LACONIA — Crews will begin re-striping Beacon Street East and West on Monday, reducing travel lanes from two to one and replacing some parallel parking spots with back-in angle spaces.
City councilors approved the change as a way to create 32 new places to park in the downtown area. They say there is a need for new spots, particularly those that permit all-day parking.
Under the new traffic pattern, motorists who want to park in one of the new spaces are to signal right, go slightly past the spot and reverse to park.
Krista Larsen, assistant Public Works Department director, said there will likely be a learning curve.
“But once they understand what it is, it’s very easy to do,” she said. “You’re not pulling into a parking space, you are backing in.”
The advantage comes when it is time to leave.
With regular angle parking, motorists need to back out into traffic. With reverse-angle parking, the car moves forward when it is time to leave.
There’s another safety advantage.
“If you’ve got kids in the car, when you open the car door, it is directing them to the sidewalk,” she said.
For motorists wishing to reverse-angle park, the key is to put on the right-hand turn indicator so that the following car leaves enough room to allow the reversing maneuver.
“Sometimes people follow too closely, but that can get in the way if you parallel park, too,” Larsen said.
Pat Wood, who has a downtown law office, said the parking issue needs to be addressed. If the city is successful in revitalizing downtown there will be even more demand for parking.
The Colonial Theatre, which is targeted for refurbishment, will have 750 seats alone. There are fewer than 550 parking spots downtown.
After years of delays, councilors have reached initial agreement on financing for the Colonial project, which is also to include up to 10 apartments or condominiums and four commercial storefronts.
Wood, who is chairman of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing Board, said the addition of the reverse-angle parking spots is a “short-term solution to a long-term problem.”
“We are all anxiously awaiting to see how it plays out,” he said. “I personally don’t have great comfort backing anywhere any more.”
Tax increment financing is a mechanism that allows municipalities to fund infrastructure improvements in a given district by borrowing money and paying off the debt with increased property tax revenue fostered by those improvements.
Wood is concerned that in order to fund the Colonial improvements, the city will use so much money from the Downtown TIF that there won’t be funds left over for other projects, such as improving the parking garage, which has structural problems that keep a portion of it closed, cause leaks in bottom-floor businesses and threaten the structure’s future.
Breanna Neal, owner of the Polished & Proper barber shop on Main Street downtown, favors the addition of more all-day parking.
“I’m hoping for positive change,” she said.
Her one area of concern is on Beacon Street West, where she fears the reduction to one lane of traffic could pose safety issues as cars come around the corner near the Bank of New Hampshire.
One way to create more long-term parking downtown would be to open the top floor of the city parking structure on Beacon Street East, but that would require a significant investment.
In the coming weeks, city committees are to take up the issue of potential garage improvements and consider a proposed pay-to-park scheme for downtown.