POSTED ON OCTOBER 3, 2012:
No easy changes to fix Cherry Street parking problem
Chip Atkins has seen the change in Cherry Street over the last two decades or so.
"Imagine 15th Street being boarded up. It was boarded up when I moved in here," said Atkins, using the official street name rather than the historic moniker commonly used for the section of East 15th Street between South Peoria Avenue and South Utica Avenue.
It's been a welcome change to see Cherry Street become home to a thriving restaurant and bar scene along with retail businesses, said Atkins, past president of the Swan Lake Neighborhood Association
But Atkins said more change is needed to relieve congested parking conditions that have come to plague the Swan Lake neighborhood just south of Cherry Street.
"It's just that the residents no longer have access to the front of their house for parking anymore," Atkins said.
On Cherry Street itself, the city worked with business and property owners last year to enact major change, downsizing the number of street lanes to two from four. The move allowed installation of angled parking on the north side of the street.
"We went from about 43 spaces to 74 vehicular spaces," said Mark Brown, the city's traffic operations manager.
Those spaces still fill up rapidly on a regular basis, however. While Atkins said the change has been a good one, others are less approving -- and all seem to agree that more parking is needed, though no firm plans have been put forth to build more public parking.
One change expected soon is the reinstallation of parking meters on Cherry Street. Meters were removed as part of the project to install angled parking.
Atkins said the issue is bigger than just Cherry Street. City officials have been seeking a business partner to handle meters citywide.
"We're kind of in an on hold state, if you will. But once the city can secure an entity for parking, I think you can pretty much count on parking meters in the area," Brown said, adding that the city's goal is to have the new parking operator in place by January.
He said the system may or may not be similar to the nine-to-five hours and rates for paid downtown parking, with much yet to be determined about how the new system will work.
The intent, however, is to keep traffic circulating rather than have cars sitting for hours and hours in a coveted space.
If a space is taken up for too long by the same vehicle, it comes at the expense of customers, said Sherri Hardy, owner of The Antiquary antique shop at East 15th and Quaker.
"We've had to have some harsh words with people who work at restaurants," Hardy said. She said she preferred the old parallel parking, which allowed for easier loading and unloading to her business door.
As it is, the lunchtime crowds don't do much for her devoted customers, she said.
"I have to tell my customers not to come at noon," Hardy said.
A true solution involves more parking spaces, Hardy said.
"I think what might really help would be maybe another parking area or maybe a parking garage for all these restaurants," Hardy said.
As far as adding spaces, don't look to the city.
"I think the city has pretty much done what they can do," Brown said, calling parking a "business enterprise." He added: "I think we would look to a private entity to possibly fill that need for additional parking."
Joshua Walker, who owns buildings at 15th and Quaker as well as at 15th and St. Louis, said he led the push among business owners to change parking on Cherry Street.
"I went door-to-door and received no opposition," Walker said.
Initially, the idea was to have both sides of the street re-striped, but he said the street simply isn't wide enough to accommodate that change.
He acknowledged a shift towards restaurants on Cherry Street.
"We've only got a few retailers left on the street," he said.
For now, he said business owners are focused on working with the city to install improvements like landscaping, raised crosswalks and brighter streetlights. Funding for such improvements remains unknown, however. Walker said it might be a mix of public and private funds.
Atkins said that while he appreciates the additional spaces, he would like the city pay more attention to the concerns of residents.
"Some sort of thing has to be done, because Tulsa's growing up. We're no longer the small city that we were," Atkins said.
He said he'd like to see a residential parking permit system that would only allow residents to park for extended periods of time in areas around Cherry Street. Sometimes residents "can't even get out of their house in the evening because of the amount of parking," he said. Cars sometimes park in areas where parking is prohibited, he said.
Brown said he hasn't been formally presented with such a proposal, and declined to comment on the idea. Along with the changes mentioned by Walker, he said the city is considering changes to crosswalks and possibly installing a signal to help manage the flow of pedestrians in the area. He said 15th and Saint Louis might be a spot where such a signal would make sense.
"There's not money located to put the signal there, but it has been discussed," Brown said.
Safety is a consideration for any change, he said.
"That whole section of roadway from Utica to Peoria, it doesn't need to be a fast roadway. It needs to be slowed down," Brown said.
Drivers can do their part, he said.
"I would ask for driver responsibility. When you drive that corridor, keep your speed 25 or under and be vigilant, looking out for pedestrians," Brown said.
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