News - January 5, 2011

Caltrans unrelenting on parking rules for Woodside Road

by Dave Boyce

Responding to area bicyclists' complaints about Woodside's temporary reinstitution of midday parking in bike lanes on Woodside Road, the California Department of Transportation has put the kibosh on the town's attempt to alleviate downtown parking shortages.

In response to merchants' complaints about seeing potential customers leave town after fruitless circuits around full parking lots, the Town Council used its discretion in mid-November and authorized temporary signs to allow parking between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. in six or seven spaces on the north side of Woodside Road, just west of the business district. (The merchants had asked for 10 spaces and a year-round lunchtime exemption.)

The council authorized the midday parking as an interim measure, until Caltrans could study the issue and make a final determination.

But recent correspondence from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to Caltrans informed the agency of "significant concern(s)" among bicyclists about the temporary exemption. And in a Dec. 7 letter to the town, Caltrans conveyed those concerns, as well as questions about accessibility for people with disabilities.

"It is hereby requested that the temporary (signs) now in place be removed immediately to facilitate safe and efficient movement of pedestrians and bicycle traffic," Caltrans deputy traffic director S. Sean Nozzari wrote. The town acted immediately when it received the letter, Town Manager Susan George told The Almanac.

Parking in the bike lanes had been a tradition, particularly during drop-off and pick-up times at the elementary school. Severe twice-daily traffic jams had become a way of life, but one that left no room for school kids, pedestrians, equestrians and recreational cyclists passing through.

The state, responding to cyclists' complaints, requested that the town ban parking on both sides of the road, but allowed qualified exceptions for special events at the school, library or church. The merchants' request apparently did not qualify.

The merchants' request for a year-round lunchtime exception also had opposition in town. Two residents spoke to the council on Nov. 16 of their "passionate opposition" to it and requested a community-wide discussion of parking in general.

"You really do need to do a larger assessment," downtown property owner Lee Ann Gilbert told the council at its Dec. 14 meeting. "I'm really wondering how long this will take if we do it piecemeal here, piecemeal there."

Also in the room were Jamis MacNiven of Buck's of Woodside restaurant, Roberts Market owner George Roberts, and one or two other retailers. Among the ideas the council proposed: have merchants audit the use of their parking lots, have employees park two vehicles per space, and consider employee carpooling.

A regular scene in downtown parking lots are bicyclists loading or unloading their bikes on or off their vehicles and changing into or out of their cycling clothes. Council members wondered if these cyclists could be encouraged to park in low-demand areas.

A representative from the bicycle coalition went to the microphone at one point to offer the coalition's cooperation. "We don't want to let that go to waste," Councilman Dave Burow said.

"I would like to think that all of us have the shared good will to work this out," Councilwoman Anne Kasten said.

Finding answers should be a public-private partnership with the onus on commercial property owners and their businesses, said Councilwoman Sue Boynton, and councilmen Burow and Peter Mason agreed.

"The issue of parking in the town center has a long and complicated history," Ms. George said at the end of a lengthy staff report. "Nothing that has ever been done to address parking needs in the town center has been easy or uncontroversial."


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