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Amherst to hire private expert to examine parking

  • The parking kiosk in the lot behind CVS Pharmacy on North Pleasant Street in Amherst is shown Sept. 1, 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2018

AMHERST — Developing a plan to better manage public parking and get an accurate tally of how public and private spaces are being used downtown will be directives for a private consultant town officials hope to hire by late summer.

The town this week began advertising for the consultant, who will be paid using $50,000 approved by Town Meeting on a recommendation from the Joint Capital Planning Committee.

Select Board member Connie Kruger, who serves on the Downtown Parking Working Group, said someone who can bring this expertise has been an identified need, but the town had to wait until after July 1, when the money became available, to seek the consultant.

The first task will be to provide information about how to better manage the parking system, which has about 650 spaces.

“We felt we wanted a parking management plan for downtown,” Kruger said.

She said the working group has been interested in making changes to the permit parking system, used by employees who work downtown, as well as some residents who live downtown. But even though adjustments were considered to the price of the permits, there was no information about how this might be done.

The second task will be to update parking counts, the first since NelsonNygaard Consulting Associates completed a study in spring 2016. The counts of how spaces are being used has to be done when the University of Massachusetts is in session.

This report will help evaluate how a package of parking changes implemented last November are working.

“It will assess the impact of our changes, whether we made the right changes or not,” Kruger said.

These adjustments included increasing the cost of parking from 50 cents an hour to $1 an hour at 324 metered spaces, extending enforcement until 8 p.m. at all spaces and implementing a pay-by-license plate system.

Regular turnover of prime parking spaces was the aim of these changes, as well as creating other spots where vehicles can be parked for extended periods.

Some observers have argued that spaces in the town-owned lot off North Prospect Street are now being used by local college students because it is cheaper to park there than on campus.

The consultant will also study how downtown development is affecting available parking. By the time any surveys and counts are done, the new One East Pleasant mixed-use project will have residential and commercial tenants, likely impacting the spaces that are available.

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