NARRAGANSETT – With members citing a lack of parking in the pier and congestion during the busy summer season, the town council in a recent split vote approved a motion to direct town staff to review a 2011 parking study of the area and provide recommendations to the council to increase parking opportunities by 2022. Dissenting council members Ewa Dzwierzynski and Patrick Murray opposed the motion on the basis that the council itself could review the study and implement changes on a faster timeline.
Narragansett, home to three state beaches and the popular town beach, sees heavy traffic volume throughout the late spring and summer months. Ocean Road, in addition to the town beach, offers many popular destinations for residents, summer residents and tourists alike, including the sea wall, the Towers, restaurants, and public parks. Boon Street, located near the ocean, is a mixed residential and commercial area that is home to many local shops, service businesses and restaurants, as well as a public park. Parking opportunities in both areas have been scarce for a number of years, as the few parking opportunities are typically eaten up by beachgoers.
“The spill-over of beach parking onto town streets has resulted in conflicts with the parking needs of businesses and residents,” the 2011 study, completed by John Burke of Parking and Transit Consulting, reads. “It has also contributed to traffic congestion in business districts and on residential streets. The 240+ free, unrestricted, all-day parking spaces located along the waterfront on Narragansett Avenue and Ocean Road have the opposite effect. These free, high-demand on-street parking spaces actually draw long-term parkers and beach visitors away from parking in the Town’s offstreet beach lots and elementary school lot and from using the Pier Area Shuttle on weekends.”
“They also contribute to traffic congestion in the Pier Area as people search for free parking along the seawall and in the neighborhoods when they can’t find it,” the report continues. “In general, parking pricing is acting as a force to move long-term parking from the off-street paid lots to the streets that remain free and unrestricted.”
Town council president pro tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno, the motion’s sponsor, offered that the study, though from 2011, could still offer a glimpse into the situation and possible solutions.
“The study is old but it has some good information,” she said. “They had some really good recommendations on how to better manage the parking demands at the pier. The bottom line is even though the report’s old, it’s a resource and I think that the pier situation and Boon Street has to have a plan for the future.”
The purpose of the 2011 evaluation was to “identify key strategies and recommendations for better managing parking demand given a reported general lack of available parking during the peak summer season,” with a focus on optimizing the “use of on-street parking given the (sometimes competing) needs of businesses, residents, employees, beach-goers and other visitors.” The review consisted of a one-day site visit, field review, individual meetings with town staff and a review of existing parking regulations, permits and services offered in the Pier Area. A major component of the study was the now-defunct Narragansett Trolley System, which was decommissioned in 2017 due to insurance concerns.
The study offers three solutions: implement time-restricted paid parking On Ocean Road from Beach Street to South Pier Road and on Narragansett Avenue from Caswell Street to Beach Street.
“A three-hour or four-hour time limit would create more turnover and utility of parking spaces for customers of abutting businesses and nearby business districts,” it reads. “It would also allow residents and visitors who frequent the seawall sidewalks ample time for walks along this beautiful stretch of open oceanfront. A three-hour time limit, more than a four-hour limit, would discourage beach goers from parking on-street given the time limitation and walk distance from the restricted streets.”
The time limit and metered parking restrictions are recommended to be enacted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the summer months in the report, along with the parking fee at $1/hour minimum.
“It is recommended that the town install solar powered, credit card enabled, multi-space parking pay stations to reduce the visual impact and space requirements of single space meters,” it reads. “The pay stations would be installed on sidewalk in a pay-by-space format whereby each parking space would be numbered on the curb and center of space and customers would simply key the space number into the pay station, enter the time of their stay, pay by credit card (or optionally bills, coins or cell phone) and go on their way.”
The report also suggests the costs associated with the implementation of the parking meters would be offset by revenue within two to three years.
It was also suggested that the town “secure shared-lot agreements and leases for offstreet parking to support [Narragansett’s] permit program and businesses districts.”
“From observation, it appears there are several underutilized privately held off-street parking lots in the Pier Area that represent opportunities for securing shared-lot agreements or leases to allow public off-street parking,” page 6 of the 2011 study states. “Obviously the Pier Marketplace lots are significantly underutilized and could provide a major benefit to the Pier area under a shared-lot agreement. There are other smaller lots that could also provide great benefit.”
The final recommendation was to increase marketing and visibility of the town’s pre-existing shuttle service, though with the service no longer running, that may be irrelevant. Cicilline Buonanno did, however, float the idea of some kind of trolley service returning to help solve the parking issue.
“They could evaluate opportunities to help with the congestion and help think about future planning to mobilize people around the town,” she said of town staff. “That’s the town. I know the businesses are looking for additional [parking] opportunities.”
“There’s limited opportunities to park,” Cicilline Buonanno added. “Businesses want people to be able to come.”
Murray said the town council would be prolonging the solution by passing the issue to town staff rather than taking it up directly.
“We’ve been down this road,” he said. “I’m against parking meters. I think if we have an executive session and put our minds together, we can come up with something.”
Cicilline Buonanno offered a 12-month timetable for recommendations to come from town staff back to the council. Murray wanted the work done in 12 weeks.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said town council president Jesse Pugh of the overall motion. “I do think that it needs to be a very careful balance between the residents who live in that area, the businesses and the tourists. They all have different angles that they’re coming from, but when you speak to the few families that are left in that area, it’s a sensitive topic. I think everyone agrees that you need to have parking, but they don’t necessarily want to sacrifice the park over there and other areas they can utilize. They want to continue to make it feel like their neighborhood and their community. But we need to obviously adjust the situation there for all the new businesses and all the existing businesses.”
Ultimately, the motion to refer the study to town staff and direct the town to propose solutions for increased parking in the area for future council approval passed 3-2 with Pugh, Cicilline Buonanno and councilor Deb Kopech in favor and Murray and Dzwierzynski opposed, with Dzwierzynski agreeing with Murray’s concerns around timing.