To park or not to park?

Apr. 19, 2013 @ 05:08 AM

Parking on the sidewalks along Main Street in Spindale has gradually created problems for the town, drivers and downtown merchants.

Town Manager Cameron McHargue and Director of Public Works David Arrowood first discussed the poor conditions of specific sections of the Main Street sidewalk in the fall of 2010. These sections are nearby BB&T Bank and Spindale Drug Company. The town is looking to fix the deteriorated sections and when the idea was presented to the Board of Commissioners in 2010, the board brought up the issue of vehicles parking on the sidewalks.

In January of this year, the board decided to place street signs asking drivers not to park on the sidewalks and allowed police to begin writing warning tickets for vehicles parked on Main Street sidewalks. The board decided to experiment with the policing method after discussion about the cost-prohibitive improvements that would be necessary to re-design the sidewalks and relevant utility infrastructure through engineering and pursuits from NCDOT.

Since implementing the policing method, the board has received negative feedback from downtown businesses. During its regular meeting on Monday evening, commissioners discussed and revisited the parking and sidewalk situation along Main Street.

"I am having numerous complaints, as have other downtown merchants, from my customers about receiving warning tickets for having part of their vehicle parked on the sidewalk. One of my customers even received a warning for his tire only touching the curb and stated that he may take his business elsewhere," said Bill Koonce, owner of Spindale Drug Company, in a letter addressed to town commissioners. "I understand the issue of wanting to keep vehicles off the sidewalk so they will not damage the future new sidewalk. However the current warning ticket method is creating animosity between our customers, the police department and the town council. If the council feels they must continue to issue warning tickets, and future fines, in order to provide new sidewalks, I would prefer not to have new sidewalks... I would rather have happy customers and old sidewalks than new sidewalks and unhappy customers (or no customers)."

As a result, commissioners re-examined their approach to the problem.

"Most people believe they don't need to park on sidewalks," said Commissioner Ed Searcy. "But it's a hazard for people walking and we're justified in writing the tickets."

Commissioners Andrew Kirton and Tom Roberson offered an alternative view.

"We don't want to give tickets, that's not our goal... We would like to find an alternatives to these tickets," Kirton said.

"I don't think vehicles are causing any more damage than normal wear and tear or weather damage," Roberson said. "We should end this harassment of Main Street patrons."

Koonce addressed the board at the meeting, pointing out that many drivers do not realize they are on the sidewalk because they cannot feel it under their vehicles.

"Why does it matter if people pull one tire up on the sidewalk if the sidewalk is wide enough anyway?" said Koonce. "Why does it matter if they are pulling up on asphalt or concrete?"

In his letter to commissioners, Koonce did propose an alternative method for keeping vehicles off the sidewalks instead of police issuing warning tickets. He suggested leaving notes on vehicles asking drivers not to park on sidewalks and if they have an extended length vehicle to park across the street along the Rails to Trails.

"I agree with what you've said," said Commissioner Tommy Hardin, "but if the sidewalks are replaced, the town needs to have the authority to deal with repeat offenders. Giving them notes or warning tickets won't deter them."

After the board's discussion, Mayor Mickey Bland made a motion for commissioners to decide whether or not to continue the current ticketing policy, on which the board voted to discontinue the warning tickets. This left commissioners with the task of coming up with a new solution to address the ongoing parking and sidewalk situation along Main Street, such as placing parking bumpers inside parking spaces on the street. However, in a conversation with the NCDOT, bumpers would be counterproductive as this would push vehicles further out into the lane of traffic.

Another proposed solution is converting the current spaces into parallel parking, but then parking capacity would drastically reduce.

A third solution is narrowing the sidewalks when they are redone and lengthening the parking spaces. Yet this option would require a large amount of funds and involve infrastructure issues with water and sewer lines.

McHargue's foremost solution is the addition of decorative barriers along the Main Street sidewalks.

"It is my opinion that the best overall way to handle this issue is to create a physical barrier to keep vehicles off the sidewalks," McHargue said in his report. "The physical environment is what controls our driving habits... a visual barrier will naturally stop a vehicle from traveling into prohibited areas."

McHargue said by focusing on environment conditions on the street and sidewalk instead of ticketing drivers would not only be an effective solution, but also would help the town avoid negative PR problems with downtown patrons. Barriers like decorative planters or benches would be a lower-cost solution in lieu of a high-dollar street scape project that would be cost-prohibitive for Spindale.

"The only way you're going to stop it is to do something like barriers or even bumper stops," said Arrowood. "At the end of the day, decorative planters would work best for everybody — they would beautify downtown and also prevent people from pulling up onto the sidewalk. And although things like planters may be inconvenient for us when we clean the sidewalks, we are willing to work around that if it solves this problem."

In the coming weeks, McHargue and Arrowood will explore the cost of different features and barriers to be placed along the sidewalk.