Haverhill Plans Free Downtown Garage Parking Weekends, Possibly Added Incentives

The 315-space Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority garage at 53 Granite St., Haverhill. (Creative Commons.)

A plan is in the works to provide more free parking weekends in downtown Haverhill.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini told city councilors he’s been working to alleviate parking issues downtown by offering free weekend parking in the Granite Street parking garage.

“When you drive around the streets on certain nights—Thursday, Friday and Saturday night—it’s very difficult to find a spot. The real problem is the parking garage is never filled. So, what we’re going to do is come up with a policy and we’re offering free parking Friday and Saturday night from 5 to 10 in order to get people into the garage and off the street,” the mayor said.

Fiorentini revealed the proposal after taking a bit of heat for not receiving the consent of the City Council before waiving downtown parking fees around Christmas. Councilor Michael S. McGonagle told the mayor, while he supports the concept, Council approval should have been sought because the move affects city finances. McGonagle explained it’s about checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.

The mayor agreed and promised he would consult councilors in the future.

The mayor said the issue with parking is not a lack of spaces, but rather finding ways to get people into the ones available. He said the best way to do that is with financial incentives.

“The ultimate way to move people is money. Make it more expensive on the street and cheaper in the garage, and the next step we want to do after that, we want to institute a program with the downtown restaurants where not only will we make it free in the garage, but if you go to a restaurant, we’ll pay you to park in the garage,” Fiorentini said.

Although the mayor did not elaborate on the latter plan, councilors appeared intrigued, offering their own ideas.

Council President Melinda E. Barrett suggested finding a way to alert motorists to the mostly empty parking lot behind the post office. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua proposed better signage, displaying the number of spaces available at any given time, while Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said better lighting would also be helpful.

“I think if we could think of a way that the city could light the alleyways, I really feel that that would help people feel more comfortable parking at the garage,” she said.

O’Brien acknowledged her longtime idea has been hobbled by concerns over using private property, but said fixtures could be located on city property and pointed down the alleys.

The mayor agreed with the suggestions, saying he hopes to be able to move on plans in the coming year.

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