PAW PAW, Mich. – Signs posted along Michigan Avenue read, “Back-in angle parking, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3,” but according to long-time Paw Paw resident Keith Harring, it’s not.
FOX 17 rode along with Harring as he tried to park in a newly painted back-in angled parking spot. Harring said stopping on Michigan Avenue, even with your blinker on, causes congestion, and drivers directly behind the vehicle stop too close.
“See the problem it causes? He’s too close, and this lady’s going around me,” said Harring.
An avid cyclist, Harring said he will not ride his bike along Michigan Avenue.
“I ride a lot of bikes, and I won’t ride out there. It’s unsafe. Right by those cars? I won’t ride out there.”
Only one week into the testing period for the parking design which the village officials said will end late winter 2015, and the community is divided.
“That is the stupidest road I've ever seen,” said John Fouth, Paw Paw resident. “I've traveled this country, all 48 states, Canada, Mexico, and I have never seen a fiasco like what you've got going on downtown. Strictly stupid, dumb, period."
Although this parking design was not on Monday's bimonthly village council meeting agenda, 11 of 15 residents who addressed the council about the parking were opposed.
“Everybody's avoiding downtown now,' said Paw Paw resident Cliff Overacker. "They're coming through our neighborhoods at 100 miles per hour instead of going where they're supposed to."
The majority of residents who spoke expressed concerns about traffic congestion that motivates drivers to avoid downtown streets and shops, plus the issue of pedestrian and cyclist safety.
"I'd like to believe that this is going to be safer for the kids," said Chris Runkle, Paw Paw resident, "but we've all already been a witness to one biker nearly run over by a semi Saturday afternoon.”
Yet several cyclists said they’re in favor of Paw Paw working to become a “walking town.”
"It's great to see a progressive town like Paw Paw looking to make safer pathways for the bicyclists,” said Cindy Vanskike, Paw Paw resident.
In response to a steady flow of concerned residents, the village council said they are looking into the timing of lights and into adding more red arrows. They called the parking design a continuous project.
"It's very important that we be progressive, because things are changing all across the country and this area, and we want this town to be very successful,” said Roman Plaszczak, village president.
Other residents, such as retired school bus driver Charles Craddock, question how major traffic will navigate through possibly more congestion after Michigan Avenue's traffic lanes have been cut from four down to two.
"When we're coming into school we'll have 50- to 60-plus kids on a bus, and if it's going to take you two or three times to get through the main corridor, those kids are going to be perhaps late getting to school,” said Craddock. “A lot of these kids depend on their morning breakfasts."
The back-in angled parking in question by many residents is a key part of the 2009-2010 Master Plan to revitalize downtown Paw Paw.
Village Manager Larry Nielsen told FOX 17 that by decreasing Michigan Avenue traffic lanes down to two, then adding a bicycle lane and angled parking, officials hope to draw more people to the area and safely, to make the village “a place where people drive to rather than drive through.” Nielsen also said that they based this parking off of many cities across Michigan--like Sturgis and Coldwater--that have successfully implemented back-in angled parking.
"When people are pulling out they're able to see any bicyclists and oncoming traffic, rather than backing into a bicycle lane and a through lane without any visibility,” said Nielsen.
Nielsen told FOX 17 that this back-in angled parking cost the village an estimated $50,000, which is funded through the village roads funds. Nielsen said the money from the village roads funds comes partly from money from the gas tax.
Paw Paw Fire Chief Jim DeGroff said the community needs to be patient. Since this parking has been implemented in the last week, DeGroff told FOX 17, the fire department has had no problems.