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Parking Meters are Bad for Downtown

November 7, 2009

Update 11/11/09: Keith Ferguson at The Walpole Times has put up a parking meter poll here.  Please vote no!

Selectmen announced this week that they are openly considering installing parking meters downtown to prevent commuters from parking in Walpole Center during the day.  The MBTA’s exorbitant rates for parking has driven some commuters to park downtown and then walk to the station.  Earlier this year, the Walpole Public Library banned commuter parking in their lot as well, in an effort to tackle this growing problem.

To those commuters who choose to take advantage of downtown parking, I say to them: good thinking!  You are being innovative, and I don’t blame you one bit because the MBTA, as we all know, charges absolutely ridiculous prices in exchange for subpar service.  Their parking fees are no exception.  Why pay $4 per day when you can just use our municipal lot.

This problem is not new.  We have had commuters parking in downtown Walpole for some time now.  But instead of taking a radical approach to this problem and making parking in downtown difficult for nearly everybody, whether a regular downtown business customer or a commuter, we should look into more reasonable ideas to solve the problem.

Every time I walk through the municipal lot during the week, it is nearly empty.  The fact is, people aren’t supporting downtown businesses like they should be, even when parking is completely free. Instead, they’re heading to Walmart, the Walpole Mall, Patriot Place, and Route 1 to shop.  Let’s have the discussion about parking once downtown business starts to pick up – right now it really isn’t a problem.

A reasonable solution would be to have one police officer every day take a less than two-minute walk from the police station (at least until it’s moved somewhere else) into downtown and into the municipal lots and take pictures of the cars.  Then have that same officer return later in the day and take pictures of the cars and see who has parked there the whole day.  Even better, just put up signs that ban parking for more than two hours and ask downtown business owners to be the ones to enforce the law – after all they too have a vested interest in making sure that parking spaces are available for their customers.  Maybe Walpole could harness 21st century technology and install a camera that automatically takes pictures of the cars and automatically keeps track of those that are parked all day.

According to, Police Chief Richard Stillman claims that a parking fee of 25 cents an hour would be enough to cover part- or full-time civilian enforcement, so police wouldn’t have to be writing tickets all day.  In other words, the chief is proposing an absolutely fantastic way to drive people, and merchants, out of Walpole center.  Let’s have roving meter maids who make life a living hell for everybody who chooses to park in Walpole center.  Further, let’s not factor in the possibility that drivers, like in the big city, may decide to take matters into their own hands and stuff the meters or damage them.

Stillman went on to say that the purpose of the meters would not be to bring in more money to the town, but rather to make more parking available for downtown businesses.  Ironically, this would actually probably have the opposite effect: it would force people to not want to come downtown to go shopping, meaning businesses would lose money.  Additionally, drivers may decide to park in the CVS – 7/11 parking lot, which is privately owned, clogging it up.

The Selectmen, however, are doing the right thing.  They are waiting to hear from the Walpole economic development officer who will be speaking to downtown business owners about the proposal.  Unfortunately, many downtown landlords, many of whom probably are not business owners of their own, have demonstrated in the past that they do not know how to keep rent payments low to keep tenants in business.  Let’s hope that these landlords will not express their enthusiasm for such a plan, ignoring the negative impact on business.  Instead, let’s hope the business owners themselves state their opinions clearly, and the message gets across: this would be bad for Walpole.

Broadcasting Note: Walpole Town Administrator Michael Boynton will be live in a face-to-face interview on The Sam Obar Show, my radio program on WDIS AM 1170 on Nov. 21 at 4:00 PM.  Listen live to the interview at the WDIS website, or call in and ask your questions at 508-384-TALK or email

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