BRATTLEBORO—In the first days after Tropical Storm Irene last August, downtown business owners met to discuss their concerns.
Andrea Livermore, executive director of Building a Better Brattleboro (BaBB), expected to hear about mud-caked inventory, water damage, and mildew.
Instead, the conversation right-angled to one of Brattleboro’s perennial kvetches: parking.
The downtown has a reputation for having a hair-pulling parking situation. For most drivers, finding a space proves simple enough. Avoiding parking tickets, wrestling with parking meters and pay-and-display machines, and parking on Main Street? Not as easy.
Frustrated parking discussions have graced many a Selectboard meeting and inspired many a Facebook post.
Livermore said that as a result of the parking conversation, the downtown merchants formed a task force with the Town Transportation Committee and the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce to find ways for lowering the parking headache and ask “what can we, and what can’t we, do about parking in downtown Brattleboro?”
Some options, like doing away with parking meters, were off the table, said Livermore.
When the town built the Transportation Center more than a decade ago, it took out a bond. The parking fund, which as an enterprise fund is intended to garner a profit, helps repay this bond.
So the task force looked for tips and tricks to ease the lives of those spending time downtown.
An educational campaign
The task force will launch an educational campaign starting May 4 during Gallery Walk.
During Gallery Walk, volunteers will hand out a new parking brochure with a map highlighting the downtown’s short-term and long-term parking lots, along with street-metered parking spaces.
The brochure will also contain hints, suggesting, for example, that drivers should save themselves the hassle of worrying about — or receiving — a parking ticket and add the extra quarter to the meter.
“We do have very competent Parking Enforcement Officers and overstaying your time will likely result in your being issued a parking ticket,” the brochure warns. “Again, if you don’t know how long you’re likely to stay, please park in a long-term lot. They are well-located and within an easy walk to all downtown destinations. Spend that additional quarter. It’s worth it!”
Volunteers will also distribute free Smart Cards. Drivers can use the cards, which normally cost $5, in parking meters on the street or at the pay-and-display machines.
Drivers can pre-load the cards with money and add funds to them as needed. The cards can be purchased and recharged at the Transportation Center on Flat Street.
Soon, the Chamber office on Main Street will also have a recharge station.
In mid-April, the town also installed parking ticket drop boxes in some of the lots, said Livermore. Having the opportunity to pay tickets quickly, getting them off the to-do list, can also alleviate some frustration.
According to Livermore, the town has also updated the parking section on its website to make finding information easier. Visit www.brattleboro.org, click on Town Departments, and then Parking Enforcement for more information.
Livermore said that better way-finding signage for downtown is also in production.
The task force explored other ways of paying at the meters and long-term lot machines, like using credit cards or converting the machines to take bills. After contacting towns that have credit-card-enabled meters, the task force scrapped the idea, said Livermore. The credit card transaction fees were too high.
The task force suggested that as parking lot machines wear out they be replaced with machines that accept paper money.
“We can all be mad,” said Livermore. “We can’t change them [the Parking Enforcement Officers] from doing their jobs, but we can change our behavior.”