solve as least some of the parking issues by installing meters. The goal was to move business owners and employees into the city’s paid parking lots and and free up on-street parking for shoppers and visitors. The meters were intended to keep traffic flowing along to create a high turnover in vacant spaces. Francis said that while that goal has been somewhat accomplished, finding an open space along the crowded streets within the business corridor is still a challenge.

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