City urged to lift parking limits in area around Charles Street

Study suggests adding garages to revive corridor

July 18, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Adding more than 600 metered spaces and ending rush-hour parking restrictions on major downtown thoroughfares would help ease a long-standing parking crunch in the Charles Street corridor, a traffic consultant says.

The Traffic Group Inc. said the new parking allowances would not worsen congestion - an issue city officials say is key - while making life easier for residents, merchants and cultural venues from Fayette Street to North Avenue.

Some new spaces would come from eliminating loading zones and bus stops. Off-street parking, the study said, would improve if garage and lot owners kept later hours and set aside spaces for short-term parking. Long-range ideas include building three garages.

"We have a parking problem on Charles Street," said Rebecca Gagalis, executive director of the Charles Street Development Corp., which commissioned the $48,500 study. The nonprofit group was formed in 2000 to try to revive the street.

The study's 37 recommendations are practical steps to fixing the problem, Gagalis said.

The changes, if adopted by the city, will be too late for one Charles Street institution. Nelson Coleman & Sons Ltd., a jewelry store that has been in the 300 block for 50 years, is moving to Towson in September.

"Parking was the catalyst," said co-owner Chris Coleman. "We live in our cars. We want that convenience. It's just not here right now. Things are great downtown, but the parking has just lagged."

The shop's departure adds a sense of the urgency, Gagalis said. Not only does the dearth of spaces make it harder to recruit new businesses, it jeopardizes those already there.

Any changes to traffic patterns must be approved by the city, and officials have not yet examined Traffic Group's ideas in detail.

"We have to look at it on a case-by-case basis," said Frank Murphy, chief of traffic engineering at the Office of Transportation. "I suspect there are indeed opportunities in some places to add parking."

Murphy said the city has taken steps in recent years along the lines Traffic Group chief Wes Guckert suggests. Just one side of Calvert Street is now restricted in the afternoon rush hour, for example.

The study urges going further by allowing 24-hour parking on St. Paul, Centre and Cathedral streets and Maryland Avenue. Two lanes can handle double the current peak volume of cars with no trouble, it said. Murphy said the city would do its own analysis.

Metered parking should be allowed at any time during the day on both sides of Charles, except in the narrow 300 block, the study said. Rates should be up to $2 an hour to encourage turnover. Nighttime parking would be free.

Among the ideas for off-street parking is for the city-owned Franklin Street garage to reserve up to one-fifth of spaces on weekdays for people visiting places such as the Walters Art Museum. Now, most spots go to monthly permit holders.

Eventually, Gagalis said, three garages should be built. Charles Street, with so many old buildings, is not suited to garages, she said. The three recommended sites contain some parking now. One is off Saratoga Street, behind Brown's Arcade; another is in a wedge between Cathedral and Saratoga streets. The third is bounded by St. Paul Place, Franklin Street and Mulberry Street.

Guckert said he met with area businesses, residents and cultural institutions to find a consensus. "Everyone got something," he said.

For example, Lisa Keir, executive director of the Mount Vernon Cultural District, praised an idea for nighttime retailers and restaurants to explore creating a valet parking service.

At least one of the study's ideas has been kicking around for some time: returning Charles Street to a two-way street. That's one idea Murphy dismisses. He has a book at home showing the street in the 1950s, and the caption refers to it as a two-way "urban nightmare."

"People have short memories," he said.

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