The three inevitabilities of life in Bend are death, taxes, and having a hard time finding a parking space downtown. Nobody can do much about the first two, but the city and the Downtown Bend Business Association are taking some practical steps toward dealing with the third. Having a parking situation that's a little bit tight isn't totally a bad thing; it definitely beats having a downtown full of empty parking spaces. But if people have to circle the area five or six times to find a space half a mile away from where they want to shop, some just go home - or never come in the first place.
After surveying its members and holding some meetings, the DBBA has come up with something it calls the "Park Smart from the Start" plan. Despite the corny name, it's a common-sense, carrot-and-stick approach to the perennial downtown parking problem.
One reason parking spaces are hard to find is that some downtown business owners and employees park on the street all day, moving their cars every two hours to avoid a ticket. Under the new plan, which goes into effect at the end of this week, cars will have to be moved 750 feet instead of the present 500, and repeat offenders will face increasing fines.
Those are the sticks. As carrots, employees will be able to buy permits allowing them to park for greatly reduced fees on the roof level of the parking garage and in a new downtown surface lot scheduled to open this summer off Newport Avenue near the Deschutes River bridge. The DBBA also plans to develop incentives to encourage employees to walk, bike, carpool or take the bus instead of driving downtown.
The multi-story parking garage off Oregon Avenue was supposed to cure downtown Bend's parking ills, but it hasn't. Even though it's been open for four years, a lot of people just don't know it's there. The DBBA hopes to remedy that by installing signs directing traffic to the garage and the downtown surface lots, as well as launching an information campaign to make people more aware of long-term parking options.
Finally, to avoid giving out-of-state visitors to Bend an unpleasant greeting in the form of a parking fine, the DBBA wants the city to refrain from ticketing first offenders who have out-of-state plates. Instead they'll get a windshield flyer telling them about long-term parking choices.
Chuck Arnold, the executive director of the DBBA, is under no illusion that the new plan is going to solve downtown's parking problem permanently. "It's always a moving target - something that's always evolving," he said. But Arnold's group and the city seem to be taking an accurate aim at the target as it now exists.
City staff supports the DBBA plan, and the city council seems likely to endorse it later this month. We hope it does. In the meantime, here's a GLASS SLIPPER for Arnold, and his organization and the city staff for crafting an intelligent, comprehensive approach to a complicated, chronic problem.