Whitefish adopts plan to manage downtown parking spaces

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Cars park along Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Whitefish had adopted a parking management plan for its downtown that provides actions for improving parking before constructing new spaces.

The plan outlines short, medium and long-term implementation steps for establishing a sustainable parking program in the city. City Council on Oct. 21 unanimously approved the plan.

Councilor Richard Hildner said Whitefish needs to take advantage of the recommendations in the plan.

“We, in Whitefish, have a history of creating parking plans and then they sit on the shelf,” he said. “This Council and future Councils need to follow the plan and implement it.”

Dixon Resources Unlimited was contracted by the City of Whitefish to create the parking plan, which focuses on the downtown core generally from Miles Avenue heading east to Kalipsell Avenue, and from Depot Street south to East Fourth Street.

Parking occupancy data collected by the city in 2018 showed that the average occupancy per each time of day ranged from 37% to 63%, the parking plan notes, meaning that there are streets often reaching occupancy during select times and there are streets that show a routinely low level of use.

“You have to manage for the average days, you can’t manage for the exceptional days,” said Julie Dixon, principal with Dixon Resources. “What you need to have is policies that deal with Fourth of July or Farmers Market days, but in general we want to make sure this is a plan that is viable for the whole peak season.”

The parking industry standard for ideal parking occupancy is between 80% to 85% to maintain availability and reduce congestion associated with drivers seeking parking, however, the plan notes that it may be more useful to target an occupancy range of 65% to 85% to account for seasonal demand.

Dixon said that Whitefish doesn’t necessarily need more parking spaces, but rather it needs to manage the parking already available before making that determination.

“We got a lot of feedback that Whitefish needs to build another garage,” she said. “But in a community like this that would be very expensive. You need to manage the assets you have today first.”

The plan suggests a few key recommendations, including improving compliance and enforcement, creating shuttles for targeted peak times, and developing an “all-day” parking permit focusing on downtown employees.

“Parking needs to be easy, convenient, safe and accessible,” Dixon said. “If we can follow those objectives then it really helps us stay focused and think about the customer experience.”

It recommends adding a seasonal parking enforcement officer for the summer months to increase enforcement including on weekends and evenings. The plan says the city should implement an ambassador approach to parking by also providing eduction on where to park.

The plan says that a targeted peak summer shuttle service pilot should be developed during events such as Fourth of July, Huckleberry Days and Farmers Market.

The plan notes that there is demonstrated demand for increased “all-day” employee parking options and a lack of long-term parking spaces create a situation where employees are moving their vehicles among short time-limit restricted spaces.

The parking consultants created the plan following a series of meetings with citizens, business owners and city staff during this summer, in addition to reviewing previous Whitefish parking studies.

City planning staff has recommended that Whitefish retain Dixon to assist with implementing recommendations in the document.

The downtown parking plan is available on the city’s website at www.cityofwhitefish.org under the Planning and Zoning page by clicking on Long Range Plans.

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