MONTPELIER — A new winter parking arrangement passed its first key test Wednesday night and is now one public hearing away from being adopted by a supportive City Council.
Mayor Anne Watson led a chorus of councilors who suggested they were all but on board with respect to a plan that, if approved, will require residents and visitors to park on one side of many city streets one day and the opposite side the next.
“I think this is going to be a really good thing,” Watson said of the new winter parking proposal that was presented earlier this month and survived the first of two public hearings Wednesday night.
The virtual hearing didn’t draw a crowd and the two residents who spoke offered mixed reviews of an idea Public Works Director Donna Barlow-Casey told councilors should simplify winter parking, make plowing and snow removal more efficient, drive down overtime expenses, and yield cleaner roads and sidewalks.
Though all agreed there will initially be a learning curve, Barlow-Casey and her operations manager, Zach Blodgett, said the plan guarantees plows unimpeded access to the curbline of many city streets – expediting winter cleanup while creating limited inconvenience in exchange for more predictability for residents.
Resident Heather Corey said advance outreach will be important and strategic signage would be appreciated, but like councilors who weighed in, expressed support for the change.
“I think it will be a little confusing at first, but I think it’s a good idea,” she said.
Then there was resident Steven Whitaker.
Whitaker said he wasn’t sold on a proposal he argued would significantly shrink the number of on-street parking spaces in many residential neighborhoods regardless of the forecast on any given winter day.
“So even if there’s no snow ... to clean up, we’re going to forfeit that many parking places?” he asked.
The short answer was: “yes.” Though Blodgett said the longer one involves the reality that even on fair weather winter days the public works crew is sanding, salting, moving snow and cleanings storm drains. All of those tasks, he said, would be made significantly easier if crews could work one side of the streets one day and the other side the next.
Whitaker still wasn’t sold, describing the plan as a “gross overreach,” and expressing more than a little skepticism that the city’s short-staffed public works crew would be as busy as Blodgett suggested.
“To basically pretend by eliminating a lot of parking public works is automatically going to step up and start doing all this stuff is fallacy,” he said.
That criticism aside, Whitaker echoed those who said education would be important and said he feared while residents would get the message visitors would be harder to reach.
Blodgett said an informational flier is ready to go and could be included with the next round of water bills and there are plans to share a map showing where parking will and won’t be allowed if the ordinance change is approved.
There is a long list of narrow, steep, and, in some cases both, streets where on-street parking would be prohibited from Nov. 15 to April 1 under the ordinance. All, or parts of nearly 90 streets – from Wheelock Street and Gallison Hill Road to Sherwood Drive and Towne Hill Road — fall into that category.
There are a handful of areas where parking would only be permitted on the even-numbered side of the street. All of Cedar Street, portions of Berlin and East State streets, as well as a section of National Life Drive are on that list.
Meanwhile, there are short sections of State and East State streets where parking can only be accommodated on the odd numbered side of the street.
Under the proposed ordinance, parking would be allowed on both sides of the street between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. in the downtown area, as well as in the vicinity of Union Elementary School. That list includes metered sections of Main, East State, Elm, and Barre streets, as well as all of Langdon and School streets and Loomis Street between School and Liberty streets.
The alternating parking plan would apply to all other streets and, if the ordinance is approved would start on Nov. 15.
That’s an odd-numbered date, which means that parking during the day would be restricted to the odd-numbered side of the street and vehicles would have to move to the even-numbered side of the street between 5 and 10 p.m. and remain there through the day on Nov. 16, which is an even-numbered date. The odd-even pattern would continue throughout the winter and while cars found parked on the wrong side of the street would get warning notices to start, they would eventually be ticketed and towed.
The proposed ordinance change will be the subject of a second public hearing on Oct. 14 and absent an outpouring of opposition that was absent Wednesday night, councilors appear poised to adopt it and eager to spread the word so that residents understand the change.
Most if not all of the streets that would be required to adhere to the alternating parking schedule have been allowed to park in any legal parking space over the winter months unless the city issued an alert based on an approaching storm or snow removal activities. That approach lacked consistency and was confusing in its own way.