Audrey Child: Did I mention the first hour of parking is free in Northampton?

  • The Northampton parking garage. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Friday, May 24, 2019

I was delighted to read Nora Turriago’s letter last month suggesting a meeting in Northampton to discuss the Amherst parking situation. I think that holding it in the place that is a model for what we in Amherst could achieve would be inspiring.

First of all, everyone should head to the parking garage in the center of Northampton. It is an attractive, functional building that fits into the scale and design of the surrounding streetscape. It uses a former parking lot to maximize the capacity of cars with an underground space for reserved full-time users. The group will not have to decide ahead of time how long the meeting — or any other activities — will last because there is no prepayment for parking. Northampton uses the standard method of collecting payment when you leave and you can stay as long as you like. The first hour is free.

No one will have to decipher a collection of confusing signs or try to read computerized directions and plug in all sorts of information. You just get a ticket and when you leave, pay for the time you spent. Did I say the first hour is free?

What this genuine parking garage does not do is spread out the spaces to make it more park-like or add benches so that people can stop to chat or eat a snack. It maximizes the space to provide the most parking. Did I say the first hour is free?

Northampton has raised its parking prices recently, but in a consistent fashion based on inflation, not picking and choosing areas to target based on demand or expanding the hours to increase revenue. They seem to understand that parking is a service that supports business rather than just a revenue source. They haven’t turned all the side streets surrounding the business district into permit parking, changing the streetscape into an endless parking lot.

And they didn’t try to please all factions by removing the upper stories and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to reinforce the substructure “in case” they wanted to add more floors to the parking lot later. Maybe the first thing the group should do is change the name to the Boltwood Parking Lot.

Audrey Child