Few issues are thornier than the availability of parking downtown.

Some swear off shopping or dining because of it, while others consider Astoria spoiled compared to cities where people pay to park several blocks from their destination.

Overview of downtown Astoria

A study examined parking downtown.

But a parking study and survey by the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association has concluded that, aside from some small pockets and specific times, finding parking is fairly easy.

Sarah Lu Heath, the executive director of the downtown association, presented the findings to the City Council on Tuesday.

“To stand up and say this isn’t a problem gives me pause,” she said. “However, for the last 3 1/2 years, I’ve been downtown six days a week, 50 weeks a year, and once in 2017, at the starting time of the high boat parade during the Regatta, I could not find a parking spot.”

The study found small pockets of constrained parking between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. — peak restaurant hours — in a few blocks throughout the downtown core and around the Garden of Surging Waves, a former parking lot turned into a park honoring the region’s Chinese heritage.

The downtown association surveyed 15 major employers downtown, including Fort George Brewery, Mo’s Restaurant and Buoy Beer Co. Fort George employees did not find parking an issue, and not many Mo’s employees responded, lending toward a lack of concern.

Parking was more constrained for workers on the west side, including Buoy Beer, which lost much of its employee parking when Fresenius Kidney Care’s new dialysis center began construction nearby. Many public parking spaces are located on the south side of Marine Drive, a difficult crossing for pedestrians.

On-street surveys of 57 visitors during peak tourist season in August found parking was not a factor in coming downtown for nearly 80% of respondents, while nearly 70% parked within three blocks of their destination. Online surveys of 289 people in August found 86% of people were able to park within three blocks of their location.

The report concluded that parking in Astoria is more available, less expensive and closer than perceived by most and compared to other tourist destinations. Giving some perspective, Heath noted the entire downtown district is about the same size as the combined parking lots for Costco and Walmart in Warrenton.

“Thus, if you need to walk two or three blocks, that is approximately the same distance you’re going to be walking from the parking lot to the box store in our neighboring communities,” she said.

City councilors appeared reassured that, despite some people’s perceptions, there appears to be enough parking.

“Probably the day’s going to come when we have to do something else about parking, but right now it seems like we can find a place to park,” City Councilor Roger Rocka said.

Mayor Bruce Jones said it was nice to have a written analysis to refute some comments about the perceived lack of parking.

“It’s an unrealistic expectation that you can just pull up downtown right in front of the store you want to go to and find a spot right there,” Jones said. “Because if you could, I mean, then that business is going out of business.”

The study still found some opportunities to preserve parking, with most of the city’s leased and private lots at capacity or unavailable to the public.

The study recommended keeping time limits on parking, parking restrictions for employees and business owners near their businesses and a parking enforcement officer. It recommended preserving some parking amid future development around Heritage Square at 12th and Exchange streets, asking the state to enhance pedestrian crossings on Marine Drive and educating merchants in keeping open spaces for customers.

The city doesn’t have the population or demand to warrant something like a 100-spot parking garage, which could cost $2 million, Heath said. But she recommended the city look at worker shuttles from a nearby park and ride during busy seasons. She also called for more education about public transit, including Sunset Empire Transportation District’s Route 10 bus, which circles Astoria hourly.

Jones wondered how likely the state Department of Transportation was to enhance the crosswalk at Marine Drive and Sixth Street, a goal in the city’s transportation system plan. City Manager Brett Estes said it hasn’t been funded but is a priority.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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