Festival parking plan aims to ease traffic
By ELISABETH MURRAY
Whidbey Examiner Staff
August 31, 2012 · Updated 12:03 PM
With the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival just a little over a week away, organizers are hoping a new traffic plan will help prevent the backup that occurred last year in the southbound lane of Hwy. 20 on the approach to Coupeville.
Cars waiting to turn onto North Main Street to get to festival parking blocked highway traffic heading south.
With a number of popular events taking place the same weekend, the high volume of traffic on Saturday – particularly southbound on Hwy. 20 – made the trip from Oak Harbor to Coupeville take almost an hour.
“The town was absolutely packed,” said Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce.
Nice weather on the peak tourism weekend of the year drew visitors from both on and off Whidbey. As many as 20,000 people attended the two-day event.
This year, the festival association hopes to keep the traffic destined for festival parking flowing.
The parking committee chairs will be connected via walkie-talkie to volunteers stationed at turns where it will be important to keep traffic moving, such as on Main Street at the Coupeville United Methodist Church and at the Main Street intersection with Hwy. 20.
If traffic gets jammed up at the main parking lot at the Coupeville Community Green on Alexander Street, they will be able to divert vehicles to the upper overflow lot near the intersection of N.W. First and Wilkes.
“The priority is to keep Main Street moving,” Coupeville Festival Association President Mike Dessert said. “If traffic on Main Street stops, the intersection backs up.”
Overflow parking might also be opened up at the Coupeville schools Saturday afternoon following the Race the Reserve half-marathon's completion around noon.
Disabled parking will again be set aside in the first row of the main lot, with volunteers providing a map of other disabled parking areas to those who show up after the first lot is full.
A shuttle service will connect all parking areas to festival activities downtown. Two shuttle buses will be running on Saturday and one on Sunday.
Festival organizers asked that the locations of the alternate parking areas not be published in advance. They want drivers heading to the festival to follow the directional arrows and guidance of volunteers to keep the flow of traffic moving.
Another change to this year's event is that the 275 volunteers will be required to park at a field near the 400 block of Wilkes, freeing up spots for visitors closer to the activities.
Coupeville downtown merchants will receive free passes for parking in the grass lot next to Town Hall.
Coupeville Marshal Lance Davenport said he will be on hand during the peak hours on Saturday. He said the changes should improve traffic flow.
“It is a good, solid plan,” he said. “They have taken incremental steps to alleviate the parking problem.”
The Washington State Patrol and Island County Sheriff's deputies will not be present to direct traffic at the intersection of Hwy. 20 and Main Street, but have been made aware of the potential for a problem. They will be contacted for assistance if necessary, Dessert said.
Again this year, the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club will manage the paid parking areas, keeping half the proceeds after expenses from the $3 parking fee. The money helps fund the club's art program.
Some 60 volunteers – 20 more than last year – will keep the parking organized, said Irene Echenique, co-chair for parking at the festival and a member of the club’s board.
“We realized we needed more, so we beefed up,” she said. “We want it to go smoothly.”
Dessert said he appreciates the group’s help.
“It’s a hot, dirty, dusty job,” he said. “The Boys and Girls Club did a really good job last year.”
Local residents who would like to avoid adding to the traffic jam on Saturday can hop on Island Transit’s Route 1 bus, which will drop people off two blocks away from the festival action.
For route information, visit islandtransit.org or call 360-678-7771.
Island Transit does not operate on Sunday.
Despite the traffic backups and difficulty finding parking last year, Eccles said she did not hear any complaints.
“Everyone seemed to take it in good stride,” she said. “For any event, people expect there to be traffic.”
With about 175 vendor booths, plus live music, children’s art activities, the Chamber’s wine and beer garden and the return of the tall ships to the Coupeville Wharf, the event is a big draw for visitors from all over the region.
Proceeds from the festival return to the Central Whidbey community in the form of grants and scholarships.
Last year, the organization gave about $35,000 to local students and nonprofit organizations, Dessert said.
“Every dime we make goes back to the community,” he said.