Too many cars and nowhere to put them
At one point an exasperated Martha Ball said, “This is just a feel-good venting thing,” of the Town Council’s work session
on September 7.
The subject was parking and congestion, particularly in the downtown area and despite Councilor Ball’s frustration, the meeting generated a few useful and novel ideas.
Roads are narrow, cars are bigger, and people bring too many of them to the island.
“The goal of this session is to get ideas on the board,” said Second Warden Sven Risom who was chairing the meeting in First Warden André Boudreau’s absence.
“I will start by stating the obvious,” said Town Council member Mark Emmanuelle. “Downtown is downtown. You can’t fit 10 pounds of flour in a five-pound bag.” Emmanuelle, who drives a cab, thought he was in a particularly good position to see what goes on compared with some of his fellow council members.
One of his observations is that there is a flow of people coming from Weldon’s Way through the arch by Odd Fellows, who then cross the street there, cutting through a handicapped parking space instead of using the nearest crosswalk. He recommended moving that handicap space, and one in another location, to either side of where Chapel Street ends at Water Street. He also felt that because it would be easier to park there, the flow of traffic would be better.
“Another idea,” said Emmanuelle, “is enforcement, which I see lacking,” especially on Water Street and near the statue of Rebecca, where people “barrel through.” He suggested having community service or other officers directing traffic at more places than just the ferry, including Bridgegate Square.
For his part, Councilor Keith Stover said: “It’s not my area of expertise, but I do know there are people out there who know what they’re talking about.” He suggested a working group with people that are “on the roads,” and perhaps including funds in next year’s budget for some “traffic-planning expertise.”
“If you notice,” Stover said, “we took action on Old Town Road. I think it was pretty clear to us it was mostly employee parking.” He then threw out a few ideas as to how the need for employee parking could be lessened – perhaps by encouraging carpooling, or changing ordinances to require new businesses have more parking available than is currently required.
“I do have a couple of observations,” said Ball, “because, actually, I do see a lot of what goes on downtown.” One was that when the police are directing the traffic coming off the boats, cars coming down Spring and High Streets end up getting backed up. That back up is “going to last two minutes,” she said. “I really want to go out there and say ‘you asked for it, you got it.’ The level of incivility, the level of lousy drivers, the level of impatience …We’re not Boston. We’re not going to tear everything down to build great big highways to accommodate everybody and their 16 cars.”
Too many cars, Ball said, is a problem all over the island.
When Cindy Pappas, who runs a real estate business got up to comment, she said that although the contracts for rental houses ask that people only bring two cars per house, “it’s pretty much ignored, and I don’t know how it can be enforced.”
Pappas also called for encouraging more use of bicycles on the island, and not just by creating bike paths along existing roadways. She pointed out that the Greenway hiking trails prohibit cycling, but if it was an option
to create “off-road” bike paths, it could be a “marvelous experience.”
On the enforcement side, resident Bill McCombe said “what really gets people’s attention is when they get towed.”
That led to a discussion of the need for a tow lot, a subject also brought up by Molly O’Neill who serves on the Police Advisory Commission, which has also been studying the problem of insufficient and illicit parking.
Risom asked Town Manager Maryanne Crawford if the matter of having a town tow lot was being worked on or if it was “on the back burner.”
Crawford responded: “More on a back burner.”
And that led Stover to conjecture as whether it might be a less expensive and easier solution to employ boots.
When a portion of Corn Neck Road was rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy washed it away, the shoulders were quite narrow, leading to problems of pedestrians and bicycles spilling over into the line of traffic. Ball said when the lines were moved to make the shoulder wider, things improved. But, she said, “every day it seems there’s more and more sand, and less pavement there.”
There was more brainstorming about what the problems were – a proliferation of different types of e-bikes, scooters, and “those one-wheeled things,” and what could be done, if anything about it. But as Ball said towards the beginning of the meeting: “We can throw ideas around and not get anywhere.” She suggested letting the incoming police chief take the lead. “We’ve got new police coming in. I don’t want to hand them things [to do]. That’s their job.”