The county parking clerk is currently making the rounds among Island selectmen with a pitch to increase the fees for parking violations. Clerk Carol Grant’s reasoning goes something like this: the minimum fee for overtime parking of ten dollars is too low and hardly a deterrent for a summer person who has another ten bucks in her pocket to throw down — it’s just the cost of being on vacation.
Tisbury selectmen took the bait and have scheduled a public hearing for September eighteenth to consider increases in parking fees — possibly doubling or tripling them.
But town fathers should be wary of embracing too quickly this pitch to increase parking fees; instead this is a moment to put their thinking caps on.
It is a well-accepted truth that summer parking in the down-Island villages is a nightmare — especially in Vineyard Haven and Edgartown, where street layouts that date to horse and buggy days cause inevitable traffic bottlenecks. Street layouts cannot be changed. But rules and attitudes can.
In Edgartown and Vineyard Haven one-hour parking limits are the general rule on main thoroughfares and side streets while two-hour limits prevail in most town parking lots. The limits are vigorously enforced by summer traffic cops who patrol the streets on foot.
But who comes into town to browse the shops and have lunch, or perhaps a coffee and a quiet read of the newspaper at some streetside cafe, and stays for less than an hour? In that context, one-hour parking limits seem overly harsh and out of sync.
Then there is the matter of Islanders who work all day downtown; unless physically disabled, they should not add to the parking and congestion problem by driving their cars downtown, but should park outside of town and take the bus or even better, walk in — a nice bit of healthy exercise and a pleasant way to clear the head in the busy summer months. In Edgartown free parking is available at the elementary school and at the Triangle. In Vineyard Haven people who work downtown and have no parking at their place of business can also park at the town elementary school, a short walk from Main street. Workers who park outside of town help make the town a better place for daytime visitors during the three busy months of summer. Consider it an act of hospitality. After all, these streets belong to us for the other nine months of the year, free from congestion and crime, a rare thing indeed in today’s hurly burly world.
Meanwhile, Island selectmen, especially in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, would be wise to put parking rules on the table for open-ended discussion and possible rethinking this winter. Staff from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission could be enlisted to help.
Instead of a game plan aimed at generating more revenue for the county and the town (to what end?) a new plan ought to be aimed at making these towns more open and welcoming for visitors. Downtown merchants ought to be part of the discussion.
It is time to ease up on the Draconian parking enforcement mentality that has gripped some parts of the Vineyard in recent years.
After all, this is not the island of Manhattan.