WLHS parking: Some councilors want to hit brakes
The agenda item, placed near the end of the West Linn City Council's Oct. 1 work session, read "High School Parking Status."
And after more than a year of debate about how much student parking should be available at and around West Linn High School, the "status" of the issue remains unclear several weeks into the new school year.
Based on discussions at a previous meeting, City Manager Eileen Stein viewed the parking problem as enough of a priority to draft postcards that might be mailed to residents asking if they would be willing to have a specific student assigned to a spot in the residential zone outside their home.
Yet when Stein shared a draft of those postcards Monday, some councilors questioned the purpose and said the problem might already be solved.
Specifically, councilors and residents cited recent surveys illustrating that the 60 spaces added on the Broadway Street and West A Street bridges — with approval from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) — appeared to be enough.
"As of today, we know there's no parking problem," City Councilor Rich Sakelik said.
Added City Councilor Teri Cummings: "Maybe we don't need to do this."
Since May 2017, when two students appeared at a meeting to advocate against a residential parking zone near the school, the council has served as an arbiter in a fierce debate between Bolton neighborhood residents, students and parents. A lawsuit and petition effort to abolish the parking zone cast a shadow over council discussion of several possible solutions earlier this year, though no votes were held.
Lobbying from Mayor Russ Axelrod and State Rep. Julie Parrish prompted ODOT to open up parking for students on the bridges over I-205, creating 60 of the 100 spaces that the West Linn-Wilsonville School District said were needed to alleviate the problem.
And some believe 40 additional spaces would be superfluous.
"After the onset of bridge parking spaces the City and ODOT so graciously put together ... we thought we'd do a survey of how effectively they're being used," said Don Carver, a resident who lives on West A Street, during the public testimony portion of the meeting. "We did two surveys. One was of the bridge overpasses and two parking lots: the Tripp lot and the upper lot. We went at 10:30 a.m. to see how many open spots there were."
The first survey showed that a total of about 60 spaces were unused between the bridges and two lots.
A subsequent survey of just the two lots assigned to students — completed in the morning and afternoon over the course of seven days — found a total of 500 vacant spots, and Carver shared photos with the council as proof of his findings.
"The conclusion we found is that those 60 spaces that were added seem to have remarkably solved the parking problem," Carver said. "There are more parking spaces available than there are students to use them, and we're not noticing a real increase in students parking in the neighborhood illegally."
Sakelik said he'd conducted his own informal survey, driving by the parking areas for seven days and counting the empty spaces.
"Most days only half of the spaces were used," Sakelik said.
In response to Carver's testimony, City Councilor Bob Martin said he was pleased to see someone gathering data on the issue.
"There's nothing like real data to clarify issues that have been clouded for far too long, because it's been driven by emotion and not people doing this diligent work," Martin said, while also suggesting that another survey be done in November to account for awareness spreading about the bridge spots.
"This is really good news," Axelrod said. "But I think what it points to in my mind is, for us, the next focus really should be more about safety: street safety, traffic calming on West A and implementing those measures we can do to slow traffic, to provide pathways where they're needed."
Stein said City staff had also noticed improvements due to the availability of bridge parking, and that WL-WV Superintendent Kathy Ludwig agreed when the two met recently. But she added that the Broadway Bridge was slated to be removed permanently as part of ODOT's proposed I-205 widening project.
"Those spaces are going away," Stein said. "As helpful as they are right now, it's still a temporary solution."
Stein asked for council feedback on the postcards that might go out to residents, but Axelrod was the only councilor who strongly favored sending them.
"I really think it's best for students to be parking at the school," Cummings said. "The more you're doing this piecemeal ... I think it could cause chaos."
Cummings also strongly advocated for conducting a traffic study.
"We've already opened up 60 parking spaces, which is accommodating 60 cars, trips, whatever that is," she said. "If you were to open a lot more (spaces) to parking, what would that do to that chaotic scene you already see (before and after school)?"
Axelrod said he would prefer to spend money on possible safety improvement projects as opposed to a traffic study, and expressed frustration when Cummings said not everyone on the council agreed with the postcard idea.
"Are you kidding me, you want to have a vote on whether we put a flyer out?" Axelrod said. "OK, that's fine we'll have a vote on it."
The earliest council vote could take place Monday, Oct. 8. As of Tuesday, high school parking was not included on the agenda.