SOUTH PORTLAND — Despite pleas from local business owners to keep the one-way in place, the City Council decided Monday night to return Ocean Street in Knightville to a two-way street.
Councilors supported the switch 4-2, with Councilor Linda Cohen and Mayor Tom Blake opposing. Brad Fox was absent after leaving the meeting during an earlier conflict.
Changing Ocean Street to two-way is estimated to cost about $2,000 and will only involve repainting lines on the road. The 15 angled parking spots between D and E streets will be converted to 10 parallel parking spots, one of which will be reserved for motorcycles.
It will likely take place in May, City Manager Jim Gailey said.
Most business owners and residents have been working to keep angled parking since 2012, when its future was threatened by parallel parking, much like the conversation that took place Monday.
More than 20 business owners and employees addressed the council at the March 7 meeting, asking that the configuration not be changed. Most told councilors that any loss of parking poses a very real threat to the future of those businesses.
But Councilor Claude Morgan said, “It was never supposed to be this way. We had a trial balloon that got away from us,” referencing the fact that the one-way was intended to be a test run – even though the council revisited the issue in 2013 and there were no complaints by the public.
Considering angled parking and the easy access it creates for people who want to patronize Knightville businesses, Morgan said, “I really do believe that parking shouldn’t be too easy.”
If people are forced to work harder to find parking spaces, Morgan said, they will be more likely to spend more time in the area, rather than just grab a quick cup of coffee and leave.
“Knightville doesn’t want to be a drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts,” Morgan said. “I really do not think the case has been made that there’s going to be an economic hardship” on the businesses, he said.
Councilor Patti Smith agreed, and referred to business owners’ fear of losing parking because it will affect their businesses as invoking the “fear factor.”
“I don’t see a direct correlation between parking and business downfall,” Smith said. “If some business is only relying on parking as their way to do business, that’s scary.”
Smith advocated for the return to two-way permanently, rather than for a one-year trial. “I just feel like I want an end point,” she said. The city should monitor the switch and see if there’s a negative impact. “If we see five businesses dropping out, we’re going to notice that,” she said.
Councilor Eben Rose also said, “I think reverting back to two-way can test some of these theories of how devastating it can be to businesses.”
Bill Dunnigan, of Ocean Street who co-owns Cia Cafe at 72 Ocean St. said, “There’s no way that you can sit here and know for sure that taking away five parking spaces” won’t have a negative impact on businesses, he told councilors.
Dunnigan said 75,000 people visited his cafe last year, and the “biggest complaint” he heard from patrons is that they had trouble finding parking.
“Five parking spaces times 10 hours a day is not five parking spaces,” Dunnigan said. “Please support the businesses.”
Councilor Linda Cohen was the only one to waver at the Feb. 22 workshop and not fully in favor of a return to two-way. Cohen said a better option would be making all of Ocean Street one-way; she worries about the effects on businesses caused by a switch to a two-way street with parallel parking.
“I think if we try this for a year, we could drag our businesses away,” she said. “I’d much rather see us withdraw this order tonight, giving us the room to bring back something else.”
Several residents who are patrons of businesses in Knightville but live elsewhere in South Portland also support the current layout.
Kay Mishkin, of Scammon Street, who travels to Knightville three to five times a week, said supplanting angled parking with parallel parking will intimidate her and a lot of other drivers, who may go down a side street they might not otherwise access to find parking.
“You have to nurture things that work, and Knightville is working just the way it is right now for me,” she said.
Residents of D Street, the road that some claim has shouldered the burden of the forced circumvention of traffic flow because of the one-way, were evenly divided in their opinions Monday night.
Susan Kramer, who has lived on D Street for nearly 20 years, said, “Five spots will not make a difference. I don’t think it will have any changes in the businesses.”
But Catherine Merrow, who has lived on D Street for 30 years, said, “I really think that we need to do everything we can for the businesses down there.
“I feel taking away even two spaces from what’s happening down there … is a mistake.”
Alan Cardinal, owner of Legion Square Market at 101 Ocean Street in Knightville, addressed the City Council Monday. Cardinal, along with more than 20 other business owners and residents, urged councilors to keep the portion of Ocean Street between D and E streets one-way with angled parking, rather than replace it with two-way traffic and parallel parking.