May 272011

Published by: The Coastal Point

Change can be hard. But the annual change to paid parking in Bethany Beach has been a little harder than usual this year, thanks to the town’s switch from individual coin-fed parking meters to a paystation and ticket system.

The paystation system isn’t new, though. The town instituted it in the 2010 summer season, serving downtown areas outside the central business district on. With that experiment labeled a success, the paystations were expanded to for the 2011 summer season – one of the earliest components of the town’s planned Streetscape project, which is designed to improve the aesthetics of by removing the parking meters and utility poles, among other aspects.

But when paid parking returned to the area on May 15, it appears some visitors were taken by – unpleasant – surprise, greeted with parking tickets rather than a more traditional warm welcome.

“The first two weeks of metered parking, we always have a lot of, ‘I didn’t realize metered parking was back.’ This is a variation on that same thing,” explained Town Manager Cliff Graviet on May 20.

Some of downtown ’s visitors may have missed one of the traditional clues that would indicate that paid parking was back in effect, as the town has traditionally reinstalled the parking meter heads in the days preceding May 15. Despite the presence of the new paystations and signs indicating that tickets should be obtained from the paystations and placed on the vehicle’s dashboard, some people just assumed that no parking meters meant paying for parking wasn’t yet required.

“We took a lot of extra steps this year, including taking the meter poles down,” Graviet noted.

As of the fifth day of paid parking, he told council members, “It’s had its share of problems – a little greater than in the past. Always, the first one or two weeks are a problem.”

Though at least one visitor was incensed enough at the resulting ticket to write a letter to the editor about it, Graviet said the problem hadn’t been severe.

“I haven’t had any calls to my office,” he told the Coastal Point, allowing that there had certainly been some drivers who had noticed the problem only after receiving notice of their violations. “We have voided a lot of tickets this week,” Graviet admitted.

The town manager cited the two-phase rollout of the paystation system as one likely culprit in the problem.

“I think if we’d put the paystations in all at once, instead of starting on the fringes, this wouldn’t have been an issue,” he said.

Ironically, the town opting not to go with system of marked and numbered spaces – as is used with ’s paystations – might have encouraged problems initially, rather than preventing them, as had been intended when the decision was made to mirror ’s ticket-based system instead.

“The council decided they were not going to marked and numbered spaces,” Graviet said, “but people remarked that they would know there were paystations if the [parking spaces] were marked and numbered.”

Additionally, Graviet said, an initial lack of a plethora of signage might have increased the instance of people parking without paying, or realizing they should be paying.

“We began with 12 signs indicating paid parking was in effect and paystations were available,” he noted of the area. “There are 30 signs as of noon today. We were behind the curve on delivery of 15 large sandwich board signs, in a bright fluorescent color, to advise everyone that paystations are in effect.”

“They were late coming in but should be up tomorrow,” he said on May 20.

To further spread awareness, Graviet said town staff members were in the process last Friday of having a thousand flyers printed up, to be distributed to and through downtown businesses. They were also putting warning notices on vehicles that were in violation of the parking ticket requirement, rather than violation tickets, he added, saying they planned to continue doing so for a time.

“By the end of next week, we’ll be an eyesore with signs,” he promised.

Still, Graviet said, the change to the paystation system on hadn’t been a problem for everyone.

“Nine thousand people since last Saturday have managed to find paystations and buy paystation stubs,” he emphasized.

Parking compliance is in the details

Those parking on Garfield Parkway are being advised by signage to park, go to the nearest paystation and purchase a ticket (at $1.50 per hour, with quarters or a credit card – no paper money, which was cited as likely to jam up such machines and cause more headaches than it solved). They should then return to their vehicle and place their ticket on the dashboard – in plain sight, so that parking enforcement can monitor compliance.

Of additional note is that spaces in the zone have a two-hour time limit – a limit that existed in the days of individual parking meters and one that remains with the paystation system.

The parking meters once advised motorists of the limit and stopped adding time after a two-hour maximum was reached, no matter how many coins were fed into the meter. Now, the paystations on will permit purchase of only two hours of parking time per ticket. Motorists will have to return to purchase another ticket if they wish to park beyond two hours.

The two-hour limit, while never strictly enforced, was and is intended to encourage those parking on not to plan to park there for extended periods. Those planning a day at the beach can purchase longer periods of paid parking at paystations away from .

Still, the ability to purchase additional two-hour parking tickets for , without moving the car, sat wrong with Councilwoman Carol Olmstead at the council’s May 20 meeting.

“Either we have a two-hour limit or we don’t,” she said.

Graviet cited what he labeled an “ongoing, long-term dialogue” on the issue over the years, saying that the council had ultimately opted not to enforce and cite violations of that two-hour limit.

“I thought we had said we wanted the limit to be maintained,” she replied.

“I thought you concluded you didn’t want to have them have to move after two hours,” Graviet explained.

“I had the sense we wanted to encourage people not to park on the entire day,” Olmstead reiterated.

“The two-hour limit was intended to encourage them to move,” Mayor Tony McClenny clarified, adding that “without substantial resources,” the town just couldn’t keep up with enforcing a requirement for cars to be moved every two hours.

“That is traditionally what we have done,” Graviet said of the lack of enforcement, “and the intent was to keep it that way.”

Those who need to move their cars before their purchased parking time is up now have the additional flexibility with the ticket system of being able to return and park again, until their time has expired. However, only tickets purchased at the Garfield Parkway-area paystations will permit parking in that area. Tickets purchased from other paystations without the two-hour limit will not permit parking in the vicinity of .

Along with the two-hour limit being retained, the new parking regulations adopted by the council for the 2011 summer season include an extension of paid parking hours on .

Paid parking will be in effect from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the area of , between First and streets (excluding both streets). Paid parking is in effect from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in areas north of (including ) and south of (including ). The paid parking requirement remains in place from May 15 to Sept. 15 each year.

Graviet did confirm that the town has retained some parking meters, located generally on the south end of the town’s east side. Those parking at the remaining meters will have to feed them with coins, as usual. Additionally, many areas along the east-west streets on the east side of the town remain restricted to those with residential parking permits.

Town responds to parking needs with more spaces

The town has already moved this year to add more parking spaces in the popular downtown area, some of which are already available for use. Though agreements with the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and the owner of property adjacent to an existing lot at the corner of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue that is used by the town on evenings and weekends, the town has added 66 spaces.

Additionally, Graviet told the Coastal Point this week that he was in the process of finalizing a similar agreement with the Bethany Beach Christian Church (Church of Christ) to use an eastern portion of the church property along Pennsylvania Avenue to create between 43 and 45 additional diagonal parking spaces.

The additions will bring the town’s total parking spaces in the downtown business district up from 125 to around 235 spaces. Some of those spaces – about 23, under current estimates, down from an initial estimate of 30 – are expected to be lost to the planned Streetscape project, but the number added with the three cooperative agreements between the town and the property owners will more than make up for the loss. In fact, the net gain in parking once all is said and done will be nearly 90 spaces – about a 70 percent increase.

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