PUBLISHED: 4:51 PM on Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Bumper To Bumper
Persistent parking problems provoke plans for public garage

Charles Westmoreland photo
  Fender-benders and parking tickets are the hazards of doing business downtown, but plans to build a downtown parking garage could help.
JUNEAU - Parking in downtown Juneau can be high-risk. Not so much because of speeding traffic or brazen pedestrians, but due to limited parking spots which can lead to dents and dings to car fenders and wallets.

The Juneau Police Department passed out 1,134 tickets and 68 written warnings in the last two months, according to the department's Community Service Office.

Because most of downtown's on-street parking is for one hour only; travelers, tourists - and especially business professionals constantly on-the-go - have to choose between sharking for an open spot or gambling on getting ticketed.

"One issue we run into is for the people who work downtown," said Sgt. David Campbell, JPD spokesman. "You either have to routinely move your car or get a ticket, and some people consider getting ticketed a cost of doing business (downtown)."

photo courtesy of Juneau Engineering Department
  The site proposal still needs permits from the planning commission, budget approval from the assembly and a land agreement from the state, said Rorie Watt, deputy director of engineering projects.
Julie Carella, an accountant with Wostmann and Associates, has felt the sting of parking downtown several times

Earlier this month Carella parked her 2006 Mustang on 2nd street, near N. Franklin, and noticed when returning to her car that another vehicle had parked so his car's bumper was on top of hers. Carella moved to Juneau a year ago from south New Jersey with her husband, who is in the Coast Guard, and said Juneau's parking woes are some of the worst she's seen.

"My biggest issue is with the irresponsibility of other drivers," she said. "I've seen many people try to fit in spaces not big enough for their cars, and they'll hit cars and scratch them while trying to get in and out."

Though her recent fender-to-fender encounter left no damage, Carella - and her car - have felt the crunch of downtown's congested parking. In December she wasn't so lucky and her prized sports car still bears scratching to the front hood.

"I got really lucky, his bumper was just sitting over mine," she said of the recent encounter. "But I have quite a few scrape marks on my bumper - the front and back. I bet it happens to me once a week."

photo courtesy of Juneau Engineering Department
  A rendering shows details of the 215-car garage and transit center. It is expected to cost about $14 million and construction will take at least a year.
Carella sometimes looks out her office building on Seward Street and sees the same thing happening to other people, and those who do the fender bending rarely leave a note.

"They just leave," she said. "I've never once seen somebody leave a note. And sometimes they're so blatant that they don't even park somewhere else after hitting someone's car."

Statistics about how many accidents downtown involved parked cars could not be provided by JPD.

Carella hopes Juneau will build another parking structure, which could come to fruition in the near future.

Solution in the works

Juneau residents voted, and approved, a temporary sales tax in 2005 to help pay for a $14 million parking garage and transit center. Current plans for the structure include space for 215 cars. It will be located near the intersection of Egan drive and Main street.

Rorie Watt, deputy director of engineering projects, said the assembly will soon vote on the proposal and, if approved, construction could begin within the next several months. Construction would take about 13 months, he estimated.

"Optimistically, I'd like to break ground this spring or early summer," he said. "We still have hurdles to clear. We need permits (from the planning commission), for the assembly to approve the final budget, ... and a land agreement by the state - and that's basically it.

"We have a shortage of desirable parking and shortage of parking at peak times, like summer with tourism activities."

Watt believes the current lack of parking "is a disincentive for people to do commerce downtown." He is optimistic a new parking garage could also lead to partial redevelopment downtown.

Business owners willing to help pay for the garage, called a "Fee-and Lieu," would be able to waive the current parking requirement for businesses, allowing them to continue development.

A public meeting will be held about plans to build the garage on March 26 at 7 p.m. in the assembly chamber.