A new study concludes there’s adequate parking in the Essex Jct. downtown core, confirming the village’s insistence that it doesn’t have a parking problem despite a perception among some residents to the contrary.
The study looked at an area around the Five Corners and split it up into five sections to see whether parking in each zone allowed residents to reach their destination without crossing the busy intersection.
“Despite what people may say when they show up and try to get to a particular business, there is parking out there,” said Rick Bryant, senior project manager with South Burlington-based engineer firm, Stantec, which performed the study at the village’s request.
Bryant outlined the findings during last week’s trustees meeting. He said Stantec collected data on three separate days within a two-week span starting late August. Survey times covered a mid-morning to early afternoon period, a mid-afternoon to early evening period and one from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The study found parking in public spaces peaked shortly after noon, with about 57 percent of spaces occupied, and dropped off slowly throughout the day to an average of about 30 percent between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on both a Wednesday and Friday night.
Bryant identified several “hot spots” that may contribute to the perception that the village lacks parking. He noted midday parking is highest at the municipal lot by Brownell Library, the spaces along Main Street near Martones and the parking alongside Lincoln Place, while evenings show most cars in the lots behind McGillicuddy’s and next to On Tap.
But even then the village is “nowhere near full on parking,” he said, identifying groups of parking spaces in the same zone that would still allow people to reach their destination and avoid crossing the intersection.
“The issue there seems to be people just don’t want to walk,” he said.
The study did note one area that could potentially become an issue if not addressed: the zone between Maple Street and Park Street, where a proposed development plans to bring new four-story buildings.
That project, named the Chittenden Crossing Development, proposed two mixed-use buildings and two solely residential buildings, with developers telling the planning commission last year that they will offer shared parking between both building residents and patrons.
But Bryant said the plans don’t currently show enough proposed parking to meet the demand. He urged the village to keep an eye on the situation as to ensure the zone continues to have enough parking for the businesses within it.
The commission, which approved the conceptual plans last year, will now need to sign off on site plans for each building prior to its construction, at which time commissioners can decide whether the proposed parking is enough.
“We do believe it still merits discussion to understand what they’re really proposing,” Bryant said “and confirm at the end of the day there’s going to be balance on that site.”
The study’s overall findings were welcome news to village trustees, who have repeatedly pushed back against claims that the village lacks parking. Even so, village president George Tyler worried some residents won’t be swayed by the findings.
“People tend not to question electrical engineers or chemical engineers or HVAC engineers,” Tyler said. “But traffic engineers, for some reason, everyone is a traffic engineer.” He wondered how the village could help change these perceptions.
“Education and communication,” Bryant responded. He said the village could add signage indicating for drivers where to find public parking and suggested the village ask high-traffic businesses to let their customers know where there’s some available spaces.
But Bryant said a lot of onus remains with the drivers, who should currently have no problem finding parking within walking distance. Using McGillicuddy’s as an example, he said patrons need look no further than the 30 spaces along the driveway to Park Street School, which are always empty at night.
“If they’re willing to take a few extra steps, they can readily find a parking spot on the same side of the street as the restaurant,” Bryant said. Plus, it “gives you a little more walktime to assess your ability to drive after a couple of Guinesses.”
“It might be good all around,” he said.