Downtown parking has probably been an issue in Walla Walla since the day the streets were paved. This is one of the oldest established cities in the Pacific Northwest so it's hardly a surprise that the transition from horses to motor cars would be tricky.
The downtown area has been renovated and renovated again over the years. The parking spaces have been moved as streets have been widened and traffic patterns changed.
The one constant is a concern over parking. Some of it is reasonable, some of it irrational.
Free parking in downtown Walla Walla adds to the area's charm and popularity with visitors and locals. And to many of us who live in Walla Walla, if a parking space is not available directly in front of the business, then there is a parking problem - a crisis. We are spoiled.
Adding to the parking-problem discussion is that some downtown employees routinely engage in the two-hour shuffle - moving their cars a block or so every two hours to avoid a $5 parking ticket.
When special events occur and parking becomes even more limited, it causes those who own or manage downtown businesses - particularly restaurants and retail stores - to become outraged.
So is the downtown parking problem real, or simply perceived?
Frankly, nobody can say with certainty. That's become clear as the Port of Walla Walla has taken the lead in looking at whether a multi-level downtown parking garage is needed.
Port Commissioner Mike Fredrickson said response was mixed to the concept of a parking garage during a recent public meeting.
"It was everywhere from ‘No, we don't need it,' to ‘It should be built tomorrow,' to where I think most people fell: ‘There are still so many dang questions,'" Fredrickson said.
The three-member Port Commission is looking at forming a coalition with the city of Walla Walla, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and other relevant agencies to fund a deeper study of whether Walla Walla needs a multi-level parking structure and what other alternatives might exist to such a structure.
This is an excellent idea.
At this point, the parking problem - or lack of parking problem - is based on anecdotal evidence.
Aside from determining if there is a significant parking problem worthy of building a $3.8 million to $6 million structure, how such a structure could be reasonably funded needs to be explored.
It's our belief (based, of course, only on anecdotes) that Walla Wallans would not be eager or even willing to pay for parking. Would the taxpayers have to foot the bill? Would it fall to the downtown business owners?
In addition, perhaps analysis of the parking situation could yield possible solutions to some of the parking irritants.
It simply makes sense to spend a little time and money up front to determine if there is an actual need before millions of dollars are spent.