ELKHART — Numerous mayors have considered it, but nobody has ever succeeded in permanently implementing angled parking in downtown Elkhart.
But that might have changed this year under Mayor Dick Moore.
Seeking to provide additional parking spaces for shoppers, Moore announced in May that the city would undergo a test of sorts to see if angled parking along a six-block stretch of South Main Street would be embraced by motorists and retailers.
Past administrations have toyed with the idea and a few have tested the concept, but all of those efforts were short-lived.
Moore’s plan was strongly endorsed by Downtown Elkhart Inc. and the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce as a pro-business initiative aimed at increasing the amount of shopping downtown.
Moore’s announcement also included plans to implement another phase of angled parking on several side streets along South Main Street, but that was soon shelved after one retailer complained and officials realized the amount of change brought about by the first phase.
In less than a few weeks, city workers began making the transition permanent by using a more durable paint to outline the angled parking spaces.
The change has resulted in the addition of 151 more parking spaces, according to Moore who calls the change a “big achievement.”
“It just completely changed the look of the downtown area,” Moore said. “Even the few people who did not like it at first have told me ... it worked out fine.”
The change was made by reducing the number of traffic lanes on Main from four to two along the stretch of the street. If the reduction in traffic lanes has slowed down traffic a bit, that’s OK with city officials who don’t view Main Street as a north-south thoroughfare and prefer to see traffic move at a rather slow pace through the immediate downtown area.
After the first month, police reported a slight uptick in the number of minor accidents along the affected street, including one or two that could be linked to motorists backing out of parking spaces.
Otherwise, motorists seem to have adjusted.
The plan isn’t perfect, though. One complication with angled parking involves occasional congestion near the railroad tracks and in front of the U.S. Post Office when southbound traffic backs up while waiting for trains to pass across South Main. Motorists parked in front of the post office at those times can find themselves stuck until traffic clears.
Leslie Biek, traffic engineer for the city, said they’re aware of the issue and that city officials may look at alternatives to alleviate the situation.
“All the other feedback has been positive,” Biek said. “I think it’s going really well.”
The city has also altered its approach to snow removal because of the parking change.
In the past, with four lanes to work with, city crews could easily pile snow in the middle of the street and still have room for motorists to pass by.
That practice will continue for minor snow events, but Marty Mogan, manager of the street department, said snowfalls involving more than two inches of accumulation will be handled differently.
Instead of collecting snow into the middle of the road, crews will push the snow to the curb.
Morgan said he believes there is still enough room for cars to park in front of the snow and not cause problems.
The snow, he said, will then be removed later when downtown traffic is lighter.
“It’s a little bit of a change,” Morgan said, “But it’s worth it.”
Moore admits the new policy could eventually revert back to parallel parking.
But not on his watch.
At the very least, the change is in effect “until the next mayor comes in,” Moore joked.