by Kitty Axelson-Berry and Ira Bryck
Do you have more trouble finding a parking spot in Amherst than in Northampton? Springfield? Do you assume that parking is a bigger problem here? A recent study by Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, an industry leader in planning for all modes of transportation and their associated needs, found that it is not.
Although parking is an emotional touchstone for business owners and visitors everywhere, Nelson/Nygaard have found Amherst is actually doing a decent job managing parking. THey found that problems finding a parking spot at peak times are due to a lack of signage more than a lack of parking spots. Parking reaches nearly perfect peak utilization (85 percent of spaces used) only on Saturdays and Thursdays, both days at about one and seven p.m.
Matt Smith, who presented the results of the study in mid-April, explained that a series of straightforward, cost-effective improvements to our already existing parking would be extremely helpful and quite inexpensive.
For example, Smith said, existing parking spots should be made more visible and user-friendly and should be better maintained. (Residents have observed key downtown spaces going to waste because of overgrown brambles.) Signage should be more easily seen and more understandable, and signs should be placed logically for drivers. Lighting and walkways near parking spots would benefit from some attention. Rates and hours for metered parking should be simplified. Paint lines should be used to alert visitors to otherwise unmarked, empty parking spots.
The study noted that meter-feeding by downtown workers should be discouraged, perhaps by increasing rates for additional hours. Conversely, usage of permit parking a couple of blocks away should be encouraged to free up many of the most convenient spots for shopping, dining, and visiting municipal facilities. The town should do more to educate business owners and their employees about the benefits of using the parking permits.
Valet or attendant parking, which can fit 15 to 20 percent more cars than on-street parking or parking facilities, as well as parking validation stubs from businesses, a grace period before a car is ticketed, and consolidation of government responsibility for parking have been used successfully in other towns, and could be used in Amherst, to increase parking ease and availability.
Meanwhile, a significant number of spaces would be gained by reducing Amherst’s extra-long on-street parking spots to twenty feet in length, and compact cars perpendicularly parked in off-street lots only require sixteen feet.
The full report with recommendations and comparative costs is expected soon.
Amherst’s parking policies can be found here.