Is there a parking problem in downtown Moscow? The answer depends on who you ask and how that person defines the problem.

Because downtown parking availability has been a hot button issue for years, three Moscow city councilors say it is time to fully understand all sides of the issue and potentially implement changes to the parking landscape in the heart of Moscow.

“People seem to think that there’s a parking issue just because they can’t park as near as they might like to the business they want to patronize, and that’s just part of downtown,” Councilor Art Bettge said.

He said people seem to have an issue crossing Washington or Jackson streets.

Bettge said he never has a problem finding a parking space when he parks on the east side of Washington Street.

He said he then takes the short one-block trek to his desired location on Main Street.

Bettge said he challenges people to think about Moscow’s downtown parking situation relative to the one in Portland, where people may have to walk three or four blocks from their parking stall to their ultimate destination.

“It’s really not as bad as people think it is in downtown Moscow,” he said.

Councilor Gina Taruscio said Moscow’s parking codes have worked well so far, but the city is growing.

“I think that parking is going to become the issue soon,” she said.

Some residents agree with Taruscio, according to comments provided in 2016 in the Moscow Citizen Survey, which is sent out every two years.

A survey question asked what residents feel will be the most important issue facing the city in the next several years — four said parking.

The “need for business growth” drew the most answers with 37.

The Central Business Zoning District, which is generally bounded by A Street to the north, Jefferson Street to the east, Seventh Street to the south and Almon Street to the west, does not require businesses to provide off-street parking stalls.

Moscow Community Development Director Bill Belknap said New Saint Andrews College’s existing campus near Friendship Square and its future music conservatory at the former Cadillac Jack’s building are the only land uses downtown that have off-street parking requirements because of guidelines provided in the school’s conditional use permits.

For Taruscio, downtown parking includes a couple blocks east and west from Main Street.

“I don’t ever struggle to find parking with that mindset,” she said.

Taruscio said residents with physical limitations or a parent who has to walk with multiple children should also be included in the conversation.

“I think that it is getting harder to find parking on Main Street specifically, yes,” she said. “Overall, if you’re willing to walk a block, you can still find parking.”

Councilor Brandy Sullivan, who co-owns One World Cafe, said she is not sure if there is a downtown parking problem or not, but because different opinions are raised, she wants to understand what the parking situation is and then figure out low-cost strategies to address potential issues.

She said Moscow’s downtown has become more vibrant the past 10 years and many would say occupied parking spaces is a sign of a healthy downtown.

Nils Peterson, former chairman of the Moscow Planning and Zoning Commission, said there is no downtown parking problem as there is parking available either on Main Street or nearby.

But people perceive there to be an issue because sometimes they cannot find a space directly in front of the downtown business they want to explore.

Peterson said people are willing to walk throughout the Palouse Mall and Eastside Marketplace complexes and parking lots but not the one or two blocks to reach their Main Street destination.

Potential solutions

Sullivan said it might be time to examine parking meters and reduce the three-hour time limits on Main Street.

She said the free three-hour parking does not incentivize drivers to park a block off Main Street or to ride a bicycle.

If someone is willing to pay to park on Main Street, they can, she said. Otherwise, they can park one or two blocks away for free.

Peterson said research shows paid parking translates to more available parking stalls.

“If I have to pay, there’s a price point where I will stop using it,” he said.

Reducing the three-hour time limit to one hour or 90 minutes would also likely discourage downtown employees from parking their vehicles on Main Street and then moving them every few hours, Sullivan said.

Instead, they might feel it is more advantageous to park a block or two away without having to move their cars every three hours.

Sullivan said Main Street parking spaces should ideally be for customers.

Bettge seconded that, saying downtown business owners should encourage their employees to park away from Main Street.

“It will take participation by the community at large to really get this thing solved or change perception of a problem,” he said.

While reducing the three-hour limit and strictly enforcing parking rules could help the parking landscape, Bettge also said working to change the perception that there is a problem is part of the solution.

He said having the Moscow Transportation Commission investigate the downtown parking climate would be a good start.

The commission released its last downtown parking study in 2008 after one and a half years of work.

One of the recommendations was to create short-term, medium-term and long-term parking zones, Belknap said, but the council never approved the recommendation.

Taruscio said the community, businesses and city staff and officials need to come together to find solutions.

“Parking is challenging,” she said. “Do I have a solution to it? No.”

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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