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In Canton, parking woes part of growing pains

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There's a Starbucks and an Outback Steakhouse and a growing young tech company. Soon, a Harris Teeter grocery store and a Target will be built. All are helping to draw new residents to Canton.

But where to park?

"I don't know of any small part of Canton where there isn't a parking problem," said Darryl Jurkiewicz, president of the Canton Community Association. His organization has been pushing city officials for months to find solutions.

The Boston Street corridor in Southeast Baltimore has become the latest ground zero for a familiar battle. A long-established neighborhood — Federal Hill, Fells Point and, now, Canton — catches fire with new residents and businesses. New customers, tenants and homeowners soon overwhelm the space — and there's none left for parking.

"In all the best neighborhoods in the world, there's a shortage of parking," said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, who researches parking issues. "Too much parking can ruin a neighborhood."

But inadequate parking, especially in a neighborhood with few public transit options, can also spell its demise. City officials and business leaders fear shoppers may become discouraged from visiting Canton and residents may get fed up with finding a needle-in-the-haystack curbside spot each night. It's a problem they don't want to see replicated as they seek to increase the city's population.

It's a issue that worries C. William Struever, the developer and property manager of the Can Co. complex on Boston Street, where a long-vacant building has been transformed into a retail and office complex.

"It's increasingly dense, which is a good thing," Struever said of the Canton area. "It's more jobs, it's a bigger tax base, more people in the city. Thank God, after 40 years, it's turning around.

"But we need to have a better way of thinking about this issue."

City officials are trying a range of approaches to address parking in Canton, including expanding what is known as "reverse angle parking" along streets wide enough to accommodate it and championing alternatives for car owners, such as car sharing and bicycling, according to a spokeswoman for the Parking Authority.

The city also is "exploring possibilities" for building new public garages while "encouraging the development of private parking garages and lots in Canton," authority spokeswoman Tiffany James said in an email.

City Councilman James B. Kraft has hosted meetings with residents and recently led a council vote to do away with a controversial residential permit parking zone in one area of Canton in favor of what Kraft called a more "holistic" approach.

"What we can try to do is minimize the impact, and that's what we're trying to do," Kraft said.

The new efforts confront neighborhood characteristics that define Canton's success but also shape its parking troubles.

One of the biggest challenges is the changing demographic of the neighborhood, which spreads from the Inner Harbor north to Patterson Park. As in many popular urban areas, James said, the population in Canton has grown younger in recent years, and more young professionals are living together in the neighborhood's renovated rowhouses as roommates.

"Years ago, Canton's narrow rowhouses held one family that owned one or no vehicles," James said. "Now, oftentimes several adults live in one home, each with their own vehicle. There is now two or three or sometimes four times the number of vehicles per residence than when the neighborhood was first created."

Kraft called the problem "almost insurmountable."

In Canton, many homes are between 11 and 14 feet wide, making the parking space in front of each home less than the length of a typical car, he said. There are also many homes on alleys in Canton with no on-street space.

The math just doesn't add up, Kraft said: "There are just simply too many cars."

One way the city has dealt with the challenge in Federal Hill is residential permit parking.

The council voted recently to eliminate permit parking in Canton's Area 43, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has signed a five-year moratorium on permit parking throughout the neighborhood.

But the Parking Authority says permit parking is a "community-driven" option that will remain on the table.

It's an option that divides Canton neighbors.

In the two years that first-year Johns Hopkins doctoral student Julie Lade lived on Essex Street, she said, she would circle the packed streets of the neighborhood for as much as an hour some evenings looking for a parking spot.

That stopped when Lade, 25, moved just a few blocks away to the 800 block of S. Port St., within Area 43, and secured a parking permit.

"I've saved like an hour a night," Lade said.

But after the council vote early this month, she said, permit signs were removed. That night, she looked for parking for 40 minutes before settling for a spot on Boston Street — where the sign said she had to be out by 7 a.m.

"I'm not so sure if this was a good vote on behalf of the City Council," Lade wrote in an email.

She had paid the city $60 for her permit and a pass for visitors, she said. If the system was going to be only temporary, she wrote, it was "a complete waste of everyone's time."

Adam Spain, who lives on South Bouldin Street but works near Lade's home at the tech company Millennial Media, said permit parking makes it more difficult for his friends to find spaces when they visit.

"That's why going to Fed Hill is such a pain, because of all the different permit spots," he said.

Spain said he approves instead of the city's efforts to replace parallel parking with angled parking.

James said the city is "actively installing" angled spots in Canton "wherever possible," which she said will add hundreds of new spaces.

Officials also are working with the car-sharing company ZipCar to expand the neighborhood's current two-car fleet, seeking to expand Circulator bus routes and considering adding parking meters in commercial areas, James said. Officials are beginning to talk with residents, business owners and the transportation department about adding "bicycle parking."

Hiroyuki Iseki, a research faculty member at the National Center for Smart Growth Research & Education at the University of Maryland, College Park, said public transit options, such as Baltimore's proposed east-west light rail Red Line, will be critical in the process.

Iseki said neighborhoods should work with the city to establish rapid bus services and install more bike lanes, and urge local employers to give employees incentives to choose those options.

"Providing the good public transportation certainly substitutes the car trips," he said.

All efforts to address the parking problem are appreciated, said Jurkiewicz, of the Canton Community Association. But what residents really want is not in the works: a garage.

"We've been asking, pleading, begging the city for a parking garage somewhere between O'Donnell Street and the Can Co., but there are two problems," Jurkiewicz said. "There's no money and no real property to build it on."

One site residents have suggested as a potential garage site is the Safeway parking lot on Boston Street.

A Safeway spokesman said the company is looking at redeveloping the site — the entire site, not just the parking lot — now that the economy has rebounded a bit. But nothing has been decided.

"We've been very happy to see the community grow over the years, but now it presents these types of issues," spokesman Greg TenEyck said. "In recent months, I know it's been something that we've been taking a look at actively."

krector@baltsun.com

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