WENATCHEE — Let’s get this straight … you BACK your car into the downtown parking space?
Back-in parking is the latest option in a $1.8 million street improvement project set to begin in May along five downtown blocks of Wenatchee Avenue. It was one of more than a dozen design possibilities in the project’s details and timeline presented Wednesday at a city-sponsored open house.
“OK, we’re not sure if back-in parking will be popular,” said City Engineer Gary Owen. “But we understand it’s safe and convenient, so we thought we’d at least suggest it. The problem is that it has a steep learning curve. Drivers would have to learn how to do it.”
City officials and consultants explained to downtown property owners and business folks design options for parking, signs, crosswalks and barriers to truck traffic. Visitors were asked to vote for their favorite options.
An hour into the open house, back-in parking was running behind a “no change” option to leave head-on parking in the downtown core by a tally of 4-to-1.
Owen said planning for the street improvements is about 30 percent completed, “so it felt like a good time to check in with the public and get some feedback on what we’ve done so far.” In January, the city will hold another open house with about 90 percent of the planning completed, he said.
The project, partially funded by a $500,000 federal grant, would resurface Wenatchee Avenue along the five-block stretch between Kittitas to Second streets, bring all curbs and corners up to standards of the American Disabilities Act, replace crosswalks, upgrade signs, replace electrical outlets by trees and in light poles and restripe parking. Underground, improvements would include water, sewer, electrical, irrigation and fire suppression systems.
The project, which all parties admit will disrupt downtown traffic and business, is set to begin around May 5 — immediately after the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival — and continue for about 50 work days, or to about July 15.
Planning has moved ahead on the project after property owners last month rejected formation of a downtown taxing district to fund about $700,000 in streetscape improvements. That project, separate from the city resurfacing, would have included new benches, bike racks, light fixtures, landscaping and replacement of some downtown trees.
And what about that back-in parking? City officials and consultants said backing in has its advantages, primarily better visibility for the driver when exiting a parking space. Also, children unloaded from a parked vehicle would be blocked by open car doors from running into the street. And back-in parking puts the auto’s trunk at the curb for safer unloading.
Dusty Jones, an urban designer with the Wenatchee consulting firm SCJ Alliance, said drivers would need to be alert to turn signals from the car ahead and be ready to leave space for the car to back in, the same courtesy exhibited with parallel parking.
“Back-in parking is safer,” he said, “as soon as everyone learns how to do it. But the learning period can be kind of rocky.”