by Glenn C. Koenig, webmaster at Town Wide Mall
Back in June, I contacted the Maynard Police Department, and, according to the representative I talked with, there was no “grace period” during the pandemic; drivers were expected to put money into parking meters as always. However, the position of parking enforcement officer has been unfilled for some time by now, so enforcement has not been consistent. I was told that police personnel may occasionally issue tickets for parking violations, but when they do, their focus is primarily in the afternoons, or at other times when most or all of the spaces along Nason and Main Streets are filled.
Parking policy in Maynard is set by the Town’s Parking Authority. I checked the Parking Authority’s web page, https://www.townofmaynard-ma.gov/285/Parking-Authority and everything seems to be in order, but there’s a catch. When I talked with the town’s Planning Director, Bill Nemser, a few weeks ago, he informed me that the Chair of the Authority, Megan Zammuto, has now left the position of Town Assistant Administrator to take another job. As that position is currently vacant, Parking Authority meetings are suspended until someone else can be hired, who can then chair the meetings again.
All this means that things will stay the way they are for now, but it's not certain what will happen next, after those positions are filled. Nemser told me that there are numerous issues that the Authority will likely have to deal with, related to parking in general, once it starts meeting again. Historically, the issue of parking meters in town has been highly polarized, with some residents wanting to do away with parking meters altogether, while others are adamantly opposed to that, insisting instead that parking meters continue to be used and enforced.
If anyone is hired to fill either position, I intend to report about it, as soon as I can get reliable information.
The issue of parking and parking meters may seem to be a minor one when it comes to town government, but in fact, how parking is managed can have a significant impact on life in the town.
Ideally, anyone parking anywhere in Maynard would free up their parking space as soon as possible, after completing their errands. But in reality that doesn't always happen.
If the position of parking enforcement officer is filled, people parking in the downtown area will be fined if they don't use the parking meters, unless the town's parking policy is changed. If there is no change in policy, many issues will arise, such as:
This all begs the larger question: What kind of parking management do we need, if any, and if so, what are our alternatives? Is parking congestion in Maynard unavoidable but also rare enough to do away with meters completely and leave parking to a "first come, first served" basis?
If we attempt to better popularize Maynard as an attractive destination for people from other towns to shop here, eat at our restaurants, or enjoy the art and entertainment options we have to offer, will we end up with a parking problem if our efforts are successful? Can we find a way to manage parking without using meters or "pay by numbered parking space" kiosks?
If we decide to continue to use parking meters, we should replace what we have, but the cost of doing so is significant. New "smart" parking meters can cost up to $500 each and would pose new challenges for maintenance and repair. They also need electricity to operate, as they are essentially little computers mounted on a post.
If we try to recoup the cost by raising parking rates, or increasing parking violation fines, we could easily discourage parking in the downtown area and entice even more businesses to relocate elsewhere where parking is free. In general, parking does not work as a revenue source in most municipalities.
In the Town of Hudson, for example, they eliminated meters years ago. However, they have a very active parking enforcement officer and cars parked for over two hours are often ticketed.
This irritates some residents because the nature of downtown retail has changed over the years. Many small shops, grocery stores, clothing stores, etc. have been replaced with hair salons and restaurants where visitors are likely to need more than two hours. At least in Hudson, they have some parking lots near their downtown area, with an additional supply of spaces, so there are some alternatives. But Maynard is experiencing the same kind of changes in the mix of retail establishments in our downtown area, so the two hour limit may not be a good idea going forward.
Maynard has the reputation as being a very “walkable” town in that the downtown area is within walking distance of many of the surrounding neighborhoods. However, there are many reasons people still need to park downtown. Some folks have difficulty walking. Others may combine trips with destinations out of town, so they cannot continue their trip without a car. Bicycling is an alternative, but many roads in town still do not have good bike lanes, and inclement weather or the need to carry bulky items can render bicycle travel or walking difficult. We have no public transit system in town, so that's not an alternative. Ride sharing (such as Uber or Lyft) may be an alternative, but it can be expensive and the supply of available drivers may be unreliable.
There are some in Maynard who are actively trying to promote the town as an attractive destination, partly in order to increase tax revenue and help to better balance our town government budgets. That's a reasonable idea, but part of that effort should include a thorough review of our parking policy before going ahead. Otherwise, we will be left trying to handle a crisis, rather than avoid it by preparing properly ahead of time.