Two hours in downtown Olympia

May 11th, 2010 by Ken

I took a seat in front of The Press, Coffeehouse and Lounge.  It’s located on Washington Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues in downtown Olympia.   It was 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.

My purpose was to take some time, watch the downtown parking spots and see how many times they turn over each hour.   The city is doing away with its free parking spots, claiming that they are used by employees and aren’t available for the use of the buying public.

There were 14 parking stalls on that one block area.  During the two hours I sat drinking coffee, 11 of the stalls turned over, many more than once.  Some stalls sat empty for as long as 20 minutes.  Altogether 37 different vehicles parked in those 14 stalls in a two hour period.

Three vehicles occupied the same spot for the two hours, including mine.

I talked to two traffic enforcement staff who were coming by to input the vehicle license plates into the handheld computer.  They told me that parking on this particular block wasn’t bad, but that on some other blocks vehicle after vehicle is moved every 90 minutes.  Those are from people who work in the downtown area, they said.

Shortly thereafter an employee of one of the local businesses came out to move her car.  She said that she had to do so every 90 minutes or she would get a ticket.  She said she got a ticket yesterday (Monday) but that she was leaving the state soon and wasn’t going to pay it.

She confessed that the city did provide free parking off State Street but that it was to far for her to walk. 

Two ladies in a car with a Texas license plate parked and got out.  “Where do you pay for parking,” one asked.  I said the ticket booth was in the center of the block, but they didn’t have to pay yet  “But the sign says it’s free parking until May,” the out of town woman said.  Yes, I replied, but they’re late in getting it started.  It’s OK not to pay.

The new ticket booths are in the center of each block just waiting on the word to start dispensing tickets.  City staff say that will be in June.  Until then parking is free.

I went back inside The Press and told the owner that I loved her coffee and I loved the location but that once the free parking was gone, I was gone.   “I’m not going to pay to park,” I told her.  “I have many other places where I can get coffee and some of them are in Olympia.  I was thinking particularly about Ralph’s on the Eastside.

I urged her to talk with other downtown business owners and see if they couldn’t apply some pressure.

It’s obvious that there are many reasons the City of Olympia is eliminating free parking downtown – – and all of them revolve around money.  The city makes more than $500,000 a year in parking fees and fines.   That’s free money, over and above the cost of administration.   Eliminating free parking will just bring in more revenue.

Other observations:

A man, unwashed and unkempt stood across the street talking to himself for 45 minutes.  During the two hours I sat in front of The Press, two pan handlers approached me.  Neither was too bothersome.

An Olympia police cruiser went by and a motorcycle officer went by twice.

Several bike riders were using the streets, although some felt more comfortable on the sidewalk.  From my perch on Washington Street I counted nearly a dozen bicycles tied up at varous locations, many of them in front of Caffee Vita on the corner of Washington and Fourth.

The Washington Center was busy with Junior Programs I assumed.  School buses from Mossyrock and Montesano were waiting to pick up school kids enjoying the benefits of the performing arts.

And I, was just disappointed that I will no longer be able to journey downtown during the day without feeding the government coffers.

Posted in Business, Government, Informational, Local Politics, The Real News

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