Parking Plan Presented For Downtown Pittsfield

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Ralph De Nisco of Nelson Nygaard along with Lisa Jacobson presented the plan to city officials and residents on Wednesday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There are 1,337 public parking spots downtown but less than half of them are being utilized each day.

"Everybody wants to be in the same place and then saying there is a parking problem," Ralph De Nisco, a principal with the consulting firm Nelson Nygaard said Wednesday night.

The firm was paid $75,000 by the city to take a comprehensive look at the parking situation downtown — a study required in part of a state grant the city received to reconstruct the McKay Street parking garage.

The findings show that the city particularly needs change the value of various lots.

"It is a chance to step back and look at all of the things going on in downtown Pittsfield," De Nisco said. "It is not just a question of 'do you have enough parking?'"

Of the total parking — 6,332 spots — 62 percent of the parking downtown is privately owned. City-issued permit spots equal 1,337 spots and the rest vary with time-based restrictions.

"There is no pubic parking space available for a customer or visitor for more than three hours," he said, adding to the point of the city having many restricted areas for visitors.

The firm looked at the city's busiest night — a Third Thursday street festival — and found only half of the city's public spots were being used. Some of the lots were full or nearly full while others were nearly empty.

"There are spaces available in the garages," De Nisco said.

Meanwhile, according to senior associate Lisa Jacobson, during a typical day 80 percent of the downtown employees surveyed say they park within a block of their work. While 47 percent of all residents surveyed say they don't come downtown often because parking is "inconvenient."

The First Street lot is an example of that, the consultants said, and they suggested that those who work in City Hall park elsewhere or pay a premium price for specific spots.

The survey and a public meeting also found confusion over where motorists can park or what the regulations are in the various spots.

"We even heard several times from people who live in town who didn't know if the McKay Street garage is open to the public," Jacobson said.

The consultants made an array of suggestions on how to manage the parking better. The first and most important, according to the firm, is to revamp the pricing to reflect lot demand, increase signage, establish clear oversight of parking and match zoning with the city's goals.

"You can't just pick one of these," Jacobson said of the plan, which is designed to have all aspects of the changes working in tandem with each other.

First, the consultants say the city needs to place a premium price on parking right on North Street. Instead of limiting the on-street by time, they said raise the price to 50 cents an hour. However, they added that parking for less than 30 minutes should be free.

"Those spaces on North and South Street are your most valuable spaces. They are at the doorsteps of your businesses. And right now, those aren't being treated that way," she said.

What that increase — coupled with increases and different value on the side streets — will do is encourage people to park further away from their destination to save a few bucks. Thus, that will open more spaces on North Street.

Further, the survey and study shows that residents want to stay longer than three hours so if they want to, let them, the consultants said. But, they'll be paying a premium price for it until 8 p.m.. Otherwise, there are locations costing less and even free.

"We think there are some off-street lots and garages that should have a fee and some that shouldn't," she said.

The top floor of the McKay Street lot is recommended to be free with no time restrictions. Hopefully, this will encourage people who plan on staying for a full day to fill up those spots. All off-street lots should be free after 4 p.m., Jacobson said.

On the busiest days, only half of the available parking spots are used.

The second important thing is to add and make signage clear. De Nisco said even people who live here don't know they can park in many of the public facilities.

The whole system is designed to tell people where they can't park instead of showing them where they can.

Jacobson said the city needs to revamp signage by putting them in strategic places and then adding signage to direct people around the downtown after they park.

Additionally, the city's website contains no information on parking, various downtown companies provide different information and the best map the consultants found wasn't properly labeled. They said there needs to be a live map that can be shared through the website so visitors know where they can park before even coming to the city.

When it comes to managing the parking situation, De Nisco said there are various departments heading different areas. There isn't a clear person responsible for parking issues. The city needs to create a parking committee to implement these changes, update the parking ordinances to match the changes and then put staff directly in charge of all parking.

Later, the city should look to form a parking authority and should establish a fund for parking revenues downtown to go directly back to the downtown. This will help for long-term maintenance and building the base for any long-term repairs or new facilities.

The final piece to the puzzle is to change the zoning regulations regarding parking to match the various types of business. Parking won't help attract visitors, he said, businesses do. But the zoning regulations for parking requirements could keep businesses from coming, he said.

Those will make the most immediate difference in the downtown parking situation, they said. But, there are also secondary and supportive strategies to continue to build from that point.

After establishing the new plan, the creation of a parking benefit district would direct the use of the funds generated. This would be coupled with signs explaining to people that the money is going right back in. These revenues will go for increased lighting, improving alleyways, increased snow removal and more.

"If you do have a parking crunch and you do need to build a garage, this would be the start of the funding stream," Jacobson said.

The consultants also say the city needs to plan ahead of time for event parking and at these peak demand times, put extra signage for out, provide maps with ticket purchases and establish drop-off and pickup zones.

Parking Points
Raise parking fees 50 cents an hour; free for under 30 minutes on North Street.
Better signage to direct motorists to parking lots
Plan ahead for events and peak times
Develop parking committee, or parking authority
Invest fees back into parking maintenance
Consolidate enforcement; use personnel as guides as well

Next, enforcement would be re-envisioned. Instead of just writing tickets, enforcement personnel should act as an ambassador to look out for safety issues and help guide visitors. Jacobson added that by changing the parking to be mostly metered without time limits, the enforcement labor is decreased significantly.

The city should also begin to look at areas where parking supply could be added if needed. She said there are places to add spots and that private lots could also be leased. The First and Fenn Street lot should be completely redesigned to reduce the number of curb cuts, easing traffic circulation and adding spaces.

Lastly, as "supportive" measures, the city should also look at the alleyways and pedestrian routes.

"Even just some lighting, some paint, maybe a mural, and some seating can really go a long way," Jacobson said.

The city should keep in mind the peak times for multiple uses — such as a residential unit that uses parking mostly at night while a doctor's office is used during the day — to maximize the use of lots.

And the city should eventually look to encourage public transit and biking if the demand begins to grow too dramatically.

The study will be more defined if residents and city officials feel the proposal is going in the right direction.

"These are viewed to be preliminary. This isn't a done deal. We want to get your input on what to do next," said the city's Director of Community Development Douglas Clark.

The ultimate implementation will be up to city leaders. De Nisco said similar recommendations have been implemented in just months but if leaders and residents are in disagreement, then it could take years.

Tags: downtown,   parking,   

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By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

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