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A place where buses park is a parking lot. It doesn't matter what color you paint it. It doesn't matter whether you put planters around it. It doesn't matter if you call it a pedestrian plaza. Parking lots are parking lots, and parking lots are not pedestrian-friendly spaces.
In Thursday's Empire, the redesign of the proposed parking lot in Marine Park was on the front page. We even got a color drawing. Color was, I suppose, chosen to emphasize how much green will be around the parking lot. The article said that the "facility" could have many uses: street fairs, outdoor market, temporary skating rink. Provided, of course, that there are no cruise ships in town. I'm still trying to get my brain wrapped around the October street fair and the November outdoor market but I just can't seem to do it. Now to be fair, the article did say that cruise ships are only tied up at the dock during 47 percent of daylight hours in the summer. In fact I suspect we could have street fairs almost any day between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. And the cost? Only $160 for every man, woman and child in Juneau, that's what $5 million works out to. One thing that was missing from the color drawing of the proposed parking lot was security guards and big fences; but just last fall the cruise ship industry tried to close the city dock to the people of Juneau. Perhaps in the next full color drawing they can put the security infrastructure in.
Naturally, they shouldn't be called security fences, I would suggest calling them multi-use display structures. They could be painted green and, when cruise ships aren't in town, they could be used to display children's art.
Putting sarcasm aside, we as a community need to decide how much of our town we want to give to the tourism industry and then stop giving. Marine Park is one of the few public open-spaces that we have on the downtown waterfront; do we want to sacrifice it to bus parking? Thane and Montana Creek are nice quiet neighborhoods; do we want to destroy them in the name of flightseeing? I think most of us would answer "no," but the cruise ship industry and the majority of our City Council would probably answer "yes." In an ideal world, we would have a farsighted planning process, based on well-thought-out community goals. We would use tools like Internet polls to help determine the desires of the people and from there we would develop a tourism management plan for how we would like to mold our city to integrate a healthy tourist industry with a healthy community.
Wait, didn't we just do that? We did. In fact, I just looked back on the results of the last three Web polls and a few things stood out: 62 percent of respondents said that Juneau had as many or more cruise ship passengers than it could handle.
Sixty-five percent of respondents said that a Tourism Management Plan should reduce or eliminate downtown congestion due to tourism.
When asked the best way to reduce downtown congestion, the most popular response was "manage passenger pickup to reduce the number of vehicles." This response was half again more popular than "improve roads and loading areas for vans and buses."
A final Tourism Management Plan is supposed to be completed this year, a Subport Area Redevelopment Plan is supposed to be developed by this summer. Both of theses projects probably cost the city a great deal in consultant fees, and both seem like they should have bearing on the fate of Marine Park. I hope that the City Council waits until these documents are complete before the spend $5 million to pave Marine Park.
Alan Kinsolving works for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau.