Free Parking isn’t free

Mansfield is currently undertaking a parking study. It is my opinion that this project will offer some interesting insights to the character of this community. I am also of the opinion that this is going to play out as a costly and relatively uninspiring project. My general opinion was clearly enhanced by the questions found in the survey the Town is conducting. (found here) I challenge anyone to take the survey and then among their impressions see if they don’t feel it slanted towards promoting an expenditure. That was one of my stronger impressions.

The reasons behind my contrasting opinions can be summarized this way. First our downtown doesn’t have a lack of parking, it suffers from a multi-point false perception that it does. Our downtown parking and our commuter parking are two distinct entities and we shouldn’t confuse the two except where there are true opportunities to blend the two. Small real time bets on downtown improvements would ultimately prove more useful and less expensive than the repeated studies we undertake.

I know there are strong assertions that our downtown lacks adequete parking. I’m sorry to be one of the folks who have to tell you the truth and shatter your illusions. Mansfield quite simply has plenty of free car storage space. Is the spot you find right in front of your destination? Most likely not since in that common sense of parking there is in fact a finite amount of space. Still given the demand for parking based on destinations and time there is clearly enough. This gets to the primary issue that gets clouded in the parking discussion of downtown Mansfield. Given the market,which is essentially single site A.M. errand running and single site P.M. dining/ drinking there is an inflation of the perceived demand. Perception is too often accepted as reality. Along those lines of another major contributor to our false perceptions is our traffic patterns downtown. The one-ways and restrictions are such dominant forces. This isn’t just a Mansfield issue. This is a well studied field that has grown out of the awakening communities have had about the auto-centric “improvements” made over decades.

The study is meant to look at the downtown and the TOD district. The fact that we don’t have true transit is obviously the first problem. In a true TOD there really isn’t the need for car storage because,well there’s transit. In place that lacks walkability half-assed transit options still require personal motor vehicles. This is no small hump here in Mansfield and one that is unlikely to be properly addressed. (TOD= transit oriented development)

Lines can be drawn and wishes made but ultimately Mansfield’s car storage (and traffic) issues experience a daily challenge from hosting a popular MBTA Commuter Rail station. I would assert that outside & during the rush hours Mansfield is two totally different places. I have serious concerns that Mansfield will look to solve for the worse even though that time is the least. A few hours out of the day simply doesn’t deserve to be held up as the standard. This is a failing engineers in the USA cause taxpayers great suffering over year after year. Dealing with commuter parking and traffic needs to be held up as a singular event/issue seperate from the same concerns of our residents and general commerce. The only point these two paths should cross is where and when dedicated commuter parking spaces can be utilized by the general public.

The last point I want to bring up is how I feel small real time bets could be better than study after study with grand infrastructure endeavors. If the general consensus is that our downtown has issues we want to address so be it. I would agree with the stipulation that we’ve done and are doing great and potentially irreversible harm to it. That said, barrels,cones,signs and some paint come at a far more palatable cost to us all and affords real time real life data to what works for us. Everything is available to us and can easily be put into place almost immediately. The small bets can also run hand in hand with the two upcoming changes coming to the downtown. The transfer of the MFD from North Main and the pending Crugnale development.

This I offer free of charge expecting many will find that overpriced. The truth is though many places across the country faced or are facing the same issues Mansfield is facing right now and the simple solutions simply work.