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Council Tries Watered-Down Parking Rules on The Mercers

Amidst public outcry, Mercer Island City Council reconsidered a proposed parking ban on parts of East, West and North Mercer Way.

Responding to an outpouring of criticism from residents, the on Monday significantly watered down that would cover long stretches of East, West and North Mercer Way.

At least 40 residents living along "The Mercers" showed up at the council’s second reading of the no parking ordinance on Monday night, and nearly everyone who spoke during the public comment period was against the new restrictions. The "No Parking — Dawn to Dusk" restriction would have applied a to all improved roadside shoulders on the inside of East and West Mercer Way.

Responding to critics, a revised proposal was offered by Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz that would still prohibit parking — but in a more targeted fashion (see the new proposal by clicking on a PDF image ofto the right of this story). The draft proposal was referred back to city staff on 5-2 straw poll vote, with councilmembers Mike Cero and Jane Mayer-Brahm opposed.

Opponents said that parking in the shoulder of the busy arterial was a quality-of-life issue important to homeowners — many of whom said they lived down steep, narrow, shared-access driveways which couldn't accommodate much, if any, visitor parking. One East Mercer Way resident, Peggy Timm, said she "lived down at the bottom of the driveway from hell."

Mayor Bruce Bassett, who supported the broader no-parking regulations last November, said he was taken aback by the public outcry and had already received over 50 emails about the issue. Citing a common sense of frustration at the loss of parking privileges and frustration at cyclists in the public's response, Bassett said he and Grausz rode around The Mercers on bikes over the weekend with a video camera to help them study the situation — which then led the two to focus more precisely on road shoulders that were a safety problem.
 
"When you're in a hole, stop digging," said Bassett, amidst laughter and rousing applause. "It is safe to say we're not passing the ordinance tonight."
 
Shortly after testimony by residents against the restrictions and a handful who supported them, Grausz passed around copies of a revised set of guidelines to restrict parking in fewer areas — primarily for sections of road where parking constituted a public safety hazard or didn't exist before.

“We need to make sure we do the most w/ that money from a safety standpoint,” he said. “I offer this up, I guess, as a compromise to keep this matter moving forward.”

The revised proposal for a no-parking ordinance on The Mercers would classify the improved shoulders "into distinct areas based on their characteristics" where no parking was allowed. Those characteristics include "areas where parking creates a safety hazard for vehicles, pedestrians, and/or cyclists using the road," and "areas where parking could not have previously existed prior to construction of shoulders."

Several councilmembers appeared to agree that it wasn't clear exactly what problem the parking ban was trying to address.

"I think we're struggling with what the problem is that we're trying to solve," said Councilmember Debbie Bertlin. "I would like to see a problem statement … In general, the main question I was left with was, how much area is really under debate and in contention here?"

"We need to define the problem," said Councilmember Cero. "We need to have a minute look at the accident data — Where are the problems?"

Deputy Mayor Grausz was ready with an answer. According to records, over 200 accidents have occurred on The Mercers over the past 5 years.

"What's the problem statement? The Mercers are not a safe multi-modal road. We need to solve that," he said.

Councilmember Brahm, who maintained her opposition to any parking retractions on the shoulders, reminded the council that city engineers had recommended that parking concerns be addressed as they arise, instead of an outright ban.

"We have spent four months messing around with this," she warned, "and it is a mistake."

City Manager Rich Conrad pledged he would return to the council in April with a revised parking ordinance for the council to consider. The city will also seek volunteers from neighborhoods along The Mercers to form an advisory panel for future roadway shoulder enhancements by this autumn.

The next set of planned shoulder paving improvements on The Mercers is expected to take place next year.

Residents agreed there were issues with sharing the road with cyclists, but several who said they frequently biked around the Island on the Mercers.

Avid cyclist Mark Clausen, who initially supported the parking ban and tried to launch discussion on the issue at a "Road Safety Summit" last year, said he could appreciate that parking in the area affected was very limited but urged city leaders to find a compromise that increased road safety.

But most said they seldom if ever used the shoulders because they were not kept clear of naturally-falling debris from trees and the hillside. Several also criticized the estimated large number of signs and cost of installing them — saying that the installation of up to 400 signs along the roads would lead to "sign blight".

"Nowhere, in any document, do I see info on how much this will cost," stated Baron Dickey. "And where's the manpower coming from to enforce this?"

Resident Tom Gallagher said the paved shoulders were paid for by taxpayer money and should therefore be available for the use of all citizens.
"In general, I feel like (the no-parking regulations on the Mercers) borders on unnecessary and creates more burden than it should."

East Mercer Way resident Bob Rowe said the parking regulations made little sense and urged the council to discard it.

"I think that putting this ordinance is a waste of our money," he said. "Why does it stop at dusk? It doesn't make sense. I request this thing be scrapped and given a gravesite burial."

Kendall Watson March 10, 2012 at 04:45 AM
What do you think of the revised proposal for parking restrictions on the Mercers? Better? Still unfair?
Ira B. Appelman March 10, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Most homeowners believe they have special privileges to the road shoulders in front of their homes, even though the shoulders are almost always public right-of-way. In the past, the City Council has recognized these special privileges. In the most extreme recent case, homeowners behind (north of) the northend Park & Ride complained that commuters were parking on the road shoulders in front of their homes. Even though it was understood that this was public right-of-way paid for by the public, the City Council recognized their special privileges by installing no-parking signs, but allowing the homeowners to have parking passes so that they and their visitors could park on the road shoulder. In my years of careful observation of City Council meetings, I've noticed that generally (and unfortunately) Islanders care what happens to themselves, but don't care what happens to others, if it doesn't affect them. The Councilmembers pushing this parking ban on the Mercers conveniently don't live on the Mercers. They haven't proposed a similar ban in their own neighborhoods, which would prohibit parking in front of their own homes. Staff already addresses problems on the Mercers and everywhere else on the Island by posting signs, where necessary, and proposes to continue to addresss problems on the Mercers as they arise. The burden for proponents is to identify the problem this blanket no-parking solution is trying to solve, which, so far, they haven't done.

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