Two design proposals concerning changes to parking on First Street in Langley are set to be revealed sometime in January 2018, one of which has caused worry among some business owners.
The potential modifications are under the umbrella of a broader effort to redesign First Street using a $250,000 grant from the state Transportation Improvement Board’s Complete Streets Awards Program. The money is earmarked for transit, bike, pedestrian and aesthetics improvements.
One option would switch parking on the north side of the street from angled to parallel — which would reduce the current number of parking spots by about half — to make room for wider sidewalks, comply with the city’s Complete Streets ordinance and prevent cars from interfering with auto, cyclist and pedestrian traffic.
The other would keep angled parking and widen sidewalks, but also make room for parklets, which are sidewalk extensions over on-street parking spaces.
City staff has recommended changing from angled to parallel to comply with the Complete Streets ordinances and grant funding, though both parking plans are at the mercy of the public, Mayor Tim Callison said. The city’s aim is to accommodate all levels of mobility.
“There will be a final community meeting to look and make final adjustments to accommodate various concerns,” Callison said.
Other priorities recommended by city officials based on public input from two community meetings and state requirements include building wider sidewalks, installing ramps and crosswalks in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, creating a plaza at the intersection of First Street and Anthes Avenue and enhancing Hladkey/Whale Bell Park Boy and Dog Park.
Some First Street businesses owners are uneasy about the potential loss in parking if the switch is made from angled to parallel.
David Price, who has owned edit. on First Street for the past four years, believes 12 fewer parking spaces could make an already poor parking situation in Langley worse. Price said losing parking spots makes Langley less accommodating for day-to-day visitors and the broader South Whidbey community that considers Langley its hometown, which in turn hurts businesses.
He added that signage directing people to available parking outside the loop won’t do much to remedy the situation either.
“It doesn’t affect tourists because they’ll be more than willing to park further away,” Price said. “But merchants can’t rely on tourists. They’ve got to have locals coming into Langley and parking. It’s important to have that connection to the wider community that has to drive here.
“If parking is a little bit of a crunch now and more businesses come in, it will just get worse,” he added.
Joe Menth, owner of Fine Balance Imaging, believes converting angled spaces to parallel would be a “huge mistake” because it would put his customers, who are sometimes aging or in a rush, at a disadvantage.
“It can be a pretty big issue if they have to park a block or two away,” Menth said.
“I don’t think this issue is going to get any better by taking more spots away. It makes no sense,” he added.
Gene Felton, owner of the Star Store, said a reduction in parking would put additional pressure on his business’ parking lot.
“Our parking lot has become a de facto public lot in the center of town,” Felton wrote in an email. “Most of our customers are very short- term shoppers, just asking for a place to park while they buy groceries or items in our mercantile. Short of staffing the parking lot with an attendant, we really are at a loss of controlling who parks there and how long they stay.”
Others felt differently about the potential changes.
Fred Lundahl, owner of Music for the Eyes on First Street, said he supports changing from angled to parallel parking. While he said there’s a downside with less parking, it is outweighed by improved walkability in town, safer roadways and crosswalks; the change will also prevent large trucks from hanging over the sidewalk or interfering with the roadway.
“I, for one, think that the key is walkability, rather than parkability,” Lundahl said.
Langley business owners face a common problem when local employees take up spots in front of shops, leaving fewer spaces for customers. Cynthia Tilkin, who owns In the Country on First Street, said she would be OK with parallel parking if businesses instructed their employees to park elsewhere. She also added that parallel parking has a better visual appeal.
“I hate to lose the parking spaces, but if the merchants stopped parking on First Street, we might have plenty of parking,” Tilkin said.
Lundahl and Felton agreed that it should be up to employers to tell their employees where to park, such as the city-contracted lot at the Langley United Methodist Church.
Price believes there is a middle ground that should be pursued. In an analysis proposed to the city in an email, Price said slightly narrower First Street would allow for a revised angled parking alignment at the cost of four parking spaces, while also slowing down traffic, making pedestrians safer and preventing vehicles from encroaching onto the sidewalk and roadway as they currently do. Price also suggested breaking the north side angled parking section into two small clusters to allow for planting areas and rain gardens on either side of a new crosswalk aligned with the alley next to Moonraker Books.
Price based his analysis on SmartCode standards, a land development ordinance template for planning and urban design.
Price criticized the city’s public input process and believes the city hasn’t gathered an adequate amount of input from business owners. He’s been gathering input from businesses in town on his own time and presenting them his own analysis and ideas.
He said that his concerns and ideas went largely unanswered by city officials and the Langley City Council, save for responses by one city council member and by Callison on Price’s Facebook page.
The city has held two public meetings over the past two years on First Street, the most recent of which was on Oct. 25. The first was on Sept. 21, 2016.
Price believes the city should slow down its planning process and take more time to gather input.
“The city needs to back up and realize this process has not been what it should have been,” Price said.
Although the Transportation Improvement Board encourages citizen and stakeholder input on all projects, it is not a requirement, according to Engineering Manager Chris Workman.
The public was not involved in two “First Street/Complete Street Project” meetings on Nov. 6 and Nov. 16. Various stakeholders were in attendance, including leaders of the Langley Main Street Association, Langley architect Ross Chapin and city staff, including Callison, Public Works Director Stan Berryman, City Planner Brigid Reynolds, Assistant City Planner Kelsey Loch and Robin Nelson of PACE Engineers, Inc.
Summaries of the meetings show that the “group” outlined “priority actions” based on comments from the two public meetings and the requirements of the grant, which include changing parking from angled to parallel, widening the sidewalk and installing American with Disabilities Act certified ramps and crosswalks.
Callison said that Chapin’s sketches of his proposed changes to First Street, which were presented to the public on Oct. 25, are being used as a basis for one of the city engineer’s two upcoming design schematics. Chapin’s sketches include wider sidewalks, parallel parking, narrower driving lanes, a plaza at the intersection of Anthes Avenue and First Street, planters and seating areas.
The Langley Main Street Association was primarily responsible for acquiring the grant funding; the group advocated for the nomination based on the city’s success from the $2.2-million redesign of Second Street in 2014.
Callison said the parking alignment proposals are not set in stone and can be changed depending on public input. He said if a consensus cannot be reached, the city council will be asked to weigh in and make a decision.