The Platteville Common Council is embarking on another effort to deal with downtown parking issues.
If that seems familiar, that’s because, in the words of city Director of Public Works Howard Crofoot, “From my perspective, you never fix a parking problem in an area like this. … Users change, uses change, and the dynamic changes in conversations like this.”
The dynamic in this effort is tied to two major building projects — the Library Block and the restaurant addition on the Steve’s Pizza Palace site across the street — this and next year, along with work on Bonson Street scheduled for this year and and future development of the former Pioneer Ford Sales property.
But as with other times where downtown parking has been considered, there are more ideas than agreement about what to do about downtown parking problems.
“The only solution to a perceived parking problem is empty stores and nobody wanting to come downtown, and you’ve solved your parking problem,” said Main Street Program director Jack Luedtke. “People don’t come downtown to park; people come downtown to shop.”
City manager Karen Kurt said at the Common Council’s work session on downtown parking March 7 that Platteville’s “historic downtown,” which she described as “the first mixed-use development,” was “not built for our car-centric culture.”
Because downtowns usually have “shared street parking” between building owners and occupants, she said, there is “typically more public-sector involvement in this area for that very reason.”
Given that there are a “lot of different ideas” on downtown parking, Common Council president Eileen Nickels suggested creating, or reconstituting, a city parking committee, even though “You know I’m not crazy about more committees. … I personally don’t want to be the one going around to everyone on Main Street to discuss parking. … Maybe I miss some people.”
See PARKING page 5A υ
Luedtke said a committee might be a “prudent use of the council’s time” instead of “to sit here and listen to this.”
But at-large Ald. Mike Denn said that “the council, that’s their job. Staff brings the information to council people … they need to do research instead of sit here and not do anything. … The council needs to do some more work.”
Denn said a committee might “look at this particular thing and not the whole thing,” and hear only from “special-interest groups.”
District 4 Ald. Ken Kilian said a previous committee looked at downtown parking. “We heard from landlords that said I pay taxes, I expect to have parking available for my tenants. And we came to an impasse on what to do.”
District 1 Ald. Barb Stockhausen advocated the creation of a parking commission. “I think we need a direction that gets away from the council being a committee of the whole,” she said. “We have space. There are vacancies. It’s already been studied.”
At-large Ald. Tom Nall suggested getting “a group of people from downtown to solve their own problems.”
But, said at-large Ald. Amy Seeboth-Wilson, “If you have only downtown people on the committee, you will have different answers than if you had community-wide representation.”
One result may be a study of downtown parking, given that, as Kurt said, “This is an area where we probably aren’t the best people” to determine parking issues. Kurt said a “mini-study” could cost up to $15,000.
Since a proposed student housing development on the parking lot at West Pine Street and South Bonson Street was shelved in early 2012, the city has offered rented parking in city lots, and changed from two-hour to three-hour parking in areas around Main Street. Since the UW–Platteville Rountree Commons dorm opened in August 2012, the city also instituted permit parking in areas around campus, among numerous parking regulation changes.
The rental lots, however, have not been filled, which led Seeboth-Wilson to say, “This tells us that we have too much parking downtown if people aren’t desperate to want spaces.”
While the current building projects are expected to bring more people downtown, Denn said, “About the only option you have in the downtown area” to expand parking is at McGregor Plaza. “You do not have any other area. … Parking doesn’t make anybody any money.”
One possible solution is adding more signs denoting public parking.
“If you’re driving downtown Platteville, how do you know where to park?” said Nall. “It’s more advantageous for us to do the correct signage and the correct amount of signage.”
That may not necessarily mean more signs. Crofoot said the city has received previous complaints about “too much signage.”
District 3 Ald. Barb Daus suggested enforcing parking and downtown traffic regulations more strictly and improving signs.
Daus said the city should not “make more than a couple changes at a time … you don’t know what did or didn’t work” when the city makes “wholesale changes all at once.”
Kilian believes 24-hour parking should be removed from the Pine/Bonson lot, which he said now “pretty much seems to be tenant parking.”
“If we do change that from a 24-hour lot, we’re going to displace a lot of people who live downtown,” said Seeboth-Wilson.
To that, Kilian said, “Is that the city’s responsibility?”
“When we have rental units in residential areas, especially by the university, we always ask they provide enough on-site parking,” said Nall. “We don’t ask that downtown.”
City employees will not be able to park around City Park this summer because of the Bonson Street work, Kurt said.
One popular suggestion has been to shift traffic on Main Street to one-way west to east. Main Street became one-way in the 1950s after U.S. 151 was rerouted to what now is Business 151, then went back to two-way traffic 50 years later around the opening of the U.S. 151 expressway.
When Seeboth-Wilson asked if angle parking could be instituted on a one-way Main Street, Crofoot said there was only room enough for angle parking on one side, most likely the north side of Main Street, leaving parallel parking on the south side of Main Street.
Luedtke said two-way traffic is “beneficial to businesses, beneficial to safety in the street, beneficial to particularly pedestrian and bicycle traffic.”
Denn disagreed, calling two-way traffic “absolutely not” safer, adding that elderly people “don’t frequent Main Street due to that.”
One subject brought up was installing a left-turn lane on Chestnut Street at West Main Street. Crofoot said there is room for a left-turn lane at that intersection, but “some if not all of 10 parking spaces on Chestnut Street” would have to be removed.
“It is an option,” he said. “It is an expensive option, but it can be done.”