PITTSFIELD — In a move that would pave the way for sweeping changes to downtown parking, Mayor Linda M. Tyer is presenting the City Council on Tuesday night with an ordinance to allow kiosk-style meters and orders to establish parking meter zones and fees.
The changes come as the city is poised to implement parking recommendations from a consultant and a companion management study committee's report adopting many of the consultant's recommendations.
Among those recommendations are encouraging downtown business employees to use lower-cost parking spots further from the most popular spots along the North Street corridor and eliminating a time limit on spaces in some parking lots.
A prime goal is to free up spaces for business customers and to develop a fee system that charges more for the most coveted spaces downtown.
Acknowledging the study group's recommendations took time to put into specific proposals, Jesse Cook-Dubin, an attorney who is president of the business organization, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., said Monday "there were a lot of logistical" issues for the group and stakeholders to work through.
But now the city has ordered the electronic metering kiosks, which he said are solar-powered and allow payment with change, a credit card or through a smart phone. The latter would allow a person to add minutes or hours via a phone message from a restaurant, theater or other venue if the meter time is running down.
"For the most part, the downtown business community has been supportive," Cook-Dubin said, but "they are paying attention to the details" as the implementation unfolds.
Some, however, like Beacon Cinema owner Richard Stanley, are strongly opposed to the idea of metered parking.
"Anybody who would think charging for parking would encourage people to come downtown, I think that person is reading from a book that is upside down," Stanley said. "This is shooting ourselves in the foot."
As proposed, the first 30 minutes of parking downtown would be free within the two zones proposed for the North Street corridor and for the areas around the Berkshire Medical Center complex.
After 30 minutes, a fee of up to $1 per hour could be charged in the central downtown, and a fee of up to $3 per hour could be charged on streets around the hospital complex, according to the proposal.
The designated rate for hourly parking in municipal lots would be set at 75 cents per hour.
Cook-Dubin said having the first 30 minutes of metered parking time remain free "was a critical issue" with many downtown merchants. He also noted that it is expected that the parking fees would cover only daytime hours, not evenings, and would not be imposed on weekends.
He added that the consulting firm, Nelson-Nygaard, advised those on the 18-member Downtown Parking Management Committee that "this is a long process, and a learning process," and that refinements might be made, depending on how the new system is working.
Show of support
Steven Valenti, owner of Steven Valenti Clothing on North Street, said the consulting firm has worked with many other cities on similar issues, "and their expertise is parking."
For that reason, he believes the new system should be given a chance. Valenti said encouraging a turnover of parking spaces along North Street during the day could have the beneficial effect of freeing spaces in front of his and other businesses.
The 30 minutes of free parking, plus any parking vouchers merchants might developed as needed, should ease the transition to metered parking, he said.
"Should we give this a chance? Probably," Valenti said. "We will see how it works."
He added, "I think everything can be tweaked," as he said other communities apparently have done when implementing similar parking strategies.
Through her spokeswoman, Director of Administrative Services Roberta McCulloch-Dews, Tyer declined comment on Monday, pending an opportunity for the public and officials to weigh in during the upcoming adoption process.
Cook-Dubin also noted that another reason cited for developing a new system was that not enough money was being generated to maintain the city's parking garages and lots and cover other parking-related expenses.
Free vs. paid
Stanley said he remains philosophically opposed to charging for downtown parking, when other shopping centers and the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough offer free parking.
He said that, in Great Barrington, where he owns the Triplex Cinema, officials try to work with merchants or employees regularly using prime downtown parking spaces, trying to persuade them to change where they park, rather than implementing a fee for those spots.
In attempting to generate traffic and shopping downtown, Stanley said, it is illogical to give visitors a reason to stay away. He added that those areas that do charge more for a prime parking area tend to be those with a natural, cultural or sports attraction, where visitors are more willing to pay a fee to park.
During the parking study process, the local committee supplied comments, information and feedback to Nelson-Nygaard — transportation planners based in San Francisco with offices in several other cities and considered a leader in the field. The firm has undertaken studies in Boston, Springfield, Northampton, Nantucket and other locations in Massachusetts.
The study included public information and input sessions and an online survey conducted by the consultants.
Among other recommendations emerging from the study were that more prominent and clearly marked signs be installed directing visitors, especially those from out of town, to the parking garages and parking lots. Much of that apparently has been installed, Valenti said, greatly improving visibility and clarifying parking options.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.