BRISTOL — Parking in parts of downtown Bristol is all backward now, thanks to a major upgrade to Central Square. But please, town officials are urging locals, bear with the changes and you will get used to them.
The introduction of some two dozen back-in diagonal parking spaces in the square area seems to be getting more attention than the other elements of the $1.6 million project, which included the installation of new water and sewer lines, improvements to the storm drains, the creation of traffic islands, a complete rebuilding of the roadways of the square and its immediately adjoining streets, and the addition of new landscaping and new streetlights.
The project is now essentially complete, according to Town Administrator Michael Capone. The only work that remains is a few "to-do" items on a punch list, he said.
Voters approved the project in the 2010 Town Meeting, Capone said. Some preliminary work took place last fall and, after a pause during the winter, work resumed in earnest this spring. While the project was partially funded through federal grants, much of the cost — $815,000 — will be locally funded through a combination of general tax revenue and user fees charged to water and sewer system customers, Capone explained. The town also approved spending $70,000 on new energy-efficient and more aesthetically-pleasing streetlights, he added.
Capone said that the new water and sewer lines replaced some that might have been as much as 100 years old. In addition, the upgraded water mains will make it possible for downtown building owners to install sprinkler systems, an enhancement which should make the buildings more attractive to developers or prospective tenants, he said.
Capone said Bristol has an active downtown area and the Central Square Project "will hopefully attract more business and investment in the future."
He said the changes in traffic flow and parking are intended to make the square more "pedestrian friendly." Traffic around the square's island is now one-way and there are 24 back-in diagonal parking spaces in the square proper in front of the Rollins Block as well as along North Main and Spring streets.
"Some people have voiced concerns" about the new parking arrangement, but "most of what I hear is positive," Capone said.
Capone said that back-in, on-street parking offers many safety advantages compared to traditional head-in parking. He said people getting out of cars will, because of the vehicle's open door, instinctively move to the sidewalk and away from traffic. Loading items into a trunk or tailgate is easier and safer to do from the sidewalk than the street. Also, it is much safer for drivers to pull out of a parking space head-first, with a clear view of oncoming traffic, rather than having to back out into traffic, with their visibility sometimes further hampered by the heavily tinted windows of the vehicle parked next to them.
"It's like anything else; you get used to it," Capone said. He said that the town has put together brochures which explain the new parking set-up and Bristol police are handing them out whenever they see a vehicle that is parked in a space the wrong way or whenever a motorist raises a concern.
But some people are worried that the new parking arrangement is more of a hindrance than a help.
Cindy Foote, who spends her summers on nearby Newfound Lake, said back-in parking ties up traffic in the square. She said that people backing into the spaces are limited in their maneuvering by the traffic island. She said the process of parking takes longer than turning into a parking space head-first.
"I went down to the Square on Sunday just to try it out," she said, "It took me five minutes (to get into the space properly) and all these cars were stopped to wait for me."
But Capone says that backing into a spot isn't much more difficult than parallel parking.
While Bristol is the first community in the area to implement back-in parking, the concept is not a new one and many other communities have been using it for some time. Cities such as Des Moines, Iowa, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Pensacola, Fla., Indianapolis and New York City already use the model.