Advisory groups give green light to city council on 7th Street: Remove parking for protected bicycle lane

College to Walnut Screen unimproved 7-Line aerial 10.33.35 PM
Segment of 7th Street between College Avenue and Walnut Street in downtown Bloomington.
College to Walnut Screen 7-Line aerial 10.33.35 PM
The images shows the segment of 7th Street between College Avenue and Walnut Street. The top image shows current parking and lane conditions. The lower image is a rendering of the 7-Line protected bicycle lane project. Both images link to an animated .gif of them alternating.

On Thursday, at its first regular meeting since the end of January, Bloomington’s parking commission reviewed the protected bicycle lane project that’s going to be built on 7th Street sometime in 2021.

It was in front of the commission because the 7-Line, to be built as a two-way bicycle path on the south side of the roadway, will require the removal of 113 on-street metered parking spaces. It’s the loss of parking spaces that has generated some concern among property owners along the corridor, among them the Monroe County government.

Parking commissioners gave a unanimous recommendation in support of the planning and transportation staff’s finding—that the three-quarter-mile bicycle lane from the B-Line Trail to the Indiana University campus at Woodlawn supports several goals of the city’s comprehensive plan and squares up with the city’s transportation plan.

As Beth Rosenbarger, Bloomington’s planning services manager, pointed out to parking commissioners, the city’s transportation plan calls for a protected bicycle lane along 7th Street.

The city council already approved the funding for the $2-million project over a year and a half ago, as a part of some parks bonds that totaled $10.27 million.

But eventually the city’s legislative body will need to consider the project again, in the context of some local traffic code changes that are needed to make the project possible. The city’s traffic commission met earlier in the week and gave the project’s needed code changes a nod.

Traffic code changes include the removal of stop signs for 7th Street east-west traffic but leaving them in place on the north-south streets that intersect with 7th. Signals would remain at College Avenue and Walnut Street.

The other kind of change is to the part of the city code that lists out block faces where metered parking is located.

Nine of the 113 metered spaces that will be removed are on the south side of 7th street, between College Avenue and Walnut Street, including one spot that is a handicap accessible space. It’s a block face that includes the Monroe County health department building.

cropped 2020-06-25 handicap parking IMG_3306
From 7th Street looking south at the Monroe County health department building where a handicap parking spot is currently located. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

During public commentary time on Thursday, county commissioner Julie Thomas spoke about the loss of the four spaces directly in front of the county health department building. She asked parking commissioners for a commitment to make up for the loss of parking spaces by providing four spots on College Avenue dedicated for the health department, including one handicap spot.

Visitors to the health department’s clinic and other programs are not necessarily able to park at a nearby garage and cover the distance between the garage and the health department building, Thomas said.

Chair of the parking commission, Adrienne Fernandez, briefly floated the idea of making sure the issue of the handicap spot was sorted out before voting, saying she shared the concern about handicap accessibility.

Steve Volan, who’s the city council appointee to the parking commission, said the problem that Thomas was pointing out is tricky to solve. Volan said there is some time to figure out how to make the access to spaces equitable. (Construction won’t start until 2021.) The specific problem with the county health department is not a reason not to do the project, Volan said.

One part of the solution would be to reconsider meter pricing, which has not been changed in the seven years since meters were re-introduced to downtown Bloomington, Volan said. Some spaces are overpriced but others are underpriced, Volan said.

According to the staff memo in the meeting information packet, the revenue from the spaces in 2019 amounted to $160,000. As parking services director Michelle Wahl pointed out at Thursday’s meeting, that amount will be a recurring annual revenue loss that will “sting a little bit.” Wahl said the parking division of the city supports the project.

On the question of overall number of parking spaces, parking commissioner Eoban Binder pointed out that even though 113 on-street parking spots will be removed to make the 7-Line possible, the city will soon add more parking spaces through construction of the Trades District and 4th Street garages.

The 4th Street garage would offer a net increase of about 180 spaces compared to the old garage that stood at the same spot, Binder said. Compared to the surface parking lot at the future Trades District parking garage location, the new garage would net 280 new spaces, he said.

Combined, the two garage projects would give the downtown a net increase of 450 to 470 spaces, Binder said. So the removal of 113 spaces has to be considered in the context of the number of spaces that will be added, he concluded.  The two garages are expected to be completed in 2021.

County commissioner Julie Thomas did not get an explicit commitment as a part of the parking commission’s approved resolution to somehow make up for the loss of four spaces in front of health department building. The existing spaces are not currently dedicated for use by visitors to the health department.

It’s not clear if an existing provision of city code, establishing some areas as “official vehicle zones,” could be extended to include county health department vehicles on College Avenue—it wasn’t floated at the parking commission meeting.

But one piece of the request from Thomas looks like it is probably required by local code—adding a handicap parking spot to replace the one that will be removed.

Adding handicap spots is something that assistant director of planning and transportation Scott Robinson said at Thursday’s meeting is made easier by a recent change to city code (December 2018). Bloomington’s local code on accessible parking spaces  describes handicap accessible spaces in terms of block faces, not their exact locations. That means it’s not necessary to change local code in order to add a handicap spot.

The code includes a minimum of “one accessible parking space per twenty-five for every block face (all sides of a city block).” Responding to a followup question from The Square Beacon after the meeting, Robinson said for each block it’s only spaces on the same side of the street as the block under consideration that count towards the minimum.

For the block where the county health department building is located, there are currently two handicap spots out of 38 total. That meets the code requirement of 1 for every 25. Eliminating the 9 spots on 7th Street will make 1 handicap spot out of 29 total, which is less than the code requirement. So it looks like a handicap spot will need to be added somewhere on that block in connection with the 7-Line project.

Based on an initial review of the city’s map of downtown parking spaces, it looks like there are a few other blocks downtown that don’t have the minimum required number of handicap accessible parking spaces under city code.

7Line
Animated .gif showing alternating images of current conditions and the planned 7-Line protected bicycle lane. This is the segment of 7th between College Avenue and Walnut Street. 
cropped 2020-06-25 handicap parking IMG_3318
Handicap accessible parking space on 7th Street in front of Monroe County’s health department building. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

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