Community members attended a free Chamber forum on Jan. 29 to hear a presentation on a downtown parking efficiency study.

The purpose of the study, which was initiated by the Stillwater Parking Commission, was to determine some ways that downtown’s parking supply can be maximized by identifying low-cost, high-benefit solutions to increase efficiency of the parking system.

Minneapolis-based planning and design firm Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. (HKGi) was tapped for the study. The presentation was led by HKGi staffer Lance Bernard, who specializes in transportation planning.

Bernard said during the presentation that part of increasing efficiency of the parking system is making sure it accommodates different users. Types of parking users range from one-stop shoppers to short term, long term and daily users. Making sure that longer-term users park away from the street is one way to decrease parking congestion.

One of the ideas in the presentation that community members expressed approval for was encouraging employees of downtown businesses to park in off-street lots and ramps.

“Certainly everyone would love to have front door parking, but there needs to be some trade-offs and expectations of where people are going to park so we can free up parking for various users downtown,” Bernard said.

Increasing the use of off-site event parking was also mentioned. Shuttle services could be used from large lots, such as the schools and government center, to downtown Stillwater for popular events during the summer such as art and music festivals. Shuttling is already being considered for events in 2020.

Tightening the time restrictions for on-street parking is also being explored. Almost all street parking spots in downtown Stillwater have a time limit of three hours, when most communities of similar size in Minnesota such as Anoka, Bemidji and Redwing enforce a maximum time of two hours or less. Doing this would also require a tightening in enforcement.

Installing more wayfaring signage was also brought up, particularly to lots that don’t fill up as fast. The parking study found that while most parking lots fill up to over 90 percent capacity during weekends of peak tourist season, a few are underutilized on Second and Third Street that have over 50 excess spots available.

In total, according to the city’s 2020 downtown parking map, downtown Stillwater has 1,959 public parking spaces, 1,456 of which are free. City officials are hesitant to invest capital in building any additional parking spots until all off-street spaces are fully utilized.

The total amount of downtown parking spaces will increase slightly this year when the Shorty property is leveled on Second and Chestnut Street. The property could be the eventual site for an additional parking ramp, but won’t be considered for at least a few years, according to Stillwater Community Development Director Bill Turnblad.

Bernard said that HKGi is working with the city’s parking commission with hopes to implement several ideas from the presentation within the next one to two years. They are still gathering suggestions and are planning to present their final recommendations to the commission within the next couple of months.

Those who want to share ideas or concerns related to downtown parking are encouraged to email Bill Turnblad at bturnblad@ci.stillwater.mn.us.

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