My wife and I live at 3rd Street and Gilchrist Avenue.
We purchased our lot in 1996 when our public neighbors were three small churches.
We built our house in 2002 when our public neighbors were three small churches.
We were residents of the neighborhood before, so to speak, the “Methodist airport” was built without provision to accommodate the traffic generated by a 350 percent expansion of seating.
The attendant traffic congestion has increased over time and now impacts the neighborhood not only during church services but increasingly throughout the week as its facilities are rented to sectarian groups for commercial purposes.
While the Methodist Church generates most of the cars, the enlargement of the Episcopal Church has added to the press of traffic and the congregation of the Baptist Church continues to grow.
But apart from the visual blight of massed automobiles and the damage these interlopers inflict on the public parkway, diagonal parking of cars on the median creates an unsafe traffic condition on Gilchrist Avenue.
An officer late of Lee County Sheriff’s Boca Grande detail writes, “The parking situation on the boulevard of Gilchrist Avenue … urgently needs attention. Based on my years of service, I’ve watched casual occasional parking become increasingly dangerous as the number of personal and commercial vehicles parking on and crossing over the boulevard (median) has become common practice and has drastically increased in numbers … although there have been numerous fender-benders and near misses, fortunately no major injury has occurred … the intent of this letter is to incite action to resolve a terrible condition for the betterment of all residents of your island paradise before a tragedy forces corrective action.”
A couple of years ago on a Sunday during Spring Break I saw a teen-something on a golf cart execute a rapid u-turn on the median and disappear into one of the blind corridors formed between adjacent rows of nose-to-nose cars. He shot out of the chute and onto Gilchrist without so much as cautionary glance. There was nary a car to be seen. Lucky boy.
After this incident I declared the street off-limits to our grandchildren. In season, during some hours and on most days, Gilchrist is unsafe at any speed.
These personal observations are supported by a study conducted by the Oregon Department of Transportation where “cross-sectional studies found differences in crash rates of 50 percent to 70 percent lower for parallel than angle (parking).” (1)
Further on the report concluded that “when parking must be allowed on urban sections of the state highway system, parallel parking should be used instead of angle parking whenever possible,” as the accident rate is associated with vehicular density perpendicular parking is more dangerous than angle parking and angle parking is less safe than parallel parking.
There is anecdotal evidence that angle parking on the Gilchrist median is unsafe, there is statistical evidence that angle parking is significantly more dangerous than parallel parking and there is a Lee County law making unauthorized angle-street parking illegal.
Lee County Ordinance 91-35 is titled “Gasparilla Island Parking Ordinance.” (2)
In the preamble, WHEREAS section, the commissioners set out qualitative goals that they seek to codify and deficiencies they contrive to rectify by the application of statutes. “WHEREAS, the Board of County Commissioners … recognizes the necessity of preserving Gasparilla Island’s irreplaceable natural features … and the necessity of balancing the increasing pressure for parking … against environmental constraints;
“and WHEREAS, the Board desires to perpetuate the beauty, tranquility and other environmental virtues which have made this sensitive barrier island famous.
“WHEREAS, the Board of County Commissioners ... wishes to encourage the use of the public parking facilities on the Island by Lee County residents and visitors;
“and WHEREAS, it is the intent of this ordinance to reduce hazardous traffic conditions … resulting from parking of vehicles upon major street and road … within or adjacent to the Island's residential and central business district; to protect those areas of the Island from excessive noise … and commotion commonly associated with such parking; to protect the Island's residents and property owners … from unreasonable burdens in gaining access to their properties ... to preserve the character of the Island as low-intensity residential and resort, thereby promoting and stabilizing the residential tax base of the Island … to preserve the safety of children and other pedestrians and traffic safety in general.” (Emphasis added.)
These objectives speak to the Commissioners’ intent of maintaining Boca Grande’s quality of life. Tellingly this 1991 document adopted the past tense in the Findings of Fact section to characterize conditions that needed remediation then and still do today.
The stated intent of the regulations was twofold: to improve vehicular safety but also to relieve crowd pressure on residential neighborhoods. While the text speaks of “tourist” and “sightseers” separating this category from a concentration of any group is a distinction without a difference.
Further, in the Facts and Findings section, “The Board of County Commissioners finds the following facts (some of which are listed) to be true and a sufficient basis … to justify the restrictions on parking set forth therein.”
The attraction of Gasparilla’s serene environment … has resulted in an inordinate influx of daytime sightseers.
The influx of tourists parking within the Island’s residential neighborhoods … has caused serious inconvenience, discomfort and unsafe conditions for the County’s residents and taxpayers.
The primary responsibility of paying for the public services required by the influx of tourists is borne by the County’s residents and taxpayers.
To address these concerns and objectives the Ordinance stipulated that “every vehicle stopped or parked on a one-way roadway shall be so stopped or parked parallel to the curb or edge of the roadway, in the direction of the authorized traffic movement …” (Section Four, paragraph A) (3)
In the next paragraph the text addressed diagonal parking. “Angle parking may be permitted on a streets and/or roadway within unincorporated Lee County provided that a proper and documented traffic engineering study is performed, either by the Department of Transportation or Engineering or by a private consultant, and approved by the Department of Transportation and Engineering pursuant to the applicable code.”(Section Four, paragraph B) (4) (Emphasis added.)
As no such study has been first conducted then authorized by the DOT diagonal parking is not permitted on the Gilchrist median.
Even using the median as a parking expedient is prohibited by Ordinance 12-20, Division 26, Section 34-2022, paragraph A. The provision holds that “no temporary use permits for temporary parking will be issued on Captiva Island or within the Gasparilla Island conservation district” (5)
In Division 27, Section 34-2052, paragraph A it is noted that churches must follow the “minimum parking requirements as set forth in division 26 of this article.” (6)
So as things stand presently it’s no, no and no to angle parking on the Gilchrist median.
The application to expand the Methodist Church without provision for 80 parking spaces was denied by the Lee County Building Department on the basis that the zoning deficiency would “be injurious to single family residences in the immediate area, and be detrimental to the public.”
The church successfully appealed the decision in a hearing on July 24, 2003. In his testimony, Rev. Brian Brightly pledged “if there is a parking problem we will coordinate it with the other churches.”
The good news is that there is an abundance of unused street parallel parking opportunities and authorized commercial angle parking spaces close to the churches. Doing right by doing good involves no heavy lifting.
On Sunday, Feb. 4 between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. I counted 108 automobiles parked on the Gilchrist median.
My best guess is that in addition to these vehicles there were 40 church-related automobiles parked in the vicinity.
During the survey church members accounted for about 148 parked automobiles. But there were over 230 unoccupied parking spaces within two blocks. Extending the distance to three blocks and four blocks presented increased parking opportunities.
Unoccupied Parking Spaces
Distance Methodist Baptist/Episcopal Total0-1 block away 47 187 2341-2 blocks away 111 136 247
So there is adequate parking within easy walking distance of the churches. Using these parking opportunities to end angle parking on the Gilchrist median would alleviate congestion, improve traffic safety and conform to parking code. This last condition is important from a liability perspective which is also a consideration relevant to local taxpayers as Lee County is owner of the property. After all, who wants to be a pin-up for the American Trial Lawyers Association?
Regards,William H. Regnery
Sources:1. http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/docs/pdf/Comparison_of_Angle_and_Parallel_Parking.pdf2. http://www.lee-county.com/gov/dept/dcd/zoning/Documents/StaffReports/COP2010-00131/StaffReport.pdf
3. ibid--series 772 and page 54. ibid--series 773 and page 65. http://www.lee-county.com/gov/dept/dcd/Documents/Studies_Reports/Ordinances/LDCParkingOrd.pdf--page 746. ibid--page 767. Parking Survey
Sunday, Feb. 4 between 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
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