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Eau Claire looks to ease downtown parking problems

(WEAU)
Published: Feb. 17, 2020 at 6:30 PM CST
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Parking in Eau Claire is a long-standing issue. Now, the city is working to address concerns in three target neighborhoods.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, several thousand vehicles run through the streets of downtown Eau Claire daily. At some point, many of those vehicles need to find a place to park, but that's not always easy to find. With development on the rise, Eau Claire’s latest parking study is focusing some energy on downtown's parking woes.

“Certain times of the day it seems to get pretty congested, said CVTC student Hannah Riegel. “I tend to have to drive around awhile just to find a spot.”

“Usually the spot by the bridge here is the most clear spot,” said James Jeske of Eau Claire.

Every five years, the city takes a look at public, private and on-street parking spaces available to people in Eau Claire. Since its last study in 2014, the landscape of Eau Claire has changed dramatically, according to Eau Claire Deputy Engineer Leah Ness.

We've had a lot of development in the downtown area and in the neighborhoods, so the 2019 study instead of just focusing on the downtown area, incorporates the Third Ward neighborhood and the historic Randall Park neighborhood,” she said.

Ness says while city parking ordinances have mostly stayed the same, the demand for prime parking has changed. According to the study, the City of Eau Claire has 3,120 public parking spaces in the downtown area. Ness says some are used more frequently than others.

“The heat maps give us a great indication on what areas are being parked to their fullest extent and what areas aren't,” she said.

Ness says according to that parking study, one of the most popular places to park in downtown Eau Claire is on Graham Avenue and one block over on Barstow. But she says those spots are usually filled and people spend more time circling than actually parking.

Work is continuing on the downtown parking ramp, which was built in the early 1970s. However, the structure is nearing the end of its expected useful life. It is forcing city officials to put plans in motion, before the hope of making parking easier in Eau Claire gets parked.

“When that goes offline, where do place other parking structures,” Ness said. “We need to strategize on how we replace that parking ramp. Do we do it with one structure, do we do it with multiple parking decks in different locations.

The other two places where parking issues are being addressed are the Randall park neighborhood and the Third Ward, near UW-Eau Claire. Ness says the next step is gaining approval for their parking plan and hopes to get approval from city council in March.

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