Poulsbo discusses how to improve downtown parking

The Poulsbo City Council discussed strategies to improve downtown parking at its May 15 meeting.

The downtown parking committee formed in February of 2021. The city contracted with Walker Associates to provide the committee a parking study report and action plan. Following a request from the City Council, the committee received a presentation from the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association. At the committee’s meeting April 15 it agreed on these recommendations, per council documents:

1) Move forward with signage and wayfinding improvements: physical signs, highlight parking lot name and time limit, directions to alternate parking areas, improve communication such as web-based map.

2) Formalize employee parking areas: Private-owned lots to create employee and public parking; Utilize King Olaf “spillover area” as employee parking. Other possible locations include First Lutheran Church (50 spots), Gateway Church, Port parking spots (10 spots), City Hall garage (30 spots) and Bank of America (about 50 spots). There are 1,289 parking spots downtown. There are 413 city-owned off-street parking spots. There are 676 privately owned parking spots.

“These are working people who need a good place to park,” planning commissioner and parking committee member Ray Stevens said. “Just sending them off into the neighborhoods isn’t going to work; it’s just not fair. It does need to be a defined area.”

3) Evaluate cost for parking enforcement: perform parking enforcement, including towing; enforcement for vehicles exceeding the three-hour parking limit; evaluate cost requirement; possibility of implementing a license-plate-reader vehicle for enforcement. “Everyone was very adamant about the fact that none of this works if we don’t do some enforcement,” Stevens told the council.

4) Evaluate paid parking model with the following considerations: Identify grace period (free Poulsbo parking allowed for a short duration; discussion regarding whether to have a grace period or address it along with parking hours); Provide paid parking after “free Poulsbo time limit” (paid model is anticipated for Anderson Parkway. Front Street and Jensen Way to Iverson Street also identified as preferred paid parking areas.); Establish rate structures and operational costs (suggest limiting pay for parking hours; paid parking hours 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. generally agreed upon).

“My viewpoint is it’s kind of a point-of-use tax,” Stevens said. “We need to have some ability to manage this or expand it. We got to expand parking, we have more people coming in.”

Next steps in the process include: soliciting input from Walker Associates; committee to evaluate effectiveness (periodically) new and/or existing; seasonal trial for recommended solutions; desire to add short-term and Americans with Disabilities Act spots; and create a mechanism for public comment.

Council reaction

“The revenues that are generated by a (hybrid paid parking model) stay and help improve parking for the future and maintain our parking lots,” Councilmember Gary McVey said, adding that there already is paid parking downtown at the Port lot and SEA Discovery Center. “If you want the nice seat with the extra leg room on the plane, you pay a little more than you are in coach. For those who want to be in the front row with the easiest access, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to pay a little bit to do that.”

McVey also said he was open to implementing it on a seasonal basis, such as during the busier warm-weather months. Additionally, he said some sort of parking facility could eventually be the solution, but that could be 10 to 20 years down the road.

“We don’t need to solve it all at once, this is incremental,” Councilmember Rick Eckert said.

Councilmember Doug Newell said that a paid parking model could deter some residents from coming downtown during the week but added it wouldn’t deter tourists on weekends.

“So much of the resistance and fear comes out of not knowing what the specifics are,” Councilmember Britt Livdahl said. “We need to start getting to the specifics in order to present it. All these options are still on the table, and we need to start firming them up.”