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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Consultant recommends parking changes for downtown Mystic

    A map of the downtown Mystic parking study's focus area.

    Mystic — Meters, an expanded two-hour parking zone, valets and shared parking lots are among the recommendations of a recent parking study of the downtown area.

    John M. Burke, a parking and transportation consultant in New England, presented the recommendations from the draft Downtown Mystic Parking Study at a virtual public meeting on Thursday, as the towns of Groton and Stonington look for solutions to the often congested area at a time when downtown Mystic is growing in popularity. The study focused on the five-minute walk zone, or about a quarter of a mile radius, around downtown Mystic, he said.

    The area within a five-minute walk of the drawbridge has a total of 1,564 parking spaces: 992 off-street and 572 on-street. The number does not include residential driveway spaces or gravel lots. All those off-street spaces are privately owned, and only 210 of those are paid public parking spots — all in the Mystic Museum of Art lot, according to his presentation. All 572 on-street spaces are free.

    Burke found that downtown Mystic’s 125 two-hour on-street parking spaces represent relatively fewer spaces than in similar downtown areas in coastal New England. Nearly one in four vehicles parked in the two-hour zone stay longer than the two-hour limit, turnover is poor, and many employees appear to be parked in the spaces, he said.

    With few available convenient parking spaces on the street, people circle the area looking for spaces — contributing to traffic congestion, he said. Some of those visitors may find parking, but others may decide to leave, which negatively impacts retail sales.

    He is recommending metering and expanding the two-hour parking zone year-round, which he said would boost parking turnover and compliance with the time limit, among other benefits. The revenue generated from kiosk parking meters could then pay for additional off-street parking, parking lots, transit expansion or sidewalks and light improvements.

    He said there are opportunities to expand the two-hour zone, such as on East Main, Pearl and Gravel Streets. Parallel parking markings also could be removed to allow for more efficient use of the on-street parking area.

    He further proposed stepping up seasonal parking enforcement to year-round and using wireless chalking/ticketing devices.

    Reconfiguring lots, such as the Mystic Museum of Art and the 4th District Voting Hall lots, would help boost off-street parking.

    Shared-lot parking agreements with churches, marinas and businesses also would provide additional parking.

    “We’ve talked to a number of them,” Burke said. “We’ve talked to the churches. We’ve talked to the marina lots. There’s interest in participating and they want to be good community partners and work with the towns.”

    While at times the lots may be busy, there are other times — such as on the weekends for offices — when the lots may be empty or not used as much, he explained.

    The towns also could lease or purchase parcels within a 5- or 10-minute walk of downtown, he said.

    There should also be a program for downtown Mystic employees to park in these lots, so they don’t need to park in the two-hour zone or on residential streets and so the waiting list for parking at the art museum is decreased, he said.

    He said creating a valet parking system — in which cars would be parked in lots outside of the 5-minute walk zone — would be a “win-win” because it would free up downtown parking spots and also increase customer service.

    While the recommendations would reduce parking “spillover” onto residential streets, “towns should monitor the residential streets to consider further regulator action should it be needed,” according to the presentation.

    Additional recommendations for the summer season and special events include the valet parking program, encouraging people to use “peripheral” off-street parking available within 10 minutes of downtown with additional signs and lighting, use of a real-time messaging system, and shuttle buses.

    The towns of Groton and Stonington have been collaborating on the approximately $24,000 study for the past nine months to analyze the parking conditions in downtown Mystic and recommend potential solutions, at a time when the downtown area is experiencing growth, said Jon Reiner, director of Planning and Development Services for the Town of Groton. Staff from both towns, residents and business owners, and the local bus service, Southeast Area Transit District, provided feedback for the study.

    After Burke’s presentation, people asked questions and offered comments submitted via Zoom chat or by email, such as if enforcement of the two-hour limit would then push people onto residential streets, and the need to address parking problems by providing more transportation by bus, van or boat.

    Burke will next incorporate the comments from the public and issue a final report, and the towns of Stonington and Groton would further discuss which solutions to implement and how they would move forward with them, Reiner said.

    A video of Thursday’s meeting is available at youtu.be/aZwdTnDUBjg.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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