Pay parking may make its return

Pay-and-display parking meters like this one installed in Lakewood, Colo. in 1999 may be coming to Bremerton to alleviate downtown parking problems. - Courtesy of City of Bremerton/Cale Parking USA
Pay-and-display parking meters like this one installed in Lakewood, Colo. in 1999 may be coming to Bremerton to alleviate downtown parking problems.
— image credit: Courtesy of City of Bremerton/Cale Parking USA

Without a doubt, parking is a problem in downtown Bremerton.

City Hall has a solution, but after an informational meeting Tuesday night at the Norm Dicks Government Center, it remains to be seen if downtown merchants will support that solution or oppose its implementation, 13 years after previous meters were removed.

Mayor Cary Bozeman began the meeting outlining the main problems with parking and what the new system can offer.

Bozeman relayed personal tales of seeing and confronting drivers parking with a handicapped permit and walking blocks to their office with ease. He said he is aware of the problems with shipyard workers moving their cars every two hours to cheat the system and feels the Navy parking garage located at Fourth Street and Park Avenue has not alleviated that part of the problem as much as previously hoped.

Pay parking reinvests in downtown, the mayor said, raising about $300,000 each year, allowing the city to pay for upgrades on corners including the addition of benches, lanterns and greenery.

“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” Bozeman said. “I realize there will be short-term pain and some long-term gain.”

Bozeman also pointed out a large portion of the parking problem comes from employees of downtown businesses re-parking every other hour.

“Half of our parking’s being eaten up by employees,” he said. “(Metering) rotates cars so employees don’t use our precious parking spaces.”

Ryan Bonardi of Cale Parking Services, a company that provides a pay-and-display metering service like that the city hopes to install, gave details about the way such meters work and emphasized cities that faced opposition to the meters eventually came around.

“The questions were answered. The fears were allayed,” Bonardi said of recent installations in Baltimore and Truckee, Calif., where there was initial opposition.

Meters like the ones Cale provides accept coins and debit, credit and “Smart” cards. Bonardi said bill-accepting meters cost more to buy and maintain, are less aesthetically pleasing and are rare, accounting for just 2 percent of meters nationwide.

The Smart cards, he said, work similar to the current Kitsap Card, allowing for merchant discounts but adding a chip people can load with money to pay for services like parking.

Addressing merchant concerns about the previous meters’ failure, city clerk Paula Johnston pointed out the differences between now and then.

“Back then, the meters were not as technically advanced,” Johnston said. They were removed “during the height of the big exodus of retailers from downtown.”

The current solution, two-hour parking with no re-parking on the same-named street on the same day, is a “nightmare to enforce and everybody knows how to beat the system,” she said.

Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Silvia Klatman shared there is a perception, whether realistic or not, that off-street garages are unsafe and that discourages employees from buying passes for those facilities.

Bozeman replied that the safety issue improves with more people downtown and lighting provided by parking revenues.

Klatman said the Chamber is yet to take a stance on the matter. Peggy Nord of Simply Renewed said the Downtown Bremerton Association, of which her business is a part, is similarly undecided.

“Not all of us have decided on this yet. We’re asking good questions,” Nord told the mayor, who seemed to express frustration with some of the negative response.

Nord said she is actually leaning toward supporting pay parking but wants to be sure some specific concerns are addressed before going forward.

“I’m afraid they’re not going to be willing to make changes to the system. They need to be flexible with some of the issues with volunteers and the employees,” she said.

Nord also expressed concern the city seems to have gotten pretty far along with planning the pay-and-display system before asking for input.

“We haven’t been presented with anything yet,” she said. “There needs to be a lot more education but I think it’s a good system to go to.”

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