The end of a three-day weekend, start of school vacation week, construction and 80-degree weather made Monday a difficult day for beach traffic.
One of the city's first major beach days left 20 or so towed cars, a half dozen accidents, and a car parked in the middle of Witham Street in its wake.
Yet the city did not collect a dime from the thousands of cars parked in its beach lots. And while the day kept police in constant response to traffic calls, no city Public Works employees were available to help with managing the beaches or the traffic — and Marc Cole, the assistant director of Department of Public Works, said there wasn't much his department could have done about it.
"By ordinance, we can't do anything before May 1," Cole said Tuesday.
The city ordinance, he said, prevents the DPW from officially opening or staffing the beaches before May, regardless of the weather, the forecasts — or how much revenue the city might project from collecting for parking or other services.
Cole added that the DPW hasn't hired its crew of parking attendants and lifeguards yet, and it traditionally doesn't until colleges let out in May and city schools let out in June.
Once the facilities are opened, the city keeps about five or six lot attendants on duty at both Good Harbor and Wingaersheek beaches and at Stage Fort Park, plus a supervisor at each location.
The Police Department opened the beach parking areas to vehicle traffic Monday morning and had opened them twice in March during a week of unusually high temperatures.
While the city is allowed to open the beach parking area before May, according to Gloucester's beach and Stage Fort Park regulations, it can't charge anyone for using them. The city can collect fees from May to September and is required to collect fees from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It also posts lifeguards from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Monday, said Cole, both visitors and residents who haven't picked up their beach stickers were clearly expecting to get in for free. Even if the city collected fees that day, he added, it wouldn't have been worth the aggravation for parking attendants.
The other problem, he said, was that beach infrastructure isn't yet in a summer mode.
"We haven't even turned the water on for either place," he said.
Monday's crowds, however, created a nightmare far beyond the beaches and the coastline. A flood of Patriot Day motorists contributed to backing up traffic past Exit 14, in Wset Gloucester ,on Route 128 for much of the day.
Further complicating the situation, the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge remained closed to one lane in each direction, and the beach traffic clogged traffic headed the other way along Eastern and Bass avenues and Thatcher Road back into Rockport.
"It would be helpful if the city had attendants (on duty)," city Police Chief Mike Lane acknowledged.
While attendants would have prevented much of the double and disorganized parking that flooded Good Harbor and Wingaersheek lots, Lane added that the city really doesn't have a reason for staffing them if it can't collect fees to cover the costs.
He noted that police opening the gates Monday didn't solve the city's traffic problems.
On Monday, police had roughly two dozen vehicles towed from nearby streets where they had parked illegally — some of them right in the middle of the road.
Lane said his department didn't have the manpower to walk the beach and tell people to move their cars. Most of his officers, he said, were also dealing with traffic tangles downtown and with a rash of accidents as a number of the drivers crowding into the city literally found themselves on collision courses to get where they were going.
Police dealt with multi-car pileups on the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge and at both Grant and Blackburn circles.
"I have four to five guys out there (at a time)," Lane said. "I do what I can with what I have."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.