It is common to hear how difficult it is to park in downtown Sebastopol. People say they avoid coming downtown because they can never find a place to park. This is not an uncommon statement in any walkable urban context, be it a small town or large city. Sprawl and auto-oriented development patterns have trained Americans to expect abundant free parking wherever we go. And if we cannot find a parking space in front of our destination, the common response is that there is a ‘parking problem.’

From the cafe I’m sitting in as I type this, at 3:45 on a Friday afternoon, I can see about 6 available parking spaces. And that is just on this block! We absolutely do not have a parking problem in downtown Sebastopol. Several years ago I kept a log of the number of parking spaces available at various times of day on about 5 blocks of Main Street. There were never less than 10 available parking spaces. I didn’t even include downtown parking lots or side streets in my tally. I believe part of the issue is the walking environment, and lack of desirable destinations. If the walking environment was top rate and there were exciting things to do, people would be willing to walk a few blocks to their destination.

While I disagree with the premise that we in fact have a parking problem, let’s assume that we do. There are several streets in close proximity to the center of downtown where parking is currently not allowed but could be easily added.

High Street between Bodega and Willow has a red curb for 2 full blocks on both sides of the street, allowing no parking at all. This is just one block off of Main Street and near the center of town. The street is generally around 28′ wide for these two blocks. The fire department will tell you they want 20′ clear to allow 2 emergency vehicles to pass each other. Even assuming that is necessary, there is plenty of room to have 7′ wide parallel parking on at least one side of these two blocks. The total length of curb is about 620′. Excluding the driveways, and setbacks from the corners, there is about 500′ of curb available to park. At 22′ per parallel parking space, that’s about 22 parking spaces. Plus this two block stretch of road has a hill sloping down at each end which when combined with the lack of street parking encourage people to go much faster than the posted 25 MPH speed limit. Allowing parked cars would slow traffic and create a safer pedestrian environment.

South High looking South toward Willow

The block immediately south of the image above is about 28′ wide and allows parking on the east side.

South High looking north toward Willow, toward the previous photo location.

Two blocks to the south and the street is still 28′ wide and parking is allowed on both sides. I live on this block and I have to say I really like the narrow street with parking on both sides. Most people drive slowly and as far as I know, no one has died on my block because of a lack of emergency vehicle access.

South High looking north, south of Calder

Burnett Street allows parking on both sides for the block west of Main Street and most of the block east of Main Street, except for the west end near Main Street. I’m not sure what the difference is.

Burnett looking east

The street is 36′ wide. A 7′ wide parallel parking stall on both sides still leaves 22′ for two drive lanes. Seems to work at the east end (you can see the cars at the far end of the block on the right side). Not sure why the west end has a red painted curb on one side. Judging from the cars parked across the street, there is space for at least three more cars here. Maybe it is so the parked cars don’t block the view from the nice bench on the sidewalk (in the shadow of the photo)?

Sebastopol Avenue, east of Main Street also does not allow parking on either side of the street. This is a busy block with three drive lanes; one in each direction and a left turn lane to allow people to head south on Main Street. It would improve the pedestrian experience if there were a buffer from the moving travel lanes. The street is 46′ wide, curb to curb. If each of the driving lanes were 12′ wide, and there is no reason they should be any wider, there would be 10′ available for parallel parking. There is about 240′ of uninterrupted curb on the north side of the street. That is enough room for at least ten parking spaces.

Bodega Ave/Sebastopol Ave. looking east

You can see in this image there is plenty of space between the driving lane and the curb for parking. The opposite side of the street would be a better location for parking as there are fewer driveways.

Clearly, we do not have a parking problem downtown. But if we did want to create additional parking opportunities, I’ve identified locations where we could add thirty-five parking spaces within a block of the center of downtown. All it would take is some paint.