The Pendleton Downtown Association and the Pendleton Development Commission studied downtown parking for months. They concluded there are issues, but finding a parking spot isn’t one of them.
Charles Denight, the development commission’s associate director, and Molly Turner, the downtown association’s executive director, presented their findings to the commission at a meeting Tuesday.
Denight and Turner observed the 311 public parking spaces and the 339 on-street parking spaces between Southeast First Street and Southwest First Street, Umatilla River to railroad, twice a day for ten days straight in March and August.
They found that the overall average of vacant parking spaces never dipped below 50 percent. The six public parking lots near Main Street were especially empty — the vacancy average often crept toward 70 percent.
“We have a perception of a parking problem but we do not have a parking problem. ... People perceive it to be a problem if they can’t park in front of the store they want to visit or the restaurant where they want to go dining,” Denight said. “If they have to walk a half a block, there’s a parking problem. ... In larger cities, that would be perceived as not a problem.”
But parking vacancy wasn’t the only factor they studied.
The downtown association circulated a survey that asked downtown business owners questions about parking habits and enforcement. Turner sent the survey to 217 downtown businesses and received 37 responses, a 15.7 percent response rate.
More than 82 percent of respondents favored enforcement for two-, three- or four-hour parking, but nearly 56 percent admitted they used on-street parking near their businesses. Half of the owners surveyed said they’ve received complaints about parking shortages and 20.6 percent of those respondents reported receiving five or more complaints from customers in the last month.
According to Denight and Turner, the city still needs to find a way to relocate cars, including those that belong to local business owners and employees, from on-street parking to public parking lots. But given the results of the parking survey, Mayor John Turner needed more convincing.
“I’m kind of having a hard time seeing a sense of urgency or outrage on the part of downtown residents and merchants,” he said. “You’re going to get a pretty low turnout for these types of surveys, so that’s not surprising. But I see a lot of people who don’t want to have enforcement and don’t really see a huge problem.”
Molly Turner disagreed, countering that the return rate was actually relatively high for a survey of its kind.
“The fact that a large portion of people were in favor of enforcement also suggests that people want to see something done,” she said.
Denight said the city could start enforcing parking laws and citing people, but didn’t want that to be the first resort.
“Personally, I hope we can start with the carrot approach before we move on to the stick approach,” he said.
Denight said a brand for Pendleton’s parking program needed to be created that could “capture the public’s imagination.” He said Susan Christensen, executive director of the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corp., has worked on parking studies in Portland and Bend and would be willing to work with the commission on a communication campaign.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.