Students work to identify downtown parking problems, solutions

Published 6:59 pm Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Mulberry House’s rooftop dining room was abuzz with discussion Wednesday as East Carolina University graduate and postgraduate students met with local stakeholders to evaluate downtown Washington’s parking infrastructure.

A class of more than 20 students within ECU’s Community and Regional Planning Program is partnering with the City of Washington and the Pamlico Business Resource Center on a parking study that will be conducted January through April 2022. The students will investigate five main topics: the existing public parking capacity in the study area; current parking demands; trip and parking behavior of downtown residents, merchants and staffs, local government personnel and visitors; projected parking demands; and parking solutions.

Local government and commerce officials met with the students Wednesday for a pair of breakout sessions. Divided into small groups, they used maps and notepads to identify current parking problems and their causes and also discussed potential parking opportunities to improve the local parking infrastructure.

Officials shared their individual takes on what parking problems exist, and what the causes are.

“From a parking standpoint, I’m excited about the study,” City Manager Jonathan Russell told the students. “I think it helps the profession from a geography and planning standpoint, as well as a public administration standpoint. …. It’s a cultural thing. Being from eastern North Carolina, the only place we like to walk to is our car in the driveway. So I think that’s a big issue, to change that culture, to learn to park in remote areas, or further away, and walk into central business districts.”

Washington – Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce Director Catherine Glover has some similar thoughts.

“I’ve been with the Chamber for 15 years,” Glover said. “My hope when I started with the Chamber was that we would actually have a parking problem. And over the years we have seen that parking has been increasingly a challenge because the mentality in our town is that we want to be able to pull up right in front of the stores and park.”

County Manager Brian Alligood commended ECU for partnering on the study, noting the impact the university has had on the region as a whole. He said the county government is particularly interested in the study given the “fairly large footprint” county operations have in downtown Washington.

Others who gave their opinions and facilitated discussions about parking were Beaufort County Economic Director Martyn Johnson, Washington Community and Cultural Services Director Mike Dail, Washington Tourism and Development Director Erin Ruyle, and Washington Historic Preservation Planner Domini Cunningham.

Keith Hudson, CEO of the Pamlico Business Resource Center, said the students will be working with local business owners, administrators, law enforcement personnel and others as they identify and come up with potential solutions for parking issues.

The study is being conducted at no cost to the city. Hudson and ECU professor Misun Hur are the joint study coordinators.