Downtown parking perceptions and misconceptions

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Perception isn’t always reality, and in the case of parking in downtown Kalispell, sometimes the truth lies only a block or two away.

That’s the take away from the city Planning Office and the handful of downtown businesses we talked to for today’s front page story “parking perceptions.” Yes, finding an open spot along Main Street on a busy summer afternoon can be frustrating, if not impossible from time to time. But chances are, if you’re willing to hoof it a block or less, parking opportunities will be ample.

Kalispell’s Senior Planner Jarod Nygren was in charge of a parking utilization study in 2015 that found that to be the case. The study took inventory of parking spaces on every block, every hour of each business day in August and September — peak tourist season.

“What we found is there’s always on-street parking available, pretty much 100 percent of the time, within two blocks or 600 feet of every business,” Nygren said.

To put that into context, 600 feet is the length of two football fields or a short par-3 golf hole. As Nygren points out, you may walk just as far to cross the expanse of a box-store lot — while not curb-side convenient, totally doable.

Armed with that data, the city is holding off on any premature discussions about building the downtown parking garage called for in the new Kalispell Downtown Urban Renewal Plan. Nygren says the necessity of such an expensive structure could be many years away.

Instead, the city has been smart to focus on finding low-cost solutions to add parking spots that are within a stones throw of the main drag. One canny idea is to remove the two-hour designation on some downtown spots. This will help out many Main Street businesses, whose employees are forced to play parking “musical chairs” to avoid getting a ticket.

The city is also planning to add another 80 spots simply by repainting, fixing curbs and adding some angled parking spaces — all done with no impact to the taxpayer.

We would advise the city to seek out more disabled parking options downtown – something the Flathead’s aging population would appreciate.

A multi-million dollar parking structure may be a necessity down the road — and the city is correct to plan for the long-term infrastructure project through the creation of a tax-increment finance district — but that day hasn’t arrived just yet. We applaud the Planning Office for looking beyond the chatter, and looking out for the taxpayer by seeking factual data to help drive their planning decisions.

For the rest of us, don’t let a short walk stand in the way of patronizing our downtown shops and restaurants. After all, couldn’t we all use a bit more fresh air and exercise these days?

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