Parking debate’s different stripes
June Joplin, owner of Comma Coffee, says revitalizing downtown Carson City means making it into a destination.
“We need to change it to a place to go instead of a place to go through,” she said, echoing comments Jim Phalen, who runs firkin-Fox and High Sierra Brewing, made at a recent open house sponsored by city planners.
They along with Doreen Mack, owner of Lofty Expressions, say the key to revitalizing downtown is to restore on-street parking between William and Fifth streets. There would be no parking in front of the Capitol for security reasons, but the tentative map presented to the open house shows it would add a total of 86 parking spaces downtown.
Mack says she remembers when downtown was alive with boutiques, groceries, hardware and other stores.
“In the ’60s, that changed when the medians came in and they took parking off Carson Street,” she said.
After that, she said downtown businesses began to close.
It’s an idea that has been raised before – several times. The problem has always been that restoring parking means Carson Street will be reduced to one lane in each direction.
But this time City Planner Lee Plemel said it’s possible because the freeway bypass has been extended south of William Street all the way to Fairview, bypassing downtown. The result, he said, has been a decrease in traffic volumes through the downtown core. From 2009 through 2011, the Nevada Department of Transportation says average daily trips on Carson Street has fallen from 28,887 to 18,724 – a 35 percent reduction.
“We’ve got to do something now,” said Joplin pointing out that, when the bypass finally reaches all the way to Spooner Junction, even more traffic will disappear from Carson Street.
Not all agree. In particular, gas station operators have objected saying more congestion and further reductions in traffic volumes will hurt them.
Bob Lamkin, owner of Bob’s Shell just north of the Carson Nugget, said reducing Carson Street to two lanes will increase congestion and drive more cars away from downtown to the newly-improved North Stewart and Roop Streets.
“We’re going to lose a lot of potential customers,” he said.
He said that applies to the two ARCO stations and the South Shell station as well.
“I can’t see taking our potential customers and making them go somewhere else.
Lamkin said the increase in foot traffic and other businesses those businesses are hoping for “could take anywhere from 18 months to two years before they see an actual increase.”
Until the bypass was completed to Fairview, NDOT rejected reducing Carson Street to two lanes. After that, however, the state turned Carson Street over to the city, and Mack raised the idea of parking downtown to city officials.
“The bypass has already bypassed downtown,” she said. “No retail shop is going to want to come in and start a business, if they don’t have access to their store. I think we have to have a strong downtown core. I think it has to go back to where we have parking on mainstreet.”
Another key, according to both Mack and Joplin, is to take down the iron fence along the sidewalk.
Those two things, they said, will open up access to retail businesses along Carson Street.
Mack said two other communities are a good example of what she sees happening.
“If you took Truckee and Virginia City and took away their downtown parking and put up a fence, we would have ghost towns in both places,” she said.
The city collected several dozen comments from people who attended the workshop, and others who have property or a business downtown, as well as from the community at large. Plemel said the results were fairly evenly split between supporters and those either against or undecided.
The prime concerns seem to be potential traffic congestion with added problems from people trying to parallel park in Carson Street and traffic jams caused by those trying to make left turns.
Pittenger pointed out that the plan keeps the left turn lanes in the middle of Carson Street. In case of accidents, he said, Stewart and Roop among other streets could help keep traffic moving.
Other detractors questioned how much it would cost.
Pittenger said the cost would be minimal – a “micropaving” and restriping the street. The paving project, he said, will need to be done in any case so the estimated cost is probably less than $200,000 and could be completed by next summer.
Plemel emphasized that city planners are presenting data and possible plans but neither advocating nor opposing the project.
He said a number of other communities have done the same.
“What it’s called is taking back the street from the highway department,” he said. “It’s a possible strategy to make downtown a destination.”
He said the question is what does the community – especially the downtown – want to do.
Joplin said it’s time to just do it. She said she and her sons will help tear out the iron fence in front of Comma Coffee.
“I’m excited about it,” she said. “Start in front of my place. Let’s do it now.”
Once Plemel, Pittenger and other city officials finish their report, it will be presented to the Board of supervisors for consideration.