Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On street parking!

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— The addition of nine spots probably won’t cure the parking crunch on lower Chapel Street, especially after losing hundreds to the planned development of the old Shartenberg site.
But it’s a step in the right direction, one merchant says.
In coming weeks, the city will convert one of two eastbound traffic lanes into parallel parking along the four-lane section of Chapel Street between Church and Orange streets.
“Basically, what we’re going to do is legalize what happens right now,” said Bruce Fischer, the city’s traffic operations engineer, as he sought authorization from the city Board of Police Commissioners for what his office has been reluctant to do for years: to sacrifice a travel lane for curbside parking. “At this point, it is a temporary trial to see if this works.”
The change was advocated by the business community, which long complained that a lack of inexpensive, on-street parking — and aggressive ticketing for violators — hurts business.
“Whatever they do in for parking will be a plus for the merchants,” said Mel Hylton, who has run Beauty Plus at 827 Chapel St. for the last 13 years. “And the whole 13 years I’ve been here, it’s always been parking” that has been the issue.
TThe topic was important enough to her that she sent her husband, Rudy, to the commission meeting last week, delaying his dinner, to learn the outcome of the vote, which sailed through despite some misgivings about traffic congestion.he timing does come with a degree of dark irony: some of the most vocal advocates for parking are no longer there, burned out in December in a mid-block inferno. Another driving force behind parking issues, Jennifer Brown, owner of Golden Krust at 823 Chapel St., closed her Caribbean restaurant last month, another blow to the commercial district in the first block east of the Green.
Indeed, there are more than a half-dozen post-fire retailers left on the block, and just as many vacant storefronts. The Footlocker, which was closed for about six weeks after the Dec. 12 fire, reopened this month to slow business. “I don’t think people realize we’re back open,” said employee Tyrone Jones, standing in a nearly empty store.
As it stands now — and as Fischer alluded to — anyone who has driven that block with any regularity has likely encountered a vehicle stopped in a right-hand travel lane with hazard lights blinking and no driver in sight, as customers risk tickets for a quick stop at a store.
Hylton does offer validation, but that can be cost-prohibitive, especially when many of her customers are in and out of her store in 15 minutes or less. The surface lot at the Shartenberg site cost $3 for the first hour, but that lot closed to make way for a planned residential/commercial high-rise, costing hundreds of spots.
A new lot opened on the Coliseum site, three blocks south, but Hylton now validates at the parking garage on Orange Street, where the operators cut her a fair deal, she said. She hoped the planned development will help with flagging foot traffic. The parking, she said, can only help.
“This is only nine spaces, but it may provide some relief to the merchants there,” said Fischer.

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