• Downtown parking is not a walk in the park

    City funds survey to find residents' concerns about access to local businesses
  • ASHLAND — A new survey has found that 39 percent of respondents are deterred from going downtown because of a lack of parking and half of business owners believe inadequate parking has a negative effect on their shops during the peak tourist season.
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  • ASHLAND — A new survey has found that 39 percent of respondents are deterred from going downtown because of a lack of parking and half of business owners believe inadequate parking has a negative effect on their shops during the peak tourist season.
    The survey found 71 percent of businesses had fielded complaints from customers about parking.
    The survey was distributed through the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and posted on the city's website from Jan. 31 through Feb. 13. It yielded 761 responses.
    The city recently released results from the survey, which was done by the University of Oregon's Community Planning Workshop as part of a larger downtown parking and circulation study.
    Some people reported they avoid the downtown during the tourist season, but 86 percent reported they still go there frequently — ranging from twice a week to once a day or more.
    Respondents left numerous anonymous comments about downtown parking for the survey.
    "Customers complain on a daily basis about the lack of parking," one businessperson said.
    Others said customers complain two-hour timed parking spots don't allow enough time to do multiple activities downtown, such as seeing a movie and eating lunch.
    To encourage vehicle turnover and access to businesses, the city posts two- to four-hour time limits on most downtown parking spaces.
    Business owners noted that elderly people and customers carrying heavy packages had trouble when they had to park far away.
    Many people, including downtown workers, fan out to residential neighborhoods to park. Curbside spaces in the neighborhoods don't have time limits.
    However, 18 percent of downtown workers said they park in the time-limited spaces downtown and move their cars throughout the day.
    In years past, downtown workers and business owners could be ticketed for parking downtown, but the city lifted the parking ban after business owners said they would educate their workers about the importance of leaving spaces open for customers.
    The city estimates each parking space generates at least $30,000 each year in retail sales.
    At 58 percent, more than half of business owners said they encouraged their employees to use a method other than driving to get to work. Providing storage for bicycles was the most common step employers took to encourage alternative transportation.
    Some respondents said the downtown parking situation has worsened since a large piece of undeveloped land on Lithia Way was fenced off in 2013 for the construction of the Plaza West business and condominium building.
    Residents and tourists had grown used to parking on the land during the years that the property sat empty. The land had room for more than 70 parking spaces.
    Others said parking is not a serious problem and adding parking would be a blight on the downtown. They said valuable space should be used for buildings, not parking lots or garages.
    City Finance Director Lee Tuneberg said the paid Hargadine Street parking garage usually fills up Tuesdays through Sundays during the Oregon Shakespeare Festival season. OSF plays don't run on Mondays.
    "You might not find a spot if you don't come early in the morning," Tuneberg said.
    The garage stays busy through the afternoon and evening, when plays are running at OSF and the nearby Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Tuneberg said.
    Parking spots in the garage are usually available from mid-November through mid-February, when the festival is dark, he said.
    While Ashland has tried to promote walking, biking and bus use, 92 percent of respondents said they usually drive downtown.
    Only 11 percent said pedestrian facilities needed to be improved, but 57 percent said bike facilities needed improvement.
    Most people — 58 percent — said they didn't bicycle to access the downtown. Among reasons for not cycling, respondents said they didn't know how, didn't own a bike, didn't want to navigate steep hills to get to and from downtown, preferred to walk, thought it was too dangerous, lived too far away to commute or didn't have safe places to park or store their bicycles.
    Many said they had to risk getting ticketed for locking their bikes to posts or trees because there aren't enough bike racks.
    The Ashland Downtown Parking Management and Circulation Ad Hoc Advisory Committee will use the results of the survey as it studies parking, truck delivery and alternative transportation issues downtown.
    The committee formed in November and was tasked with advising the Ashland City Council on those issues.
    Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.
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