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Originally published Friday, December 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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On Old Main Street, parking woes nothing new

Store owners along Bellevue's Old Main Street painted a rosy economic picture at a Bellevue Downtown Association breakfast Thursday, but...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Store owners along Bellevue's Old Main Street painted a rosy economic picture at a Bellevue Downtown Association breakfast Thursday, but one longstanding problem resurfaced: parking.

Several merchants said the city's policies are too strict and keep customers from staying in the neighborhood long enough to finish their shopping — or keep them out of the area altogether. The city has a two-hour limit on its 341 public-parking spots downtown, and in a unique twist, no one can park on the same street more than once a day.

"The parking's horrible," said Kelly Gaddis, who opened Porcella Urban Market in May. "It's not encouraging to have people come down to your neighborhood when you're afraid to get a ticket."

Complaining about downtown parking is nothing new. The city has enacted several policies over the last decade to try to improve availability. It has also explored the idea of building a public garage so people can park once and go to a variety of stores.

In the mid-'90s, the city gave all downtown spots a two-hour limit, replacing the "hodgepodge" of time limits that existed before, said Scott Zydek, a city engineering technician. The two-hour limit still works, Zydek said, because it is long enough for people to do their business but not long enough for drivers to abuse.

Drivers were still getting around the rule, though, by moving their cars to the other side of the street or just pulling forward to disguise the chalk on their tires. So seven years ago, the city also banned people from parking on the same street more than once a day, a rule designed to get cars moving around the neighborhood.

Parking attendants log license-plate numbers and then can see if a driver has parked somewhere else on the same street.

Zydek said the policies work. Construction workers and downtown office workers can't take up public spots all day, leaving them open to shoppers and other visitors.

"We've got good turnover now, which I'd think [the Old Main merchants] would be happy about," Zydek said.

Store owners say their neighborhood is hit particularly hard because most businesses in Old Bellevue are in small buildings that don't have parking for customers. Several large mixed-use developments are in the works, but to save money, most builders only construct the bare minimum of parking required by the city, city officials and store owners say.

Other merchants say the private company hired by the city to enforce parking laws, Seattle's Diamond Parking, is too strict, with tickets issued for wheels parked on the white line that separates parking spaces.

The issue is "something that needs to be addressed by the City Council," said Joe Vilardi, owner of Bis on Main restaurant.

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Zydek said a first parking offense in a calendar year is given only a warning, and that Diamond is enforcing the rules as it should. "You're supposed to park in the [stall's lines]," he said. "It's a law."

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

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