Downtown parking

The Town Council approved a parking plan Monday to help decisions on how to manage downtown streets and lots. The discussion is more than two decades old.

Even as they took the next steps toward updating an array of Jackson’s parking policies, elected officials accepted that their efforts are likely to do little to stave off paid parking.

Later enforcement hours, escalating fines and employee parking might go a short way toward reducing traffic congestion and freeing downtown spaces, the Town Council agreed Monday. But, despite those plans, councilors seemed resigned to the controversial prospect of paid parking.

“I think we’re going to get there,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said, “and it’s a matter of doing it in a way that’s predictable and in a way that the community has an opportunity to weigh in on.”

The council approved a parking management plan, devised by consulting firm Kimley-Horn, that lays out a range of potential solutions to the town’s parking woes. The recommendations are given in three tiers, each with a different timeline, to guide decisions on how to manage downtown streets and lots.

The first offers suggestions for the next two years, and that’s largely what the councilors considered. They didn’t approve any specific recommendation, but they did ask town staff to start working out the details of a handful.

Among them are extending parking enforcement to 7 p.m., converting the Home Ranch parking lot to three-hour parking, adding bicycle parking downtown and encouraging employees to leave their cars in the parking garage, in what are now spaces for the Taxi2Fly program.

Another more complicated policy the council considered is an escalating fine system. Basically, the idea is that first-time parking violators would receive only a warning, while repeat offenders would face heftier fines with each violation.

The parking plan recommends trying those strategies before moving to paid parking in two to five years. But Mayor Pete Muldoon, citing a 2003 parking study that urged paid parking 16 years ago, was far from convinced that short-term actions will have the desired effect.

“This isn’t a problem that’s going to get better,” he said. “And it’s not one that’s conducive to incremental measures.”

He proposed that town staff start working on a paid parking program that could be in place as soon as Memorial Day weekend of next year.

Muldoon’s fellow council members mostly agreed that the minor changes can only postpone paid parking, and supported at least getting a better idea of the effort involved in creating such a system. But some thought next year might be premature.

Councilor Jim Stanford noted that throughout several parking talks in the past year or so, the council has discussed testing the more innocuous strategies before moving on to paid parking, which many business owners vehemently oppose out of fear it will scare off customers.

“I’d like to do some other things first in terms of incremental change,” Stanford said.

But Muldoon argues that’s the mentality that has led the town to put off paid parking for many years. He added that according to a survey last summer parking occupancy already rises above the 85% threshold that should trigger paid parking.

The survey found that in mid-August some streets — especially those on the Town Square and just beyond — are full for much of the day. In Muldoon’s opinion that means an adjustment is overdue.

“If we don’t start understanding what the first step is,” he said, “we’re going to be talking about this two years from now.”

Before implementing paid parking, the consultants also recommended hiring a full-time parking manager whose time would be devoted to puzzling out the nuances of the program.

Regardless of what happens with paid parking, Muldoon also pitched a residential permit program that would ensure people have access to the streets they live on. He suggested having that plan ready to implement by Memorial Day next year as well.

“We are seeing some very crowded streets in town,” he said. “We have added a significant amount of density to town. It’s important for us to manage that asset so that the residents that are in these neighborhoods … are not seeing their streets filled to the brim with vehicles.”

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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