Clarence Fanto: Time limit for parking too short?

Sunday July 28, 2013

LENOX -- Finding a $10 parking ticket on your windshield is mildly irritating to many people, while others take it as a deep personal insult. That's especially likely if they had no way of knowing about time limits or if they're visiting a vacation destination like ours and just dropped several hundred bucks in shops and eateries.

Two-hour parking limits in town -- reimposed for July and August after a decadelong hiatus of nonenforcement despite being on the books -- are the hot-button issue this season. Alas, some of the good folks in Town Hall and at the police station are taking a lot of flak simply for following directives from the Select Board, a group of five worthy gentlemen who seem to have the best interests of the town at heart.

Complainers who show up in the town clerk's office and at the police station are a mix of local folks and out-of-towners, we're informed.

Parking in Pittsfield and in Great Barrington can be tough at certain times, especially in summer, but no one can claim ignorance of the rules. It appears that just about every block in those downtowns is clearly marked, and there's also adequate municipal parking. Some wags have suggested that Lenox needs a parking garage. That's about as likely as the Red Sox putting up a dome over Fenway Park.

The problem in Lenox stems from some business owners and employees who have filled spaces all day in the small downtown hub, making it harder for their customers to park short-term for a meal or a haircut, or to make a purchase on the five shopping boulevards in town -- Main, Franklin, Church, Housatonic and a sliver of Walker Street.

So, the plan to enforce the two-hour limit put forth by the Select Board was worthy in its intent. Maybe I'm lucky, but I've found it easier to find spaces in town this summer. By one count, there are only 35 street spaces available in the heart of the historic village district. But there are several all-day municipal lots and plenty of spaces a block or two away.

The trouble is, enforcement of the two-hour parking restriction was approved only several weeks before tourist season began and some blocks still lack adequate signage to alert visitors. (Local residents have no excuse if they claim ignorance, since the limits, in effect 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, have been widely publicized).

Another point made by some critics is that two hours aren't enough if people want to eat a leisurely brunch or lunch and then explore shops and galleries.

It would make sense for the Select Board to discuss the merits of extend the town bylaw from a two-hour limit to three hours, though town meeting voters would have to approve a change. Certainly, adding plenty of temporary signs attached to lampposts stating the rules is vital during the summertime enforcement period. Perhaps, for consistency, the limits should be observed for six months a year, May through November, or longer, though funding for police parking patrols would be needed.

There's no reason Lenox should be exempt from sensible parking rules that are commonplace in virtually every other community, especially in resort areas. But it makes no sense to bite too hard on the out-of-town hands that feed the town. We've heard about one woman who claimed that she spent $400 shopping and dining, got a $10 ticket, and now intends to stay away. Her loss, it would be tempting to respond. But engendering ill will is not the way to curry favor with the tourist trade.

Fair, clearly posted parking restrictions, ideally three hours, should be the ticket for next summer and beyond.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


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