Parking problem: Cape looking to restrict parking near campus

Friday, July 1, 2011
Traffic flows Thursday along Normal Avenue near Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. Residents along Normal Avenue, West End Boulevard and Park Avenue are working to propose an ordinance that would restrict parking on these streets from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week. (Laura Simon)

Cars gobble up spaces along narrow side streets, wedged into tight parking spots and bumper to bumper. An errant Toyota blocks a driveway, trapping an irritated homeowner. Sometimes there's litter -- other times, trespassing. There have even been reports of vehicles being virtually abandoned, left for days or weeks at a time.

A group of Cape Girardeau residents and one city council member who live near Southeast Missouri State University say this is what their lives have been like for years. The cause, they say, is university students who park along their streets in search of a quick space before hurrying to class.

Now they want to take their neighborhood back.

"We decided it was time for the citizens to reclaim our neighborhood," said council member Deb Tracy, who lives a few blocks from campus. "The problems have just increased over the years, and the consensus is it's our turn, it's our time."

The Boulevard Historic District is a group of residents who live mostly south of the university campus on or near Highland Drive, Park Avenue, Normal Avenue and West End Boulevard. For years, they have been working with Cape Girardeau leaders to get something done about the parking problems. Task forces were formed in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Still, the problems remained.

But the Cape Girardeau City Council finally seems poised to take action. At a recent meeting, city staff was directed to prepare an ordinance that would make some of the streets, perhaps Normal Avenue, Park Avenue and West End Boulevard, no parking from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. City manager Scott Meyer has scheduled a meeting with the neighborhood district for July 19 to gather input, and an ordinance is expected to be drafted shortly after that.

Mike Sheehan, who helped organize the district, has lived in his home on West End Boulevard for 22 years. The problems, he said, dates back to the 1950s and was one of the reasons the dozens of property owners banded together.

"We needed a voice," he said. "When these cars are stacked up out here bumper to bumper, it takes away from the neighborhood atmosphere. These streets are too narrow, so to have cars trying to navigate around all these parked cars isn't safe. Something needs to be done. It's been an inconvenience."

Tracy says now is the time to act. For years, university students complained about a lack of parking. But in recent years, the university has added two parking garages -- one near the Show Me Center and one along Sprigg Street near Towers -- and several parking lots.

"They didn't have enough parking, but now they're telling us they do," Tracy said. "It's a small campus. It's not like they have to walk for miles. These problems are a constant for the nine months that school is in session. We want to keep this a popular area for families to move into."

Doug Richards, director of the university's Department of Public Safety, said that students do, in fact, have enough parking. The university had more spaces available than the number of permits that were sold in the most recent academic year.

"Even if they park in the perimeter lots, that's why we added a shuttle," he said. "So we do have adequate parking."

Still, the city's proposal does concern Richards. Some students, for example, can't afford the parking permits, which run from $95 to $145 a year. He also wonders how it really helps the residents if they can't park on their own streets.

"I don't know enough about the proposal, and I haven't heard all the details," Richards said. "But I think it could create a financial problem for some students. If it's not designed or managed properly, it could be more of a hardship on the neighborhood, too."

That thought has occurred to Tracy. That's why she was originally in favor of issuing decals to residents for a nominal charge. That way, they would be allowed to park on their streets but it would keep those streets free from student traffic. During a recent study session where the issue was discussed, other council members -- including Mayor Harry Rediger -- said they were uncomfortable with applying a system that treated people differently, seeing it as an unfair system.

Tracy disagreed.

"My contention is that that's what local government is for, to really look at problems and address them," she said. "Everything doesn't have to be standard because you do have areas that have exceptions."

Now, no parking for students during the day means no parking for residents.

"That's the downside," she said, adding that it would be an improvement to clear the streets during the day.

Sheehan said he doesn't like the proposal as well as a resident permit system either but agreed that it's a good start.

"It would help make the streets safer and from an aesthetics standpoint, it would be much better," he said. "That's exactly what we're looking to do here on West End."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

West End Boulevard, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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