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Task force: Consider charging for parking in Fairhaven

Electronics specialist Renee Aiumu works on one of 18 automated pay stations installed in downtown Bellingham in 2010. A task force is considering whether to install pay stations in the busiest parts of the historic Fairhaven district, where street parking is currently free.
Electronics specialist Renee Aiumu works on one of 18 automated pay stations installed in downtown Bellingham in 2010. A task force is considering whether to install pay stations in the busiest parts of the historic Fairhaven district, where street parking is currently free. The Bellingham Herald

A parking task force wants to know what people think about a slew of recommendations it has to combat high demand for parking spaces in Fairhaven, including converting free street parking into paid parking near businesses.

A long list of detailed changes that the Fairhaven Parking Task Force soon could pass along to the city is outlined in a draft report the group released Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Aside from installing pay stations in the busiest parts of the historic district, recommendations include ideas such as enforcing a two-hour time limit in the commercial core, barring employees of businesses there from parking in core spots, installing more bicycle racks or bicycle storage, encouraging public use of private parking garages in the area and building a public parking structure.

The report is the culmination of the group’s work since May 2013, when Bellingham City Council convened the task force to come up with a unified parking management plan as well as funding options for future parking needs. The task force includes members from the Fairhaven Village Association, the Historic Fairhaven Association, Fairhaven Neighbors and the Transportation Commission.

The report outlines parking improvements for different sections of Fairhaven, which is broken up into four major zones in the document. The zone where parking is used the most is the commercial core, which was 94 to 97 percent full throughout the day as of a 2011 study. That area is defined as Knox to McKenzie avenues and 10th to 13th streets.

To reduce demand and increase turnover in that commercial core, the task force recommends charging for parking in the busiest areas, which could be done by putting in pay stations like those in downtown.

“As the Fairhaven area continues to thrive and attract development, customers, visitors and residents, the demand for available parking will increase,” Assistant Public Works Director Eric Johnston wrote in an email. “Charging a fee for the convenience of having parking available helps manage parking demand and is a proven and effective parking management tool.”

The report states that opposition to paid parking includes “fear of losing customers and tenants, a perceived inability of businesses to compete with other areas that do not directly charge for parking and user frustration related to inconvenience and type of payment methods.”

The task force lists ways to overcome those barriers, including using revenue to improve pedestrian access, installing lighting, hosting events, funding a visitor center, installing signs to direct visitors as well as using convenient electronic payment methods, charging only during peak hours, and potentially allowing free short-term parking.

The report also looks at options for adding parking spaces, including the option of building a parking garage.

A 2011 study commissioned by the city found that a 300-stall parking structure would have cost $8 million to build. Accounting for inflation and other added costs not in the first number, the report estimates the garage could cost at least $12.8 million to build in 2015.

The task force will take comment on the report through Jan. 31 at fairhavenparking@cob.org.

On Feb. 17, the task force will discuss the public comments during its open public meeting. Then in March and April, the Transportation Commission is scheduled to review the final report and vote whether to take the recommendations to City Council.

To read the report online, go to cob.org and search for “Fairhaven Parking Task Force.” The draft is one of several links on the task force portion of the city’s website.

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