Our Opinion: Paid parking is a downtown reality

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Downtown parking, like trash collection, is one of those Pittsfield issues that never gets entirely resolved or goes away. The downtown parking kiosks have been a simmering issue since they were installed in January of 2017 and the issue erupted this spring when Jim Ramondetta, owner of Berkshire Nautilus, complained to the office of Mayor Tyer and to the City Council that the loss of free parking with the demolition of the Columbus Avenue parking garage would inconvenience customers and cost him business. Councilors now want to take a "hard look" at the city's parking policies (Eagle, May 15).

The parking kiosks were installed by City Hall as part of an agreement in which the city received a state grant of $3.5 million for the $6.5 million renovation of the McKay Street garage. The City Council is entitled to whatever public information about the city's parking system that it believes is relevant but the city won't be getting out of the parking business.

Nor should it. Paid parking should ensure turnover, opening up spaces that when free could be taken up for hours by employees and others who had business downtown for an extended period of time. Downtown parking will always be at a premium because there is relatively little of it, although there is free parking available on side streets for those who are capable of and willing to walk to their destination. (A number of them are listed on Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s website.) Free or paid, parking places directly in front of a retailer will be hard to find.

People who employ the parking app attest to its ease of use, but aging Pittsfield does not have a smartphone APP-friendly demographic. The APP is also of no use to a visitor from out of the area who makes infrequent visits downtown. That said, paying to park is not difficult once drivers get used to providing their license plate numbers when using the kiosks and paying with coins or credit cards. That downtown is divided into three parking zones (the zone number is included on adjacent signs) may confuse people and it is not clear why zones are necessary for such a compact area. Perhaps they can be eliminated in the cause of clarity.

Berkshire Nautilus is a long-time downtown business that has been supportive of downtown initiatives, and perhaps a few free spots can be set aside for it in the Columbus Avenue parking lot. However, the City Council did approve meters in that lot back in 2016 when City Hall began working to alter the downtown parking landscape, and removing parking meters in the lot entirely would eliminate a source of revenue. Street parking is $1 an hour and lot parking is 50 cents an hour, which is not so prohibitive a cost that it should discourage anyone from coming downtown to take advantage of a service or patronize a retail store.

Paid parking downtown represented a change, which in Pittsfield is rarely welcome. If city councilors can come up with ways to make paid parking more palatable to businesses and more customer-friendly they should by all means come forward with them. But paid parking works in other communities and there is no reason why it won't work in downtown Pittsfield.

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