SALEM – Bentley Street is one of more than a dozen short side streets that make up most of the Derby Street historic district. It has space for 18 cars to park on the street, but the city has issued 57 residential parking stickers and 68 visitor badges to use those 18 parking spaces.
“We actually issued 260% more passes than there are actually parking spaces on Bentley Street, and that goes for all on-street and off-street parking spaces,” said Nick Downing, an assistant traffic planner at City Hall. “If you look at the street, we spent almost 600%.”
Residential sticker and guest ID parking is a problem across town that seems to have been lacking answers. According to the rules, anyone with a registered vehicle can get a residents-only parking permit, regardless of the available spaces.
The city council is examining a planned revision of the sticker program for residential buildings in Salem, whereby the city councils already have clear positions on various aspects of the issue. The Council’s regulation committee met on the matter in late April and will meet again on May 20, according to Patti Morsillo, chairman of the committee.
Stickers that compete
The problem with residential stickers affects several areas of the city. Concerns seem to be greatest along Derby Street, where the city’s maritime and literary tourism clashes with thousands of residents living in narrow streets that were established long ago, in some cases way ahead of cars.
“I’m disabled and there were times when I actually parked at the hotel – the Hawthorne – because there was no other place and I had to go home,” said Denise Griffin, who has multiple sclerosis. She lives on Washington Square East, which is across Salem Common from the hotel. “It’s especially brutal in winter. It’s absolutely brutal.”
Her street is one of four bypass roads that surround Common, first built in 1802, and are older. In general, there is no parking space for residential stickers on the four streets, except in October when the outer edges are reserved for residents and guest card holders only.
Many of the smaller streets that lead to Common, Derby and Essex streets have residential sticker restrictions. Same goes for streets in other parts of Salem, such as the McIntire Historic District at the opposite end of downtown, Salem Willows, and some parts of Northfields, to name a few.
In some parts of the city, parking problems are disappearing like the tide. This is what it feels like on Carlton Street for Bryan Freeland, who has no problems parking at certain times but cannot find a place at other times.
“If I come in, let’s say after 9 am, I have to park at the ferry terminal,” said Freeland. “Now my wife, who has a more consistent schedule and consistently comes home after six, would say the time she can get within five units (of her home) is probably twice a week.”
But there is another hurdle for all these streets: guest cards, which are valid for 14 days according to the applicable rules. All the more irritating are problems such as violating the rules for home stickers for those who paid for the stickers.
“I call the police non-emergency number once a week to talk about people who park on the street, who shouldn’t be here, and who just openly ignore residential parking,” Freeland said. “The other problem I see is people who have the rearview mirror tag, which they just use as a default. They shouldn’t have been using that for the past 14 days, but that isn’t enforced and no one is checking it.”
Problems with no solutions
The city’s Transportation and Parking Department is making a number of changes to the residential sticker parking program. The proposal aims to limit the number of stickers to two per household, to move the issuance of these stickers to the actual traffic and parking department (the city collector is doing this now) and to make other changes.
However, the debate is already showing sharp disagreements among city councils over the intent and availability of sticker parking.
During a recent committee meeting, City Councilor Conrad Prosniewski – a 40-year veteran of the police department – said the issue had been “torn and torn apart since we started parking residents.”
“Everyone complains that it’s fair or unfair. I’ve lived on Daniel Street for a while and I know what it is like to live on Derby Street while it was residential parking,” Prosniewski said. “Everyone had resident stickers. There wasn’t enough parking. Everyone on Daniel Street knew first come, first serves, and if you don’t have parking by the end of the night, you will.” park elsewhere.
“Anyone who lives in the neighborhood and has a vehicle should have a parking permit,” he said. “I have a neighbor – it’s a husband, a wife, and a son – and they all have vehicles, so that’s three vehicles and that’s three vehicles that are allowed to park. And it works.”
Christine Madore, who represents Ward 2 – which includes dozens of downtown sticker parking streets – was on the other side of the problem.
“If we don’t limit the number of Resident Sticker Passes, it will signal to residents that we are allowing an infinite demand for a very limited resource,” Madore said. “The sticker parking program is already very unfair. Why are some streets only in certain parts of the city and others not?”
Councilor Ty Hapworth agreed.
“If we keep doing what we do now with unlimited passes, the Derby Street neighborhood will never get any better,” he said. “And having four times as many passports in a neighborhood as rooms is something that we clearly need to find a solution to.”
With him disagreed, however, the city council Arthur Sargent.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have enough space,” said Sargent. “The best part was that the passports are issued to Salem residents. If you can prove that you live in Salem, you will pay your excise tax and have sticker parking in your neighborhood. You will be given a passport. To change that now, let’s make the system even more unfair.
“It’s supposed to be a sticker parking lot,” he continued. “It’s not meant to guarantee you a place in your neighborhood – the guarantee is reversed. The guarantee is that it will keep non-residents out.”
Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.