The idea of abandoning the use of Gloucester’s downtown parking meters, to provide an incentive for downtown shoppers is an idea that has surfaced time and time again over the years — and, time and time again, it’s gone nowhere.
Yet a number of factors suggest that now is an ideal time to at least look into just such an option for Main Street. And the proposal being advanced by City Councilor and former mayor Bruce Tobey, which faces a continued public hearing tonight (see news story, Page 1), is indeed worth a try.
Tobey’s plan calls for suspending the use of the meters along Main Street only for a three-month period in January, February and March – a time frame when residents, not visitors, would be the ones primarily feeding the meters in the first place — should indeed give us all a chance to gauge whether taking out the Main Street meters altogether would provide the intended lift for downtown businesses.
It should also give us the chance to see whether dropping the use of the meters would be manageable on other counts – including whether police would be able to effectively enforce a limit of perhaps two hours, which would be needed to combat the most likely problem keeping downtown employes or even those who live above the stores from dominating the spots.
Yet other communities that have gone meterless have effectively policed the system, notably through having parking enforcement personnel use chalk to mark vehicles’ tires, then return two hours later to check if any vehicles with chalked tires are still there, in violation of the parking limits. And Gloucester police have perhaps a better means of keeping tabs on parked cars than those in other communities through the use of the license-plate readers the city acquired last year.
The other likely concern, of course, is the potential loss of city parking revenue.
Yet, remember that the city went several weeks while generating no revenue from several spots on Rogers Street and in its municipal parking lots there during construction of the new HarborWalk, with no screaming nor gnashing of teeth from City Hall. And remember also that these free spots, while hopefully giving a boost to downtown businesses, will also continue to generate revenue through enforcement against the two-hour limit violators.
Are there other questions regarding this potential Main Street change? No doubt.
Yet that’s the best reason to launch it as a three-month pilot project. And that temporary project, at least, is an investment city councilors should support and approve.