How Bad Is Downtown Parking Problem? Pretty Bad, Says Town

by | Feb 18, 2020

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The Town Council, which is planning to hire a consultant to study downtown parking in the near future, got a sense of the problem at its meeting last week, when Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais gave an overview of the downtown parking scene from 1995 to today.

To the basic question – does East Greenwich have a parking problem? – the answer was, yes. 

According to Bourbonnais, when you count up all the properties on Main Street and how much each property needs in terms of parking, you come up with 2,225 spaces. The actual number of spaces on Main Street and the one block to the east and to the west of Main Street, is 1,398 spaces. 

Which makes for a deficit of 827 parking spaces. 

“We just did raw counts so we could understand the scope of the problems,” Bourbonnais told the Town Council. By raw counts, Bourbonnais was referring to the number of parking spaces the town requires depending on a property’s type of use. And, the fact is, the uses have changed a lot in the past 25 years. 

In 1995, Main Street was plagued by vacancies, Bourbonnais said. To counter that, the town launched a revitalization program, including sidewalk improvements and grants to business owners to fix up their properties. Retail gave way to more restaurants and developers started adding more residential units on and near to Main Street.

The 1995 revitalization efforts were a success; Main Street started to bustle.

However, retail and residential tend to cohabit nicely in terms of parking needs – retail establishments usually close up around the time residents return from work and need to park. Out with one car and in with another. 

In the past 25 years, a lot of retail gave way to restaurants and bars on Main Street.

When more coffee shops, bars, and restaurants came in, not only did those spots require more parking then, say, a gift shop (that “type of use” metric), they would require those parking spots well into the evening. 

“Now you don’t have complimentary, synergistic activities; now they compete [for parking],” Bourbonnais explained. 

However, the 800+ parking space deficit isn’t the whole story, she said. The Planning Department’s focus on Main Street and the one block to the east and west left out the municipal lot next to Swift Community Center, which has 110 spaces, and the Baptist Church lot, which has 24 spaces, both on Peirce Street.

There were 14 eating establishments with liquor licenses downtown (Main Street and the waterfront) in 2005. By 2015, there were 26 such businesses. In 2018, there were 32.

Also, East Greenwich requires restaurants to have one space for every two diners, but many other towns have a one-space-for-every-three-diner rule. If EG were to shift to one space for every three diners, that would decrease the deficit by nearly 300 spaces. 

But even with these accommodations, Main Street is still looking at a parking space deficit in the hundreds. 

In 2005, after the parking situation started to tighten, the town hired Pare Engineering to do a parking study of Main Street, Bourbonnais said. Ultimately, Pare said the town didn’t really have a parking problem, noting that every time they came to town they were able to find a parking space close by to where they were going. Bourbonnais pointed out last week that Pare appeared to only come to town during daytime hours, while the real crunch time for parking certainly today is in the evening.

But Pare did offer some suggestions to improve things. First, they noticed that many Main Street shopkeepers and their employees were parking right in front of their stores. The town talked to shop owners and they started to change that behavior. Pare also recommended highlighting the parking the town already had, another relatively easy fix. The town added signage and re-striped parking spots. 

But a lot has changed since 2005. There were 14 eating establishments with liquor licenses downtown (Main Street and the waterfront) in 2005. By 2015, there were 26 such businesses. In 2018, there were 32. 

“We all want this vibrant, active Main Street, but there’s a lot of tension there,” Bourbonnais said.

The Zoning and Planning boards discussed the Planning Department’s parking presentation in October. These were areas of agreement coming out of that session: 

  • Current regulations should be enforced before any new regulations are put in place; 
  • A new parking study is needed as soon as possible;
  • A valet ordinance is needed as soon as possible.

Valet has been one way restaurants have been able to open on Main Street, since many of them do not have their own parking lots. Instead, starting about 10 years ago, the town has allowed restaurants to use valet services to park cars off-site. However, sometimes “off-site” for a valet driver in a hurry can be Main Street, among other issues that have come up in recent years.

“If we’re going to do it correctly, it’s going to be a very comprehensive, involved study,” said Town Manager Andrew Nota. “I think it would come back with solid deliverables,” including improving sidewalks and figuring out how to slow down drivers. Nota said the study would involve public work sessions and would aim to engage residents and business owners in the process.

But that will take time, he said. First the Town Council must approve a request for proposal (RFP), then vote on a company to conduct the study. The study itself would take place over the summer and include evenings, to get the full sense of the need, with results sometime next fall. Realistically, Nota said, the council wouldn’t be acting on the findings until next year around this time. 

Because of that timeline, the Town Council is planning to act sooner on a few pressing parking-related issues:

  • Short-term commercial parking
  • Additional overnight resident parking
  • Non-required valet parking (on street valet parking) – businesses that use it because they want to not because their license requires it.

Bourbonnais acknowledged that finding solutions to the parking issue would be challenging but praised the council’s commitment. “It’s a tough needle to thread,” she said, “ but I think you have given it a level of effort we haven’t seen.”

Check out the Planning Department’s study here: 2020 Downtown Parking Overview.


 

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12 Comments

  1. Tracie Truesdell

    In 15+ years living in EG, I’ve never NOT been able to park (legally!!) on Main St. Maybe I have to walk a few blocks and can’t park DIRECTLY in front of my destination, but what’s a few blocks?? The bigger problem with relation to parking is the obnoxious valet drivers.

    Reply
    • Despina

      Overnight parking for residents on Main street, that is a big problem….

      Reply
      • Elizabeth McNamara

        Do you mean there isn’t enough?

        Reply
    • John

      Agreed. The towns answer to their “parking problem” is to make restaurants pay for a valet service and clog the street and several spaces. Not to mention the danger that causes due to valet drivers erratic driving. I own a lot with 30+ spaces behind a building on Main Street which is open to the public. I have 25 spaces open on Friday and Saturday nights all year round. My neighbor has well over 40. This “parking problem” is made up and again shows the councils disconnect with the real issues.

      Reply
  2. Erin

    Although I agree that parking at times can be an issue on Main Street, I think the money used on the study would be better spent on keeping Main Street clean. It is not uncommon to see litter, beer cans,etc. I’m actually more surprised to see that there haven’t been more complaints.

    Reply
  3. Wenduly Gilchrist

    I’ve been living in East Greenwich for 20 years now and the parking is bad. Every week someone is parked across my driveway and I cant get in.Ive called the police many times, they will sometimes give them a ticket, but I’m still stuck trying to find a spot to park. Last month I was unable to get into my driveway again(which is marked driveway no parking) so I parked in front of my own house and got a $25.00 overnight parking ticket. Also my husband. Because we couldn’t get into our own driveway because someone was parked across it and we both had to get up early to go to work the next day. Is there someone that can help me with my situation. Parking and tickets. Thank you

    Reply
  4. SUSAN JACOBI-JOHNSON

    We rarely venture to EG restaurants on Main St in the evening, due to the parking situation. It is just too aggravating, even on weeknights. I’m sure business is being lost because of this.

    Reply
    • Donna Marcone

      Same here – unless the weather is conducive to walking – we rarely visit EG restaurants. We love to walk but not 1/2 mile to get to our destination. Along with parking problems, when are they going to re-pave Main Street. Always dodging holes and loose asphalt in the road.

      Reply
  5. Judy

    There is a large property on the corner of First and Main which has been sitting vacant for years. Perhaps the town could arrange to buy or lease that land for parking. I know it’s just out of the business area, but as a former comment reads, “What’s a few blocks?”

    Reply
  6. Dave Stave

    The spots set aside by the town are used as preferred parking for those who are driving a so called supercar. Check out La Masseria. Tip the valet big money, and your Porshe, Bentley, Mercedes (fill in the blank) will sit in front of the restaurant while you dine. The valet then blocks traffic by valeting in the road. The valet will then park cars waiting to be taken in the crosswalk or the lane of travel. Drive by on a busy Saturday night, traffic gets backed up to the Warwick line.

    Reply
  7. Alan Clarke

    Does anyone seriously think this hasn’t been a constant problem since the horse and buggy days, with all the possible studies made and professional recommendations recommended? We lost the old, old Town Hall to a parking lot. The original EG Preservation Society was formed to save the Brick House because the merchants wanted to knock it down for the three or four parking spaces they would gain.
    The real problem is there are too many of the same businesses drawing traffic at the same time. There is no solution save knocking down even more buildings. Is that what we want? The town is at capacity. Add in the condos sucking up parking spaces 10cat a time and you have constant constipation.
    Let’s face it. There is no solution to the problem except that which we do not want to face. There was a time on Main Street when there was no parking problems because stores and shops would close in the evenings leaving parking for restaurants and other evening activities.

    Reply
    • Gwendolyn

      Excellent

      Reply

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