Study: Falls remote parking ‘under used’

Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 14, 2017

SHELBURNE FALLS — In what Selectman Andrew Baker deemed “a glass half-full” report, a detailed parking study found that the Shelburne side of the village has adequate parking — if people just look beyond two blocks of Bridge Street and the public lot between Main and Water streets.

The Shelburne Selectboard heard the outcome of a parking study conducted this summer through a $15,000 Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Technical Assistance Grant.

This year, parking issues have arisen, along with the enforcement of two-hour parking limits on Bridge Street. Also, the new owners of the former Singley furniture building and a building lot at the other end of Bridge Street have been concerned about the number of new parking spaces they are required to provide, according to the town’s zoning bylaws.

Selectmen hoped the study would help the town better plan for future retail and residential growth in the village.

At peak parking hours, between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., parking spaces on both Bridge Street and the public lot behind it are at least 90 percent full, while free public parking lots off Deerfield Avenue, Cross Street and near the old Arms Academy rarely climb beyond 30 percent full, according to a study, completed by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting of Boston for the town, with a $15,000 grant from the state Department of Housing and Economic Development.

“You definitely have a parking problem in your core area, if you come into town not knowing there are other spaces,” said Stantec consultant Liza Cohen, in a presentation to the Selectboard.

Before creating more parking in the walkable village area, with its close cluster of historic buildings, the study recommended making better use of the existing lots.

The parking data collection was gathered in August, on a busy Thursday when there were many visitors. The number of parked cars were counted in both on-street and off-street parking areas at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 1, 2, and 5 p.m. The study found the village section of Shelburne has 375 available parking spaces, including on-street, off-street lots and restricted parking (for employees, customers only, or handicap accessibility).

Overall, the study found that downtown parking “is no more than 54 percent utilitized.” But the problem is that “Everybody wants to park on Bridge Street,” said Cohen.

“By 1 p.m., Bridge Street and the parking lot behind it was entirely full, except for two handicap-access spots,” she said. “By 2 p.m., they were still busy, but the remote lots were still fairly empty.”

The remote lots were almost always under-used, she said.

During a public outreach session, in which people on the street were invited to talk to consultants at an outdoor table, consultants learned that many people didn’t know there were parking lots off Deerfield Avenue or Cross Street. She said visitors from out of town wouldn’t easily find these lots or feel comfortable driving to them from the side streets.

“If people want to go to BAKED, their GPS gets them there; they stop at the door, then they don’t know where to park,” said Cohen. Although the parking lot off Deerfield Avenue is close to BAKED restaurant, people either don’t know it’s there or don’t want to use it.

“They don’t like parking down Deerfield Avenue at night,” said Cohen. “It gets creepy. People don’t want to walk farther away.”

“So, at first blush, it’s a glass-half-full presentation,” said Baker. “There’s plenty of capacity — all spaces being equal. But the remote, unknown spaces are the problem.”

Those who commented during the public outreach part of the study said they wouldn’t mind parking farther away and walking to Bridge Street, if they knew where the other lots were. Most didn’t want the town to build a parking garage; and most didn’t want parking meters or paid parking. They like and wanted to keep the diagonal parking on Bridge Street.

The study noted that tourists come for the town’s historic character, architecture and natural assets. “You want your parking to support your downtown — not build the downtown around parking,” said Cohen.

The study recommended enhancing and making better use of existing lots. Suggestions included putting up more signs directing motorists to lesser-known parking lots; putting in improvements, lighting and a walkway to and from the Deerfield Avenue lot. The report suggested having designated parking for buses, and creating a parking area map that could be linked online to the village website, www.shelburnefalls.com.

Besides having two-hour parking limits on Bridge Street, Cohen suggested setting up four-hour limits in parking areas behind Bridge Street. She said this would deter business employees from parking in spaces that customers or tourists might use for shorter periods. She said this could be a seasonal policy, so that employees would park further away in the summer, and closer in the winter, when there is less demand for spaces.

Cohen said traditional zoning for parking unintentionally creates extra parking space by requiring parking spaces that may only be filled for part of the day. For instance, an office parking lot may only be full for eight hours, and empty at night. Perhaps it could be used at night for parking at a nearby restaurant. She said one way to diminish the amount of required parking would be for businesses or shops, with different “peak hours” to share parking areas.

“Maximize existing resources before you try to build something else,” she said. Cohen also suggested talking to owners of parking areas that are restricted to employees or customers only, to see if they would be willing to share their parking areas for public use at night or on days when the businesses are closed.