Conversion to angled parking moving swiftly

Posted on May 23, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Want to debate the merits of angled parking versus parallel parking for downtown Elkhart?

Hurry up. New street paint highlighting areas of Main Street and a handful of other side streets that are being converted to angle parking could be dried and ready for use before the weekend arrives.

City street workers began prep work Monday by applying dotted lines indicating where future angle parking stripes will soon appear, and they could begin striping today or Thursday.

Once the paint has dried, a new era in downtown parking will arrive.

Mayor Moore, with the support of Downtown Elkhart Inc., announced the changes Friday, saying he hoped to have the first phase on Main Street from Jackson Boulevard to the railroad tracks complete by June 1. A news release issued by the mayor’s office said the city would then look at extending the use of angled parking to the 100 blocks of Harrison, West Marion, East Franklin and East High streets.

However, city workers are now preparing to make all the changes within days, according to Arvis Dawson, executive assistant to the mayor.

The expediency in making the changes, Dawson said, is an effort to be ready before the Jazz Festival, which is June 22 and 23.

The change will result in a significant number of additional spaces. Along the seven-block stretch of Main, the number of spaces will increase from 80 to 136.

But to accommodate the angled parking, the stretch of Main Street will lose two of its four lanes, which is expected to increase congestion.

Angled parking versus parallel parking is a topic that generations of downtown merchants and mayors have debated in Elkhart for nearly 100 years. It was attempted in the 1910s, 1930s, 1950s and again in 1972.

The most recent effort came in 2002 under Mayor Dave Miller, whose administration experimented with angled parking for a little more than 30 days before reverting back to parallel parking.

This time, though, the city thinks merchants support the move.

Dawson said Tuesday city hall has not received any complaints about the change.

“I haven’t gotten any complaints. Nobody’s called us yet,” Dawson said.

A handful of merchants who talked with The Truth Tuesday were divided on the issue.

Brian Jamison, owner of Pop Culture, a soda shop on Main Street near Jackson Boulevard, said he wonders about the impact from the loss of two lanes, but thinks more parking in needed

“I hope it brings some more businesses down here and give people a reason to stop downtown,” Jamison said.

Janice Hayden, owner of Old Style Deli on Main near Jackson Boulevard, doesn’t think the downtown has a serious parking problem.

“One of the reasons it didn’t work before is because it’s dangerous,” Hayden said.

She suspects the new desire for more parking is attributed in part to the Lerner Theatre, but thinks establishing more parking lots is a better idea than angled parking.

“I’m all about trying to have more parking … but in the 29 years that I’ve been here, no one’s ever had a problem with parking to come get lunch,” Hayden said.

Doni Funkhouser, owner of Mod Closet, a vintage women’s clothing store at the corner of Main and Lexington Avenue, said she hears about customer’s desire to park close to their store of choice.

She was unaware of the pending change. The loss of traffic lanes represents a “hard trade-off,” but she likes the idea of angled parking.

“If you can’t stop and get out of your car nearby where you want to go, you’re not going to want to go there. You’ll just keep going,” Funkhouser said.

Linda Rupnow, who owns and operates Matzke Florist Inc., at the corner of Main and Marion streets, said angled parking on Marion will present a problem for her delivery truck drivers who park along Marion when dropping off merchandise.

She said there are days when three to five delivery trucks park along Marion Street for her business.

“It would be really hard on our business to have angled parking on Marion Street,” Rupnow said. “As you can see, there is a lot of parking available out here the way it is.”

Rupnow has operated the floral store for 26 years with her husband, Stanley, and doesn’t think there is that great demand for more parking.

“I just don’t think the time is right,” Rupnow said.

The debate might have merited more serious discussion years ago.

“I can remember talking about this 15 or 18 years ago,” Rupnow said. “Well, we had a lot more businesses down here then.”

Supporters of the change, including Moore, contend that angled parking could entice more businesses to move into the downtown.

While most merchants like the idea of more parking spaces, several wondered how much congestion will be created from the loss of two traffic lanes.

George Anagnos questioned how train traffic will affect the increased congestion. Potentially, it could back up traffic to the north even further.

Anagnos and his family have operated businesses on South Main for more than half a century and he currently operates the adjoining businesses, Pool Tables Plus and the 523 Tap and Grill.

Anagnos is hopeful, but wonders how the city will handle snow removal with two fewer lanes on Main Street.

Dawson said snow crews will make more of an effort to quickly remove the snow and noted that much of it is done overnight.

Anagnos is open-minded

“Everyone has been talking about it for years,” Anagnos said. “I definitely hope it works.”

But he also pointed to what he sees as a lack of public input on the issue.

“There was no buzz created about angled parking,” Anagnos said. “It was just, ‘we’re doing this.’”

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