2016-08-11 / Front Page

Councilors Debate Parking

By Barry Bridges

A resolution recently brought forth by Newport City Councilors John Florez and Kathryn Leonard that proposed using the Easton’s Beach lots for summertime evening parking morphed into a larger discussion about the city’s continuing traffic woes.

Reporting that “up to 30 percent of traffic in the city can be attributed to people looking for parking,” Florez wanted to investigate the feasibility of a trolley system that would shuttle tourists back and forth between downtown and satellite parking at Easton’s between 5-10 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. He further suggested that tourism-related groups such as the Newport County Chamber of Commerce and the Preservation Society of Newport County could be asked to subsidize the operation.

Beyond the literal terms of the measure that Florez introduced at the council meeting on July 27, he encouraged more deliberation on how to alleviate recurring traffic congestion in the city. “Let’s explore not only this option, but a lot of other options,” he said from the dais.

Leonard agreed on the need for action, asserting that an improving economy is bringing more traffic to town.

“We need to open dialogue and try to get vehicles off the road by promoting alternative modes of transportation,” she said. “We need to find a way to put a transit system in place that doesn’t so heavily impact local residents.”

While several councilors objected to the Easton’s Beach idea, they were in agreement that traffic and parking issues need to be more thoroughly explored.

“Investigating options is a good thing, but here we are talking about a specific solution,” said Councilor Justin McLaughlin. “If a service like this is to be reliable, it would not be inexpensive, and somebody will have to pay for it… the groups mentioned [to possibly subsidize the trolley] may not be contributing to traffic in the evenings.” In any event, he added, “most of the congestion in this community happens before six o’clock at night.”

Councilor Lynn Ceglie also saw drawbacks to directing visitors to Easton’s.

“It seems like the beach would be reasonable until you start thinking of the infrastructure that would have to be put there, like lighting and staff. But I would be in favor of a much more general resolution asking for a [traffic] study and bringing groups to the table,” she said.

Leonard reiterated, “I’m not married to a single idea, let’s just open up the discussion.”

Several councilors mentioned previous traffic studies and the apparent lack of follow-through on an analysis done in 2000.

“We have this habit, we have these concepts, we have these expensive studies and things just get put on the shelf to collect dust. I’m open to other suggestions, but let’s take steps to come up with solutions,” said Florez.

Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano took exception to the statement that earlier work has been ignored. “We tried a trolley and that cost us money, but all of these issues require a lot of time and energy on the part of the administration and the council.”

She was also uncomfortable with passing costs to some tourist related organizations but not others. “I would rather see what things truly cost and the real financial impact to the city, rather than go willy-nilly like this.”

“These organizations are already giving economic benefits to Newport, and I’m not sure we should be going back to them asking for more,” McLaughlin agreed. “But the fundamental problem at this stage isn’t really who’s going to pay for it, but the question is one of where do we park the cars… Unless we’re going to make new land, we may not have a good solution until we can do something in the North End.”

McLaughlin reminded councilors that a valet service operated in the downtown area last summer, but the proprietor did not seek the city’s permission to operate this season.

“They parked 4,000 cars last year, but they didn’t come back to do it again this year,” he said. “There must be some message there… There’s a lot of research that has to be done on these questions.”

Placing traffic congestion in the context of other initiatives, City Manager Joseph Nicholson said, “This problem has been festering for a long time, but I would remind the council that we are attempting to do dramatic things in the North End, some of which involve parking.” He explained that he has “more than one study on my desk” and that “they all address the common question of how to get people out of their cars.

“We can have these grand plans,” Nicholson added, “but we also cannot forget that these things are expensive endeavors, considering all of the things that we are trying to do in Newport.”

Acknowledging that deciding on the best course of action involves many factors, councilors unanimously approved an amended resolution that replaced the Easton’s Beach trolley proposal with broader language directing the administration to “explore parking solutions to address the city’s extensive traffic congestion.”

“We have to proactively revisit this and really take the initiative to do something,” said Florez.

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