Residents, City Leaders Consider Parking Solutions Near UWSP
Left, Police Chief Kevin Ruder and Director of Public Works Scott Schatschneider take notes while Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski talks with residents about suggestions for parking solutions offered by residents Tuesday night. (City-Times photo)
By Brandi Makuski
About 25 area residents showed up for a town hall- style meeting with city alderpersons and other leaders, hoping to sort through ideas of how to solve ongoing parking issues in the neighborhood surrounding UWSP.
The event was hosted by District 2 Alderwoman Joanne Suomi. Police Chief Kevin Ruder, Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski and Scott Schatschneider, director of public works, were also in attendance, along with Aldermen Mike Wiza and Tony Patton.
Suomi said she created an informal committee comprised of neighborhood homeowners and city leaders to work with the Student Government Association and university officials on off- campus parking issues. The committee has met with SGA and other university leaders four times in 2013.
Suomi said she frequently hears from her constituents complaints about the streets clogged with cars, illegal parking and speeding or unsafe driving.
One option for parking relief and better traffic control being proposed by the university is a four- story parking structure built on Lot T along Illinois Avenue, but some say that could only draw more traffic to the area instead of controlling on-street parking and other traffic issues.
“I’ve seen people at the grocery store drive around for 15 minutes just to get two spaces closer to the door,” said Alderman Mike Wiza. “That doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m not sure any such structure would deter the parking problems this district is having.”
Ostrowski agreed, saying while there’s a limit to how far anyone is willing to walk, drivers would in theory simply park somewhere else.
“But we can eliminate certain spaces and restrict parking hours,” he said. “But again, they’re just going to move their cars somewhere else.”
Ostrowski also said the city is considering the option of installing new electronic parking meters, but added any new changes to parking would likely spread throughout the city.
Neighborhood resident Ken Dachyk, who’s lived in his Illinois Avenue home for over 50 years, said he’s been watching cars park illegally and ignore stop signs for years.
“If they’re moving their cars somewhere else, then at least they will be more spread out and it won’t be as congested,” Dachyk said. “That will help with a lot of the traffic problems we’re having there.”
Dachyk said the intersection near his home is poorly manned by police, adding he watches “20 -30 cars and a hundred bicycles zoom through that stop sign without stopping” daily.
Stevens Point Police Chief Kevin Ruder said his department’s budget has suffered drastic cutbacks over the past several years, and while police already regularly patrol high- traffic areas, calls for service are increasing. But recent changes in city government, he said, will have a positive change on the way parking enforcement is handled.
With the removal of funding for the salary of the city’s emergency manager Sally McGinty in the 2014 city budget, Ruder said parking issues are coming back under the purview of the police department.
“Enforcement- wise when it comes to parking, we’ll now have an extra 60 hours a week to devote to parking enforcement instead of 40,” Ruder said. He added that enforcement would be city-wide with an emphasis on the university area, and expects the auxiliary police unit to help pick up extra patrols.
Suomi said the committee has broached the topic of asking incoming freshman to leave their vehicles at home with the university, but that option was shot down by university leaders, she said, because it would negatively affect enrollment. Other options, such as a park & ride and increased public transportation are currently among the ideas being considered by the city.
“It’s amazing we haven’t had any serious accidents,” she said.
One option, offered by Center Street homeowners Garrett and Lindsay Ryan, involves the city offering parking passes for purchase throughout the city. The passes would be good for only certain times of day and only in certain areas, which Garrett Ryan said would simultaneously solve the problem of illegal occupancy in the university neighborhood and other rental units.
“If two people have a parking pass for a particular neighborhood, police know those cars are supposed to be there,” Ryan said. “Especially overnight, when you see several cars that don’t belong there, then it’s time for the city to partner with a towing company.”
Suomi said several more meetings are likely needed to determine how to solve parking issues. The expansion of the UWSP Science Building, she said, would eliminate over 340 parking spaces from the area, making the problem even worse than it already is.
Many in attendance mused at the irony of the parking problems, saying the city itself is the cause.
“Here we are, we’ve lost a dozen parking spaces with the St. Mike’s expansion, over 300 with the science building- and now they’re looking to build a rental property on Division Street without enough parking spaces for those tenants,” Dachyk said, laughing. “And now here we are, talking about how to solve parking problems.”