Parking in Amherst is ‘tight at times,’ consultants say

  • Parking meters on South Pleasant Street in Amherst. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/13/2019 12:11:52 AM

AMHERST — Parking availability in downtown Amherst is limited during certain times of the day and, because of few directional signs and a variety of parking rules and regulations, can be confusing for visitors.

Unveiled at a community forum at the Bangs Community Center Thursday, the initial findings from Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates of Boston, which completed surveys of parking use in March, show that there is often heavy demand for public parking in Amherst center, at times above 85 percent, which consultant Matt Smith can be considered perfect peak utilization.

“It is not a perception problem, it is a reality it’s tight at times,” Smith told the 40 or so people in attendance, including town officials and many from the business community. “It’s consistent, there is high utility of your public parking,”

Despite the good use of town parking, Smith cautioned against constructing a second parking garage due to its expense, and instead suggested town officials should focus on improving the current parking system and find ways to maximize what works well.

The low-end cost of building structured parking is $40,000 per space, Smith said, and the town would need to make $275 per month on each space to pay off the debt.

The consultants found 3,294 spaces in downtown, with about 60 percent, or 1,962 spaces, in private lots. The remaining 40 percent are public spaces, with 696 metered spaces available to the public throughout the day, 356 that are permit parking and restricted during weekday work hours to those whose vehicles have stickers, and 280 spaces that are unregulated, and mostly on the edges of downtown.

Parking demand peaks at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursdays, with over 90 percent of the public spaces found to be occupied. “That’s uncomfortable,” Smith said.

On Saturdays at 1 p.m. it also “gets a little tight,” Smith said, and then peaks again in the evening.

Some spaces do go mostly unused, he said, though these tend to be on the periphery of downtown.

There also appears to be a lack of understanding from the public that they can use the permit parking spaces after 5 p.m. weekdays and throughout the day on weekends.

By this summer, Nelson\Nygaard will develop detailed recommendations for a parking management plan and provide a roadmap of both low-cost options, such as restriping spaces, and high-cost options, including a garage or partnerships with owners of private lots. Smith said there will be “implementation-based solutions” recommended.

Since the company last did a study three years ago, the Downtown Parking Working Group successfully brought forward recommendations to consolidate the time limits at metered spaces and in parking lots, implement demand-based pricing in which spaces closer to the heart of downtown are more expensive, adjusted the rate structure and created new payment technologies, such as the Park Mobile app for smartphones.

But Smith said there are some problems with the system, such as enforcement ending at 6 p.m. in some spaces and 8 p.m. at others., and too many parking signs faded or torn, or never installed, and others put in awkward places, such as the blue banner for the Boltwood parking garage on the opposite side of Main Street, rather than at the entrance.

Planning Director Christine Bresrtup said installation of wayfinding signs continues to be in process, with recent approval from the Design Review Board of some of these signs.

The wayfinding will include kiosks at major arrival locations with maps for parking, Brestrup said.

Smith also called on the town to have a point person at Town Hall, a parking management leader, focused on the subject.

Carol Johnson, executive director of the Amherst Cinema, said parking is the number one issue and main complaint from patrons. Any improving or simplifying the system will benefit the cinema, as well as restaurants and shops.

“I’m heartened that we’re looking at ways to improve parking with the assets we have now,” Johnson said. “It’s refreshing to think we’re looking at parking in a global sense and figuring out how what we have can work better for the community.”

Downtown Parking Group Chairwoman Christine Gray-Mullen said her committee is eager to assist in having future recommendations from Nelson\Nygaard adopted, observing that the consultants have a good grasp of Amherst’s situation.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.



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