Nicholas Horton: Parking on Main Street

Published: 5/20/2021 2:12:30 PM

Main Street in Northampton is undergoing a once-in-a-generation reconstruction.

This is a rare opportunity to create a beautiful, innovative, inclusive and prosperous Northampton center. Multiple options have been proposed for the project with various tradeoffs.

Since an area of contention seems to be around parking, I’d like to provide data, not anecdotes, to this conversation. The city’s parking study from 2015 has some useful guidance. The public parking supply included 543 on-street spaces and 1,150 off-street spaces, including the parking garage. A small fraction of the on-street spaces (less than 10%) are on Main Street.

As is common nationwide, peak usage of off-street and on-street public parking was just over 80% of capacity, indicating “that under most typical conditions a driver should be able to find parking within a few blocks.” The report also estimated that during peak daytime usage, “upwards of 23 percent of spaces may be in use by cars staying three or more hours,” limiting turnover for visitors.

Presumably many of those cars belong to downtown employees; perhaps we can find creative ways to bring those employees to downtown without permanently taking so much parking.

Northampton has an active and vibrant downtown. It’s not practical to look to Main Street as the primary location for parking. But the good news is that other spaces exist and can allow us to support Main Street businesses and street life without devoting such a large chunk of Main Street to parking.

In response to the parking study, the city installed improved wayfinding signs, including the two signs that display the number of open spaces in the centrally located Gare Parking garage. Visitors arriving can be directed to the garage with knowledge that there are spaces. That’s a great step.

Could this information also be made available on an app or a website so that those arriving can easily scout parking options? I suspect that this would facilitate more use of these existing spaces and address the modest number of parking spaces that may be turned into 15-minute spaces or other uses.

Nicholas Horton


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