Easing the strain on Bremerton’s overloaded parking system downtown won’t be as simple as ratcheting up enforcement with meter readers marking tires, Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent says.
Instead, she and the Bremerton City Council will pursue solutions such as automated license plate readers, which can target the city’s most notorious repeat parkers, known as “shufflers.”
“No more chalking,” Lent said. “We must think outside the box.”
Informed by a $112,000 parking study conducted by a Seattle consultant, Lent and the council say they’re ready to make changes to a parking system that most weekdays is stretched beyond capacity.
“This community needs some relief,” Council President Eric Younger said at a June 28 council meeting.
Some of the initial changes likely will be implemented quickly. That includes buying license plate readers, which likely will cost tens of thousands of dollars. Lent and the council believe the readers could stop the so-called "shufflers" -- the 500 or so downtown employees who move their cars between spots each business day.
Lent said the changes won’t just be ratcheting up enforcement. The number of tickets issued has fallen during Lent's term in office, from 15,847 in 2009 (when she was elected) to 5,797 in 2016. Under a new contract, however, enforcement contractor Impark is writing more tickets now, and the 2017 total will likely surpass 7,500, according to city data.
The mayor and majority of the council appear to be on board to:
* Create a full-time position in the city government to oversee, monitor and make changes to the city’s parking system.
* Bring back a parking committee, composed of residents, business owners and city officials.
* Lent would like to see residents of each of the city’s seven council districts decide how to create permits for on-street parking in their neighborhoods.
* City-owned lots on Fourth and Fifth streets between Park and Warren avenues could be converted to parking for employees of downtown Bremerton businesses, who would pay a reduced rate to park there. Currently, they can park at the city’s garage on Washington Avenue for $40 a month, but the garage is frequently full by 10 a.m., when many businesses open.
The parking study, conducted by Berk & Associates of Seattle, includes a number of other possible strategies but the council and mayor appear to not by sold on all of them, including the idea of steeper parking penalties and fines. Lent said she would rather wait than going to those “punitive” terms.
Other ideas from the consultant that could be implemented:
* The mayor hopes to craft a policy to encourage carpooling. She cited the Kitsap Public Health District, which subsidizes parking for employees who travel with more than one employee in their vehicles.
* Many council members complain about the absence of frequent “loop” bus service that would give Bremerton residents the ability to get downtown and back conveniently. Some on the council also would like to see Kitsap Transit increase its efforts to help commuters from outside the city get downtown.
“It’s obvious it’s not a city problem, it’s a county problem,” said Bremerton City Councilman Greg Wheeler, also a candidate for mayor this year. “We need an urban level of service.”
* While the consultant backed parking meters on certain streets, Lent said she isn’t ready just yet to bring them back.
* Councilman Richard Huddy favored a new garage but found little support.
Jeff Arango, the consultant who worked on the study, believed the garage would only fill up with shipyard workers, not people wanting to work or take in sights and businesses of downtown.
“You’re using your downtown as a parking lot for people to leave,” he said.
Councilman Dino Davis wondered why the shipyard did not build its own garage. Arango said the council that local Navy officials told him they have requested, but not secured, additional funding for parking.