The Parking Commission’s recent decision to mull metered parking on Saturdays downtown — Saturdays are now free — has been met with a mixed chorus of cheers and groans by downtown business owners.
The problem is complex. In a nutshell, as the number of downtown residents increases, so does the strain on nearby public parking. The epicenter of this strain is the end of Railroad Avenue and the lots closest to the new Morse Steel condo sites.
These residents are bringing undeniable positives to the downtown, increased foot traffic being prominent among them. What they are also bringing is more cars downtown, especially weekend visitors. These visitors are clogging the end of Railroad with vehicles that arrive on Fridday and don’t move until Sunday, hogging spaces meant, for example, for weekend shoppers, visitors to Farmers Market, and those coming downtown for dinner.
What is the point of an increasingly vital downtown if people think they are going to have to park four blocks from their destination?
Thus, the idea of metered Saturday parking. If these visitors have to feed a meter all day Saturday, the theory is they will opt to park farther away, scattering and diluting their impact throughout nonmetered areas of the city instead of focusing it on one problem area.
Of course, the idea of Saturday metered parking does not go over nearly as well with business owners farther away from the problem’s epicenter on Railroad. They rightfully view free Saturdays as an incentive for shoppers, and feeding meters as a disincentive. Whether plunking 50 cents into a meter on Saturday is a deal-breaker for most local shoppers is certainly up for debate, but it easy to see where these business owners are coming from.
The most common-sense solution, and one that has been discussed by the commission, would be metered Saturday parking in only the most afflicted areas. It will be argued that this will only push the tidal wave of weekenders from Railroad and State Street into the adjoining streets, creating a problem where there wasn’t one before — but that doesn’t mean that the concept shouldn’t be tested, or is without worth. Whatever the outcome of the commission’s findings, one thing is clear: As this town grows, clever solutions will need to be found for new problems that arrive in our city, piggybacking with the new residents, and city government needs to be fluid and ready to accept these challenges.
By Rick Dalvit