City may lose parking spots

Parking can be a challenge in downtown Astoria. A state law requiring setbacks at intersections could cost the city parking spaces.

Downtown Astoria could lose 142 parking spaces if the city finds it needs to comply with a state law that requires setbacks at all intersections.

City Engineer Jeff Harrington estimates complying with an Oregon law that requires 20 feet between a parking space and an intersection would eliminate roughly 10 percent of parking spots downtown.

Some intersections already have a setback where fire hydrants are placed to allow for fire engine access. However, few cities in Oregon, including Salem, the state capital, appear to follow the law, he said.

Parking is already a contentious issue downtown, where spots are limited and become even more scarce in the summer when tourist traffic swells.

“We already face parking complaints on a very regular basis,” said Sarah Lu Heath, executive director for the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association.

Parking on some streets and parking lots needs to be addressed, she added. Several buildings — empty or underutilized for many years — on the west side of downtown are about to house businesses again, and there is ongoing development of the downtown core that will increase the demand for parking.

“We cannot afford to lose those parking spaces,” she said. “There isn’t anybody in downtown that would not be negatively impacted by that decision.”

City Manager Brett Estes said it is still not clear what may be required of Astoria, given that larger cities like Portland and Salem don’t comply with the rule either. The city also needs to determine if the rule applies to all intersections indiscriminately or if there are exceptions for one-way streets versus two-way streets where the lines of sight differ.

City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard is looking at how to interpret the state statute.

“We’re an old city, and we don’t have parking, particularly during the tourism season which is stretching longer and longer,” said Planning Commissioner Jan Mitchell at a Traffic Safety Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday, when the issue was brought up. “Parking is a scarce resource.”

Lois Dupey, who spoke to the planning commissioners, drives a medical shuttle in Astoria and had brought up Oregon’s intersection requirements before at a meeting in February.

Parking spaces are so close to the intersections downtown that “it is literally impossible to see pedestrians,” she said.

Pedestrian and driver safety are ongoing concerns, but Astoria has a relatively low pedestrian crash rate, Harrington said. There has been only one pedestrian fatality in the last 10 years. The downtown association and the city are working together to develop a master parking plan, and addressing parking is one of the City Council goal’s for the coming year.

But Dupey warned on Tuesday that even though other cities ignore the intersection parking rule, it does not excuse Astoria.

“I can tell you that if somebody is killed in a crosswalk and they get a high-powered law firm after this city, you may be bankrupt, because you’ve been warned multiple times and it is the law and you are liable,” she said.

“I am liable. I’m driving through the city every day, going through all these streets and crosswalks every day, multiple times. And so are all the other public transport operators, and we cannot see these people.”