By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
In response to its neighboring island getting ready to implement a paid parking system next summer, the Town of Sullivan’s Island is re-examining its own parking situation.
The Public Safety committee met Thursday, Nov. 13 to have a general discussion among committee members as to what the island needs to do at this point. The early discussions of this issue fall to this committee as congestion on the island is considered a public safety issue because parked vehicles and congestion affecting emergency vehicle response times.
A review of the 2009 study the town undertook was presented by Town Administrator Andy Benke. 2009 was the last time a managed parking plan was discussed on Sullivan’s. At that time the plan was not implemented primarily because the costs of the infrastructure needed were deemed too high. Today, however, many of those anticipated costs have fallen away or been replaced with much cheaper options.
Some highlights of Benke’s presentation included:
Comparison of the Population Increases in the Area
Between 1970 and 2010 Sullivan’s Island’s population increased by 365 to 1,791, Isle of Palms’ population by 1,496 to 4,133 and Mount Pleasant’s population by 61,688 to 67,843. The extraordinary growth of Mount Pleasant is the driving force behind both islands’ investigation into a parking plan, as the small barrier communities are feeling an increasing strain from the huge influx of day trippers. There are only three public beaches in the county, Sullivan’s, Isle of Palms and Folly, and while the population wanting to go to the beach is rising rapidly, the amount of beach to visit is in fact, shrinking.
Who Parks Here
Andy Benke identified that there are approximately 3,000 parking spaces on the island in the public right of way, although approximately 20 percent of those are currently obstructed by manmade implements, ditches and tree growth. Those are generally occupied by day trippers from March to October and on weekends, and by dog walkers and surfers year round in the early morning hours.
Interestingly, while there are just under 2,000 residents on Sullivan’s Island, there are 2,300 dogs registered on the island. Benke pointed out that any plan will be designed specifically not to impact dog walkers and surfers, likely via some form of time limitation.
How Bad is the Traffic?
According to DOT counters, on Saturday June 28, 2014, 6,229 cars travelled on to the island, compared to 3,070 on a Saturday in February. Additionally, numerous new residential and commercial developments near the island are likely to increase the amount of traffic coming here in the near future.
The 2009 parking study indicated that day trippers increase the volume of vehicles on the island by around 450 cars a weekend day in May or September and 700 on a weekend day in July.
Options for Parking Management
Benke went on to present information on the Town’s finances and the state laws pertaining to parking plans, as well as examine current parking situations in similar local beach communities. He then laid out some key considerations for a managed parking plan on Sullivan’s:
• Will this be a flexible plan only implemented on certain hours or days?
• Will it be island-wide or area specific?
• Will it be all year or seasonal?
• Should the Town coordinate with IOP in the implementation of any plan?
By working hand in hand with IOP certain economies of scale could be achieved with regard to costs of contractors and systems, plus the islands could “share the glory,” remarked Public Safety committee chair Chauncey Clarke.
As of this point, there have been no formal discussions between the two islands, although many members of the Sullivan’s Island council and administration have been spotted in the audience of recent IOP council meetings on the subject. The next step in this process is for the Public Safety Committee to make a recommendation to Town Council.