BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — City planners knew the new downtown parking plan wasn’t perfect, but they wanted 90 days to collect and analyze data before recommending changes to a document that took two years to draft and was implemented only this summer.
The City Council can’t wait that long.
On Thursday night, the 11-member council will vote on changes they want in place before the Halloween hordes descend on the city. Other possible amendments are waiting in the wings.
Last night, City Planner Lynn Duncan asked a council committee to hold off for a few weeks to give her department time to study the data it has collected and to submit formal recommendations to “tweak” a comprehensive plan that covers several thousand parking spaces in the downtown.
“We feel it’s premature to start making piecemeal changes,” she said at the start of a meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Ordinances, Licenses and Legal Affairs.
Despite her plea, the committee voted to recommend two changes right away: the elimination of monthly zone passes for a section of Congress Street and a change in parking meters on one side of lower Lafayette Street.
Before voting on the changes, several councilors gave the overall plan a vote of confidence.
“I think, for the most part, the plan is working,” Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel said. “I don’t think we can take this whole plan and tear it up.”
However, there are parts Turiel and others want to see discarded.
As part of its plan, the city created $25 monthly passes that allow motorists to park in zones, some of which are on streets around the perimeter of the city. The idea, planners said, was to create low-cost options to give employees an incentive to park outside of the heart of the downtown, which would leave those more expensive downtown spaces open for shoppers and diners.
The problem, councilors said, is it doesn’t work in several areas.
According to Ward 1 Councilor Bob McCarthy, almost nobody is parking along the Congress Street bridge because passes aren’t being sold for that zone. Worse, he said other motorists can’t park there because it is restricted to people with passes.
“The problem is that when no one buys the passes, you have a whole bunch of empty spaces where no one can park,” McCarthy said.
“With October coming, you have 20 some spots right near the downtown where no one can park. It doesn’t make sense.”
Concerns also were raised about zone passes for Gedney, Norman and Dodge streets, and Holyoke Square, but those issues were kept in committee for the time being.
Councilors also contended that the installation of four-hour meters on lower Lafayette Street, in front of a hardware store and optician, are hurting businesses.
When Ward 7 Councilor Joe O’Keefe said he couldn’t find a space there one day, a city official said an analysis shows that spaces are available.
Tom Daniel, the city’s economic development manager, said they have been monitoring Lafayette Street three times a week, and at least three times on each of those days.
“The data is showing we’re meeting the (plan) objective” of at least one open space per city block, he said.
However, Richard Rizkalla, the owner of Banville Optical, 88 Lafayette St., told a different story. He said many of his elderly customers can’t find parking near the store.
“We’ve seen a dramatic decrease — probably 10 percent of our business has been decreased since parking (meters) went from two to four hours,” he said.
Councilors voted unanimously to recommend returning to two-hour meters. The proposal will go before the full council Thursday for the first of two required votes.
“I put a lot of faith in what store owners are telling us,” Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.