Astoria will take a deep dive into parking

Astoria is planning a deep dive into parking downtown.

City staff and the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association are in the preliminary stages of a more in-depth study of what parking is available and where more parking could be opened up, as well as identifying potentially dangerous intersections and pedestrian safety concerns.

City Manager Brett Estes, Public Works Director Jeff Harrington and Sarah Lu Heath, executive director for the downtown association, hope to present a scope of work to the City Council in February. 

Such a study was already a council goal for the year but took on more urgency for councilors after a woman spoke to the city’s Traffic Safety Advisory Committee in October, warning them that Astoria was out of compliance with a state rule that requires 20 feet between a parking space and an intersection. The woman warned councilors that the city could be liable if an accident happened. To follow the rule, the city would need to eliminate roughly 10 percent of the parking spots available downtown, according to Harrington.

But it is a rule that few Oregon cities appear to follow, and two months of research have done little to clear up the matter, Estes said at a work session to discuss the issue Wednesday.

“Nobody seems to know why nobody enforces or abides by this rule,” Harrington said. He added, “Even in Salem, where the law was written, they do not abide by this rule.”

City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard believes the city would not be held liable for accidents that resulted at intersections where people parked too close, even though spots have been marked indicating they can park there. 

“The person that parks within 20 feet (of an intersection) is in violation of state law,” he said. “The city is not in violation.”

At issue is not only compliance with state law, but also that city councilors have taken an oath to uphold state law. The simple answer is to take out the parking spots, Henningsgaard said, though this could hurt downtown. 

“As councilors you have to weigh decisions, (you) have to make practical decisions one way or the other,” he said, adding, “If you decide that the costs of complying to this particular law are too high for the city of Astoria, you could make a policy choice that says we’re going to take a look at each intersection and try to determine whether or not it makes sense here.”

Pedestrian safety and the availability of downtown parking continue to be items of concern to merchants, said Heath and Dulcye Taylor, president of the downtown association. The councilors agreed that the work proposed by city staff and the downtown association is a necessary first step in understanding if and how the city should comply with the state rule.

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