Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Lifelong Burlingame resident Maureen Byrne, 74, sits along Burlingame Avenue during a sunny day of construction.
Those who visit Burlingame Avenue now have two weeks worth of free Friday parking along the avenue under their belts. Has this boosted business, as the City Council hoped, when they approved the temporary free parking?
Not so, say some business owners and customers who frequent downtown Burlingame and have felt the impact of the Burlingame Avenue Streetscape project. Reduced parking, fewer patrons and a torn-up street, are among the complaints from business owners.
The new free parking is part of the city’s plan to alleviate parking woes in Burlingame during the revamping and widening of downtown sidewalks for the 14- to 16-month construction.
“We did listen to the merchants and customers and came up with the free parking on Fridays,” said Mayor Ann Keighran. “I know [the construction] is an inconvenience, but the final goal is an upgraded avenue that will be advantageous to businesses in the long run.”
At the beginning of July, the City Council approved making the 89 available metered spots on the Burlingame mainstay free, under two-hour time limits, until construction is completed at the end of next summer.
Ben Nielsen has been one of the owners of Copenhagen Bakery & Café at 1216 Burlingame Ave. for 36 years and said for free parking to make a difference for business, free lots would need to be included.
“The biggest frustration is that it’s moving so slow and killing businesses on the avenue,” Nielsen said. “It’s worrisome because I’ve had to cut back workers’ hours and I’m scared I’ll have to cut back on workers.”
Nielsen also said that an issue with the free parking has been abuse by drivers planning to stay all day, such as local employees.
Burlingame Public Works Director Syed Murtuza said the new free spots have certainly not caused any harm, but said it’s still too early to tell how effective the additional complimentary parking will be.
“There was a concern from people that more people would be taking extended parking, but we do have enforcement and so far there have been no problems,” Murtuza said. “So far it’s been positive and we’re doing everything to move the construction along.”
The city had initially considered making the 75 spaces in Lot C between Donnelly Avenue and Primrose Road free and the 123 spots Lots O and V across from California Drive free, but stuck with just Burlingame Avenue to primarily benefit stores on the avenue, Murtuza said.
Councilwoman Terry Nagel said parking has always been an issue in downtown Burlingame, but that you can always find spaces if you don’t mind walking an extra block. The council doesn’t have any plans for more free parking, she said, especially keeping in mind that the parking meters are helping pay for the streetscape project.
“We do realize that we need to come up with additional parking,” Nagel said. “We won’t allow an ugly parking garage though.”
Copenhagen’s co-owner Ralf Nielsen said they’ve lost some customers due to the construction on Burlingame Avenue between Lorton Avenue and Park Road. He even received a parking ticket recently after a haircut took longer than expected.
“It was $40, thank you very much!” Ralf Nielsen said, sarcastically. “The tickets are outrageous. It leaves a terrible taste in your mouth, so you won’t come back.”
Other owners like Sandra Tung, who has run Mingalaba on Burlingame Avenue for more than five years, said her business didn’t see many problems with parking before the construction.
“The Free Fridays haven’t really helped,” Tung said. “It’s noisy and there’s less people and dust.”
L’Escape Spa’s owner Jennifer Pham is working with the city to find out who is responsible for cracks in the front window of her shop on Burlingame Avenue. The damage occurred after construction began this past spring.
Those farther away from the main street are less bothered.
City Librarian Patricia Harding said the public library, which borders downtown, hasn’t really been affected by the construction. Harding said she is supportive of the city finding more parking options, as parking impacted the library even prior to the streetscape project.
Horst Adam, a customer at Peet’s Coffee and Tea, said he hasn’t seen many results of the new Free Friday policy.
“It still is difficult to get parking spaces and I still see people putting money in the meters on Fridays because they don’t know,” Adam said. “I bet there will be some businesses that go bankrupt. It’s always been kind of difficult to find parking, but it’s been exacerbated.”
Other customers, like Stephanie Engle, who recently started working in Burlingame, wasn’t aware of the Free Friday parking service.
“It probably makes it more difficult for people to find parking since people will take up all the spaces for the day,” Engle said.
Murtuza said signs along downtown, along with the city’s e-newsletter have informed those in the area of the newly free two-hour parking.
The beautification of Burlingame Avenue includes more pedestrian-friendly features, with sidewalks widened from 10 to 16 feet, more landscaping and outside dining space. Parking will move from slanted to parallel and the street’s two lanes will be thinned to a total of 20 feet.
According to a staff report, the estimated loss of revenue from free parking on the avenue is about $5,340 a week. Funding is coming from Burlingame’s capital improvement budget.
The city has outlined plans of the construction on its website. For example, from July 14-19, there will be streetscape project work on Burlingame Avenue between Lorton Avenue and Park Road. There will also be utility work throughout town.
Construction began in April and will be suspended during the holiday season. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the summer of 2014.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105