Work on Main Avenue is proceeding apace, including back-in parking. photo by John Griffith
Work on Main Avenue is proceeding apace, including back-in parking. photo by John Griffith

The renovation of Main Avenue is ahead of schedule and moving quickly.

Starting at the west end of Main on February 28 and moving east, the project is scheduled to be complete before Memorial Day, May 28.

The first phase, which involves installing curbs, sidewalks, and drainage is 50 percent complete, according to Eric Huffman, project engineer for Century West. City planning staff and Century West have devised a construction plan designed to minimize pedestrian traffic interruption and maximize access to Main Avenue businesses.

"The contractor is making every effort to make a difficult situation as good as it can be. The city has stayed in contact with us on general items," said Fred McCaulou of Sisters Feed & Supply.

With the sidewalks in place, Century West will then interconnect the street lights, pave and stripe the parking areas, and put in the landscaping. Finally they will put a seal coat on the driving surface.

The most contentious aspect of this project is the implementation of back-in diagonal parking. To help citizens better understand the mechanics and features of back-in diagonal parking the city has worked with the video production lab at Sisters High School to produce a five-minute video demonstrating how back-in parking works.

The video will be available for viewing on both the city and The Nugget websites in the next week or so. The city also plans several "practice days," probably on Saturday mornings, for locals to come and practice back-in parking.

The city has worked closely with Victor, Idaho, in planning for the back-in concept. Victor is a city of 3,000 on Highway 33 just west of the Idaho/Wyoming border. Victor City Engineer Rob Heusevedt researched and implemented back-in diagonal parking more than three years ago for four blocks in their downtown core, right on Highway 33. Heusevedt reports 98 percent compliance, with no tickets (past the 30-day grace period) and no accidents.

Heusevedt reported initial public resistance. He said it took about a year for people to get used to the parking.

New front-in parking is no longer allowed by the Idaho Department of Transportation on state highways. Heusevedt also says that back-in parking is really easier than parallel parking.

Victor reports that there have been no parking accidents and no complaints about car exhaust from the business owners. Heusvedt also cited several immediate safety benefits: kids and pets are "forced" to the sidewalk by the car doors when they get out of the parked car; drivers loading their trunks do so standing on the sidewalk, not in the street; when a motorist is parked, they can see when someone is pulling in to park alongside of them before they open their door to exit.

Meanwhile, some merchants in Sisters report receiving considerable negative feedback on back-in parking, including statements that customers will not patronize Main Avenue stores because of it.

"All of the feedback from our customers, is 100 percent negative, so I am worried about it," McCaulou said. "It's been a difficult economic climate and it is just an added burden, is my concern. I have the gamut of people that are just mildly negative to folks that say I just won't come back. I tell them they are still able to park on the side."

The primary reason for the back-in parking as stated by Sisters city staff is bicycle safety. Highway 20 is part of the TransAmerica bicycle trail (US DOT). However, the second step of the downtown renovation of Sisters, the Cascade Avenue project (construction scheduled 2012/2013) requires the narrowing of Cascade Avenue. To accommodate the current Cascade Avenue design, it is necessary to move east-west bicycle traffic off Cascade, and Main Avenue was the next logical choice.

The Main Avenue right-of-way has sufficient width to allow for higher-density diagonal parking (as opposed to parallel parking). But with significant through-bicycle traffic expected on Main, back-in parking is deemed a safer choice for both cars and cyclists.

For an outline of the project goals and maps, go to the bottom of the page at www.ci.sisters.or.us and click on the link "Construction Update."