By Hannah Dockery
It’s an issue that never truly seems to go away: parking on the islands. As tourists season is underway, and driving on Palm Boulevard and Ocean gets more and more congested by the way, permanent island residents look to the Council to figure out ways to alleviate the growing parking problem that is causing congestion in neighborhoods and unwanted vehicles often parking directly in homeowners’ front lawns. The issue of parking dates back on Council records to 1972 and though the bellbottom jeans may be long gone, the parking problems haven’t gone anywhere.
At the March 26 Council meeting, Rick Day from Stantec presented his findings to the Council, after looking at the issue of parking on the Isle of Palms for several months. Day and his team were asked to review the issue and all the documents and former discussions on parking in order to identify core concerns and develop alternative strategies for dealing with the parking issue in a draft presentation to Council. Day established four major goals in order to move forward with a tangible plan: balance impacts to residential property with need for visitor parking, improve safety, mitigate congestion, and comply with municipal regulations. After identifying the overall goals, Day presented Council with five different strategies.
Perhaps the simplest step in the right direction to solving the parking problem, Day identified several “positive guidance” initiatives that would help mitigate the ongoing problem of parking and congestion. This would include providing additional signage to the City and County lots, implementing a travel information radio station, developing an “app” or website that would convey parking information in real-time, and the installation of electronic signage that would inform visitors if lots were open or full.
Day’s second point focused on increasing safety initiatives. This would involve providing additional crosswalks on Ocean and Palm, as well as restricting parking near intersections, crosswalks, and fire hydrants.
The third strategy, and arguably the least appealing to island homeowners, would allow oceanfront parking throughout the City. This would open up both Palm and Ocean to parallel parking and allow for the construction of a multi-use path on the mainland side. It would also require the removal of some private landscaping barriers that are in the public right of way. The idea is that by opening up Ocean to public parking, demands on interior streets would be mitigated. “This is just a rendering… just a concept,” Day said. “Today you have parking on the ocean side of Palm. There is a wide right of way and plenty of room for a multi-use path. That would preclude 90 degree parking that there is today.”
Easily the costliest solution, Day proposed the concept of a “Grand Boulevard” on Palm. This would utilize the wide right of way on Palm, which is around 300 feet, and construct a median in between the two lanes of traffic. The median would be landscaped and provide “traffic calming” elements, and would also encourage alternative means of travel, such as utilization of the bike path and sidewalk. “There are a lot of different ways you could do this,” Day said, “but again, we are talking money.”
The fifth and final proposed strategy would restrict visitor parking by implementing a parking pass system. This would also include taking over the road network to limit visitor parking, but would legally oblige residents as well as visitors to all implement the same pass system.
After hearing Day’s presentation, the Council briefly discussed their thoughts on the different scenarios. Councilmember Bergwerf commented that the ideas were interesting, but they didn’t address the core problem: congestion in the neighborhoods. “Opening up Ocean is just a tiny little Band-Aid,” she said. “It’s the people in the neighborhoods we are trying to protect and I don’t see anything here to fix that….We have a ways to go.” Mayor Cronin added that moving parking to other areas doesn’t solve the problem. “We need to make visitors respect the island and respect the beauty of what we have here. How we get that respect is still somewhat of a mystery,” he said.
With several ideas floating around, the City will need to work together to come up with a tangible plan to submit to SCDOT. After a proposal is submitted, SCDOT will accept, deny, or modify the request giving Council a better idea of what exactly the City is allowed to do in terms of regulating parking on the island. Mayor Cronin suggested scheduling a workshop with SCDOT to move forward with positive guidance. “Everything comes back to SCDOT,” Councilman Buckhannon said. “We need to work together and come up with something for them to approve.”
City Administrator Tucker reiterated that the Stantec presentation just illustrated different ideas and options, and no formal plans to move ahead are in place.