Amherst to begin new on-street parking system for winter on Friday

Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

AMHERST — A new era for on-street parking during the winter months begins in downtown Amherst Friday, with declared snow emergencies the only times when overnight parked vehicles will be prohibited.

With blue snow emergency lights installed on utility poles at several intersections approaching downtown, and attached signs providing additional information, including a phone number to call, Amherst is implementing a system that Town Manager Paul Bockelman said many residents should be familiar with from a city just to the west.

“This is identical to Northampton’s system,” Bockelman said.

Under the winter parking plan, which will be in effect through April 1, parking is allowed on streets at all times, except during snow emergencies. On those occasions, people will be alerted by the blue lights, as well as text messages, emails, website postings and social media, when the emergency is in place, and when it ends. The ban on on-street parking will be between 12:01 and 7 a.m.

During those times, with the Department of Public Works removing snow and ice, the only places vehicles will be allowed will be the lower level of the Boltwood parking garage, the municipal parking lot on Pray Street and the town parking lot between North Pleasant and North Prospect streets.

The change in the winter parking rules came as a recommendation of Downtown Parking Working Group and was approved by the Select Board over the summer, with support from the business community.

“This is about making living downtown, and parking downtown, easier,” Bockelman said.

Previously, overnight on-street parking between 2 and 6 a.m. was prohibited between Dec. 1 and April 1 no matter the weather. Vehicles left on streets would be issued a warning notice, then a ticket and finally be towed on the third offense. Vehicles could also be towed immediately if they were interfering with snow removal.

Bockelman said the intent is to have any snow emergencies declared by noon, giving people ample time to relocate vehicles ahead of an approaching storm.

Though Northampton, which installed the blue lights in 2010, has experienced numerous towed vehicles at the beginning of snow season, Bockelman said calling in tow companies is not something Amherst wants to see happen.

“We’re hoping to avoid large-scale towing,” Bocleman said.

The change could impact some businesses that stay open late, even during weather events, and Bockelman said the town will make efforts to accommodate them.

“We will be hypersensitive to the needs of the business community,” Bockelman said.

Municipal staff, Bockelman said, will begin educational work about the new system Friday by interacting with residents and visitors in downtown.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.