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Long Street Retailers Upset About City Plans to Remove Parking Meters

Walker Evans Walker Evans Long Street Retailers Upset About City Plans to Remove Parking MetersBrett Ruland, Casey Karnes and Amy Kesting (l to r) don't want to lose customer parking.
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While High Street businesses have been fortunate to receive 120 new on-street parking meter spaces for customers to utilize, a group of retail businesses on Long Street are in the process of losing their spaces due to an upcoming construction project. Work is scheduled to begin on Saturday, October 4th on a Columbus Department of Public Service Project that will add new bike lanes to Spring Street and Long Street through Downtown. The trade-off is that many existing parking meters are being relocated away retail businesses.

The news of the parking meter removal first reached Amy Kesting at the Spoonful Records store on Wednesday morning.

“We just received a notice that the city is going to be removing all of the parking meters on our street, in front of our store,” she stated. “I am just shocked. This would also negatively impact B1 Bicyles, Long Street Collective, Rishi Sushi, Budget Rent a Car, Exchange Urban Lofts residents and other businesses.”

The changes to the street should not come as any surprise to area businesses, as an overview of the project was presented at an open house event on September 3rd from 4pm to 6pm. No formal presentation was given at the meeting, but design consultants Burgess & Niple were on hand to answer questions about the impact that project would have on the area.

“Prior to the Open House, we hand-delivered invitations to the Open House to all the properties along both Long and Spring,” said Rick Tilton, Assistant Director at City of Columbus Department of Public Services. “In addition, we send a blast e-mail Open House event invitation to businesses and others along the Downtown section of High Street, the Downtown SID, cycling organizations and others.”

Representatives from Grass Skirt Tiki Bar, Spoonful Records, The Atlas Building, Chick’s Camera Exchange, B1 Bicycles, Exchange Urban Lofts, The Hills Market and CCAD all stated that they either did not receive or did not recall receiving an invitation.

“This will have a substantially negative impact on Downtown business growth in this corridor,” said Casey Karnes, owner of B1 Bicycles. “We have to have parking out front is what it all boils down to. I don’t even understand why the city would feel the need to remove all the parking on the whole street just to accommodate just one three-foot wide bike lane.”

Currently, the block of Long Street where B1 Bicycles and Spoonful Records are located is five lanes wide. On-street parking has rush hour restrictions, preventing parking during peak hours in the morning and afternoon. Maps of the new street configuration were requested from the city, but no electronic version is available. The planned changes won’t add new travel lanes, but Tilton explains that changes in lane widths will use the extra space that is gained from the removal of on-street parking.

“To accommodate the bike lanes and some sharrows, there will be some changes in lane widths — lanes with sharrows will be up to 14 feet wide,” he said. “There also will be some locations in which a curb lane will be a combined travel and parking lane. To accommodate both travel and parking simultaneously in such a curb lane, the lane will be up to 18 feet wide.”

Street width is a hot topic in urban planning circles, as the amount of room given can have a lot of impact to many factors, including pedestrian safety, automobile travel speeds, and aesthetic value of the block. The general rule of thumb is that narrower lanes are better for building areas that feel like neighborhoods. In a 2012 interview with Angie Schmitt at StreetsBlog, City Planner and Author Jeff Speck had this to say on the topic:

“The biggest mistake cities make is to allow themselves to effectively be designed by their director of public works. The director of public works, he or she is making decisions every single day about the width of streets, the presence of parking, the question of bike lanes. And he’s doing it in response to the complaints he’s hearing. But if you satisfy those complaints you wreck the city.”

“A typical public works director doesn’t think about “What kind of city do we want to be?” They think about what people complain about, and it’s almost always traffic and parking.”

“The one thing we’ve learned without any doubt, is the more room you give the car the more room they will take and that will wreck cities. Optimizing any of these practical considerations — sewers, parking, vehicle capacity — almost always makes a city less walkable.”

Speck was also recently interviewed by Brent Warren here at Columbus Underground, where he recommended a 10 foot maximum for travel lanes in urban places. According to Tilton, the City of Columbus has a 10 foot minimum.

“The best scenario would be to have a separated bike lane protected by street parking, to the right of the travel lanes, that way it would protect cyclists and accommodate cars as well,” said Karnes. “Long Street could lose a lane of car traffic for that. It’s only busy in the morning for an hour and in the afternoon for an hour and a half. I understand that the traffic engineers have a different perspective, but the city needs to think differently if it wants to keep businesses Downtown.”

David Kim, co-owner of Rishi Sushi agreed that parking is already a concern for his customers who travel Downtown to dine at his restaurant as a destination and need easy, affordable nearby parking options.

“I wasn’t aware of this plan, and it will be bad for business, for sure,” he stated. “If those 20 meters go away, that’s 20 less customers we can have every day.”

Tilton points out that the plan for the entire mile-long stretch of Long and Spring streets actually provides a net gain of 94 meters through the addition of new meters in other places. There are currently 266 meters in the project area running east-west between Pearl Alley and Jefferson Avenue. 48 of them will be removed in certain places and 142 new meters will be added in other places, for a new total of 360 meters.

“Also, we are looking at adding nine additional meters on Lazelle and Elm,” he added. “These meters will provide parking near the businesses in the area between Third Street and Fourth Street.”

But Kesting argues that having new parking meters located blocks away from their business, or hidden behind the store in alleys, will not offset the loss of parking directly in front of the store.

“We located our business here because of the placement of the on-street parking,” she said. “The city wants to start construction on October 4th and we have an event at the store that day that 70 people say they’re coming to attend. Where will they park?”

As far as the actual bike lane goes, area businesses are supportive of its addition Downtown.

“We live in Olde Towne East and on nice days we ride our bikes to the store,” says Kesting. “I think it’s great to have bike lanes. But wouldn’t it be ironic if a bike lane project ends up putting a Downtown bike store out of business?”

UPDATE (9/27 – 10:45am) – Some Parking Meters to be Saved for Long Street Retailers.

For ongoing discussion on parking meter changes in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

For more updates and discussion on bike lanes in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

Photo by Walker Evans.

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