8/22/2013 - The parking situation in Manchester is sort of confounding.
Many, including the city’s parking division, say there’s sufficient parking for people who live, work, shop and dine downtown. Others, including some downtown business owners, say parking is a major problem and that there isn’t enough turnover on parking spots on Elm Street. Some say there is ample parking if motorists would just pull onto a side street or into a parking garage.
“I just don’t think it’s as dire in Manchester as people make it out to be,” said RichTango-Lowy, who owns Dancing Lion Chocolates on Elm Street. “Once you get past the feeling that you need to park on Elm Street, it’s usually not terrible.”
Sara Beaudry, director of marketing and public relations with Intown Manchester, said she hears it all the time: “You’ve got to do something about parking.”
In response to that sentiment, Intown recently put together a parking study comparing Manchester to other New England cities, including Nashua, Worcester, Mass., Providence, R.I., and Portland, Maine. In terms of the number of public parking spaces relative to the city’s population, Manchester appears to fare well, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.
Go to Boston and motorists expect to have to either spend a good chunk of time searching for a metered parking spot or spend a day’s pay at a parking garage. But Manchester isn’t Boston. For Manchester, the issue isn’t necessarily the amount of parking, but rather, where people park and how that relates to why they are downtown to begin with.
About five years ago, Manchester instituted a series of parking changes designed to create more open spaces on Elm Street for shoppers and diners. The problem at the time, officials said, was that people who worked and lived downtown had no incentive not to park on Elm Street all day, every day. The idea behind the changes was to incentivize parking on side streets, or better yet, parking garages, so that people who were just dropping downtown for an hour or two could access prime spots in front of or nearby establishments.
Denise Boutilier, who took over as Manchester’s parking chief after the changes were implemented, said there is sufficient parking for residents, workers and shoppers.
“The system is working very well,” Boutilier said. “The two-hour zones are enforced, and there is adequate turnover to allow for customer parking on Elm Street. In addition, all two-hour zones become three-hour zones at 5 p.m. to allow more time to enjoy downtown.”
Beaudry said some business owners downtown don’t see parking as an issue, but others feel frustrated that downtown employees and business owners are still parking on Elm Street.
For Tango-Lowy, parking issues are more related to communication and perception, rather than a lack of parking.
“Any city, Portland or even Portsmouth, it’s just as bad, if not worse, and it’s certainly not cheaper,” Tango-Lowy said. “But they tell you where to park. They make it clear, like, ‘Not on Elm Street.’ It’s really clear that you should park in structures. There’s more signage.”
Even though the city has taken strides to get people to park in garages or off Elm Street, Tango-Lowy said people still don’t know. They don’t know there’s plenty of parking on side streets, just off Elm Street.
“And they get frustrated,” Tango-Lowy said. “But it’s not necessarily a hard problem to fix.”
Tango-Lowy figured improved signage was a big chunk of the solution. His customers grumble occasionally about parking, but it’s not a constant complaint.
Some business owners still see downtown employees and business owners using spots on Elm Street all day, everyday. Technically, the two-hour parking limit requires people to only park on a particular block for two hours in any 24-hour period. So just moving a car one spot over doesn’t cut it.
For Kathy Hamel, who owns With Heart & Hand on Elm Street, it’s all about enforcement.
“If [parking enforcers] could come down here … and monitor and enforce this block every two hours, consistently, everything would change for every business and restaurant,” Hamel said.
Steer off Elm Street
Officials seem to agree that parking garages carry a little bit of a stigma. It’s not necessarily that people view them negatively, but they view them as parking options only in long-term situations. But the rate to park in the Victory Parking Garage, the only city-owned garage, is the same as it is on the street. Boulter said the Victory garage typically runs at 60-percent capacity during the week.
To park on the street in a metered space in Manchester, the cost is 50 cents to 75 cents per hour. To park in the Victory Parking Garage, the cost is 50 cents per hour with a $6 daily max, according to Intown Manchester’s parking survey. For comparison, it costs 50 cents to $1 per hour to park on the street in Nashua and $1 to $1.50 per hour in Portsmouth.
Tango-Lowy lives downtown and walks to work. His employees park on side streets, which he admitted was an annoyance for them, because they have to run out every two hours and move their cars.
To park in garages every day, employees would need to buy a permit, and that’s fairly expensive, and garages are relatively far from his store, he said. The shop will actually set timers to remind employees to move their cars.
“The new wave of parking folks are much nicer, but they’re also really on the ball,” Tango-Lowy said.
Hamel said she won’t let her employees park on Elm Street. She said they either park in a garage or on side streets on the weekends.
Tango-Lowy pays for a monthly permit for his one full-time employee but he said he can’t afford to do that for all of his part-time workers.
He wondered if the city could develop a parking permit for downtown employees that would wave the two-hour time limit when they park on side streets.
Beaudry pointed to the newer meters that allow people to pay with credit cards.
“I think that’s incredibly helpful in making parking simpler and easier,” Beaudry said. “It’s really getting the word out there. There are a lot of other cities around our size where you’ll pay more and there are less spaces per individual. Keeping an open mind, we have things in pretty good hand in comparison to other similar cities.”