2017-06-01 / Opinion

EDITORIAL

Making Space for Summer Visitors

The Memorial Day weekend typically serves as the unofficial start of summer and, hopefully a successful, busy season. However, with the construction on the Pell and Mount Hope bridges, the summer of 2017 will not be without challenges.

The arrival of the summer season also forces us to acknowledge other realities of being a tourist destination. With the increase in visitors making a day trip to Newport comes the issue of parking.

Some might suggest that Newport has a parking problem. We suggest that Newport has a parking management problem. There are ample parking spaces available in the city if you just think outside the box. But not all of them are accessible to the public. And, most of the time, these spaces are empty. Over the years there have been discussions about private valet services at key locations. Unfortunately, those attempts have failed. And where are we in the debate on going vertical? The Mary Street lot is not a viable option. But what about adding another level or expanding the lot at The Visitor's Center? New strategies can surely be developed.

Metered parking along upper Thames Street is an effective way to ensure that there is circulation of parking spaces. Self-pay at the Mary Street lot is also limited to two to three hours. For residents and visitors, a typical lament is that they can’t take in a movie and dinner without worrying about the meter running out or having to move the car. With circulation limited to such a short time, it also excludes those visitors who want to make a day of it in the City by the Sea. Parking at the Visitor’s Center is an alternative, but signage is ineffective. Despite its proximity to the Broadway neighborhood, it is not clear to someone who does not know the area how close they are to restaurants.

The owners of the surface lot next to the main fire station on Marlborough Street are generous in allowing employees at downtown businesses to park all day at a reduced cost. But while it is convenient to park next to or in front of your place of work or business, there is a negative impact of this on visitors.

Some private property owners and even some churches offer public parking for a fee; we wish more would consider doing this.

Resident sticker parking is yet another issue. In the Broadway area, where the side streets are reserved for residents with stickers and a robust level of activity in the evening is desirable, there needs to be some discussion and consideration of taking advantage of church and school parking lots.

Traffic flow along America’s Cup Avenue, lower Thames Street, Spring Street, and upper Bellevue Avenue is already slow at best when the number of visitors to the area increases. As the Pell Bridge off-ramp project moves forward, consideration should also be given to establishing parking at the Newport Grand site. Offering affordable parking at that location, supplemented by an inexpensive trolley bus system with routes to downtown, Broadway, Bellevue Avenue and Easton’s Beach, would go a long way to easing traffic congestion and addressing parking woes.

There are numerous examples where these types of trolley bus systems are operating successfully and enhance the visitor’s experience. For a small fee, riders can get on a bus at numerous locations, move around the city, go to the beach, come back downtown and eventually return to their cars and be close to the “exit” sign at the end of the day.

Community discussion on improving parking for residents and non-residents alike is long overdue. Oftentimes we have heard of visitors who come for an evening at a local restaurant and have unintentionally parked in a resident parking area or private lot, and then returned to their cars to find either a parking ticket or, worse, that their cars had been towed. We don’t think this is the kind of message the city or business owners want to send our guests.

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