Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The Washington City Council deliberated over a handful of street ordinance changes at their last meeting in June, most of them related to parking.
The changes were proposed by a committee of city officials informed by resident complaints, according to Washington Police Chief Jim Lester.
“We went through those and took a look at the maps, we put the draft together,” he said. “We made a few tweaks after a first review, went through it again, (and) sent it to council … these were put together based on what the committee felt as things that would be safer for the community, as well as to help with maintenance and construction … as well as our emergency responses.”
All said, the notable changes would effect at least 17 areas of the city. Mayor Jaron Rosien said demand for street changes had built up with time.
“This is a lot of changes, but I do recall there’s been saving up (of) a pile of concerns, which is why we appointed a committee,” he said.
Some of the proposals are more controversial than others. Rosien urged council members to think twice before seeking to codify any plans.
“An action can be a reaction,” he said. “As we address some problems, I want council to keep in mind what other problems could be created.”
One recurring concern is the balance between possible collision causes. While open street sides boost visibility and reduce the risk of collisions, they also increase the ease of speeding, a problem in its own right.
Still, Council Member Elaine Moore said parked vehicles shouldn’t constitute traffic control.
“If we were going to use cars as speed bumps, then we have many streets in town that we could add,” she said. “We can’t judge our parking as slowing people down, we have to think about this as safety. We have lots of young families, when cars are parked on both sides, kids dart out.”
Proposed stop sign at Old Highway 1 and North Marion
The first recommendation of the committee sparked immediate conversation: installing a new stop sign for northwest bound traffic along Old Highway 1, where the road meets North Marion Avenue.
Rosien said he was concerned about the idea.
“When I look at this, I see two lanes of traffic both stopping two lanes of traffic going the same direction,” he said. “I see confusion on who goes first, and I just see them running into each other … if not the cars that are coming at them.”
Council Member Elaine Moore said the addition would be better than the status quo, in which only North Marion has a stop sign.
“If you pull up to the sign … if you don’t pull up just perfectly, people come flying around,” she said. “your line of sight, because of the way cars are constructed now, it’s very difficult to be able to turn and see if somebody’s coming.”
One alternative — putting a stop sign on only Old Highway 1 and removing it from North Marion — was advised against.
“Our concern with that was southbound traffic coming in and choosing to go on Old Highway 1 … and then the cars northbound not having a stop,” Lester said.
Council Member Bethany Glinsmann pitched an idea to close the northbound strip of Old Highway 1 after crossing 14th street. The closure of about a block would solve current visibility issues, but potentially hinder access for residents in the block.
One-sided parking along high traffic stretches of East Second, Main Street
A proposal to eliminate parking on the north side of East Main and East Second Streets — between Sixth and Third Avenue — as well as on the east side of Fourth Avenue, would address an area prone to accidents, according to Lester.
“We’ve had several accidents at Fourth and Main as well as Fourth and Second,” he said. “You can see those intersections better for approaching cars … it’s a busy route on school days, so having that roadway clear would be safer.”
The change in a residential area runs the risk of disrupting parking for those who live there, but Moore said it would be minimally disruptive and outweighed by the needs of public transit.
“Most of them, I think all of them have driveway or alley access,” she said. “This was brought to our attention by mini bus drivers. There are people they have to drop off and they found it very difficult to even get down the street.”
One-sided parking on narrow areas: Marion, Iowa, Circle, and Tyler
Another proposal would extend a no-parking zone on the west side of North Marion Avenue and North Iowa Avenue from 80 feet to three blocks from the roads’ junction with Fifth Street. Lester said the road was too narrow for two-sided parking.
“I did a quick scan of our calls for service for the past five years, and there’s been a half dozen or so accidents involving parked cars in the 500 and 600 blocks of North Marion,” he said. “One was actually a city leaf vac vehicle (that) hit a mirror off.”
Several other streets are up for one-side parking consideration, including Campbell Drive, Circle Drive and East Tyler Street. All have similar justifications
Moore said areas like these were too narrow to facilitate emergency response vehicles with parking on both sides.
“It’s a safety issue getting emergency vehicles, and we also have a Systems house down there that uses Minibus,” she said regarding one of the streets. “Trying to get minibus down there is difficult and going to get more difficult.”
No street parking at Green Meadows, part of Highland Ave.
Two proposals from the street ordinance committee would end street parking on both sides for more than a few feet.
The bigger change is at Green Meadows, where Lester said cluttered street sides were a frequent problem, and pitched a plan to end street parking on both sides of the road.
“This is an area that has no curb and gutter, and it’s an area that we receive complaints on with mailboxes blocked because of parking,” he said. “We’ve experienced some emergency situations in areas out there where we’ve had difficulty with parking emergency vehicles and the parking of emergency vehicles.”
While the neighborhood’s housing comes with driveways and garages, Rosien again cautioned against jumping to action without careful consideration.
“(It’s) another one where the impact is more significant,” he said. “I would put an asterisk on this one … I just want to make sure we’re also informed when we start voting.”
A similar change is in the plans for Highland Avenue on the city’s north side. Proposed changes would take the street’s bend north of Highland court from one-sided parking to no parking on the street.
“We’ve had some medical calls in the area and when you have vehicles even parked on the one side, it gets narrow, it’s difficult sometimes,” Lester said.
Lester said parking away from the curve would be safer, and still allow space for cars that don’t fit in residents’ driveways or garages.
“We’re not looking at trying to inconvenience people, we’re looking at what’s overall safe,” he said. “That’s why we try to limit the area rather than saying no parking on any street.”
Other changes include trucks, trailers and snow emergencies
Some of the proposed parking code changes don’t effect particular streets, but citywide rules.
Rules against daytime truck parking would expand to regulate commercial vehicles and travel trailers, but explicitly not apply to combination vehicles “pickup trucks that are part of a combination vehicle” less than 40 feet long.
Lester said those changes were meant to bring the city up to date with state codes on the same issue. Rosien said he wanted to avoid punishing responsible cases that violated the code.
“I have seen people that … properly store their trailer or the motor home not in town, and respect laws, but night before they leave on a trip at 6 (a.m.) they bring it in, load it up, and leave the next day,” he said. “That would be an example of, I think, proper citizen behavior.”
Lester said enacting the ordinance changes wouldn’t stop officers from using their discretion.
“We are complaint-oriented when we’re dealing with these parking issues,” he said. “Our first option 90% of the time is a warning or to make contact with people. Most of the time neighbors aren’t calling in about those unless it’s something that has sat there for a day or two.”
Another citywide change regards the city’s snow bans on parking. Currently, the city code requires the mayor to declare a snow emergency at their discretion, a move that requires residents to get their cars off the streets for snow removal.
Rosien said that was a consistently hard call to make.
“The wind blows a different direction and there’s no snow on the ground,” he said. “The ripple effect of declaring one is normally incredibly negative.”
The new version would establish an automatic regulation — effective from Nov. 1 to April 1 — that would forbid street parking in the city “during snow removal operations, or before such operations have removed or cleared accumulated snow or ice from the street.”
The code would exempt streets within one block of the square during regular business hours and normal weekend, evening or holiday hours.
The proposed new code would set the fine for snow parking violations at $50, something Lester said would hopefully deter problems.
“It’s a little more, but maybe one time they’ll get the message, that they can’t be parking on the street when the street crews are clearing,” he said.