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Bridgewater State’s parking change hits shops

Bridgewater State University’s decision to move commuter parking to the outer edge of its campus this fall is upsetting merchants in the downtown, as students take up parking spaces meant for customers to avoid long hikes from designated lots.

“Parking in general is a problem here,” said Christine Amendola, who works at Hidden Treasure Consignment in Central Square and sees students leaving their cars out front and heading to class.

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“It’s really annoying,” she said.

Bridgewater Police Chief Christopher Delmonte said the parking problems downtown began with the September closure of a large commuter lot in the heart of the campus. The university simultaneously opened a large parking garage to replace the closed lot, but commuting students are unhappy with the garage’s remote location on the campus’s east corner.

“This isn’t a parking issue; it’s a convenience issue,” Delmonte said.

Downtown parking is time-restricted, but in the past it has not been strictly enforced. The Police Department only recently restored its parking enforcement position, Delmonte said. An officer now circulates in Central Square and through the tight network of streets connecting to the university campus. Delmonte said tickets are being issued, but, since the position is new, he has no hard data from the past to calculate whether there has been a significant increase in violations.

The chief said one new trend is evident. Student commuters in the past would frequently leave their vehicles along Central Square and in the CVS and Walgreen’s parking lots, which all border the campus. “This year, we’re seeing the problem further out, such as in the Campus Plaza” shopping center, he said.

Violators in those private lots are harder to control, Delmonte said, since they’re not getting ticketed. “We can only enforce things like handicapped parking,” he said.

Merchants, meanwhile, say students looking for convenient parking are hurting their business.

“I have a lot of customers complain there’s nowhere to park,” said Crystal Rosenfield, owner of Curl Up and Dye in Central Square. “I feel bad for the students, but this highly affects my business.”

The university has an enrollment of 11,500 students, of which about 60 percent commute. Executive vice president Fred Clark said there are 5,174 commuter parking spaces, about 50 more than in previous years. Students pay a $195 annual fee to use the lots.

Commuter lots are sprinkled along the fringe of the campus, on Spring Street, Hooper Street, and adjacent to the Swenson athletic field. Commuter options, in past years, also included a large lot in the center of campus, now being converted into green space called University Park. The lot was closed for safety reasons, Clark said. “We got rid of the lot because students were dodging cars as they walked.”

A parking garage with 841 spaces opened this fall on Great Hill Road, replacing the large central lot as well as other commuter spaces on the campus perimeter where a dormitory is under construction. But parking for commuters should be adequate, Clark said.

“We’ve been monitoring it closely, and there hasn’t been a single day when that parking garage has been full,” he said, adding that commuting students are being warned against parking in downtown Bridgewater.

Student Kelsey Behan, who commutes from Mattapoisett, said she arrives on campus shortly after 7 a.m. and can usually find a parking space in one of the commuter lots closer to classroom buildings. Those who arrive after her are relegated to the parking garage, and “they have a 15- to 20-minute walk,” she said.

Student Matt McKeon, who commutes from Wareham, said “there are zero spaces” in lots other than the parking garage by the time he arrives on campus.

“You see kids going slowly through the lots, staking out spaces, just sitting in their cars,” he said. McKeon has used the parking garage, but said he was forced to go to the third level, making it a long and time-consuming trek to classes. He said he has opted once or twice to leave his car in the commercial Campus Plaza, where parking is free to customers.

Nick Palmieri, president of the Bridgewater Business Association, said business owners have discussed the problem of downtown parking and suggested to local officials several years ago that they work with the university on building a parking garage just off Central Square, a location just a few steps from the university campus.

“The point was raised by us and others. . . . We felt it wasn’t our place to talk to the college,” Palmieri said, adding nothing came of that suggestion. The officials in office at the time are long gone.

Delmonte, the police chief, said a parking garage downtown “sounds interesting in theory, but I think the best thing would be a comprehensive plan that addresses traffic flow, pedestrian pathways, and lighting as well.”

Clark, the school official, says students don’t have to walk from the garage, since the campus has a shuttle bus that loops by regularly. But according to one student, who complained in the student-run newspaper “The Comment,” the bus system isn’t always reliable. The day she parked at the garage, she said, she waited 30 minutes for the shuttle. Ultimately, she said, she was late for her class. She challenged the university officials to park their cars in the garage for a week.

Clark contends faculty and administrators walk a great deal each day, although he stopped short of addressing the student’s challenge. “We’re no strangers to walking,” he said. “We crisscross the campus just like the students.”

Meanwhile, he says university officials are trying to address the spillover into downtown. He said university president Dana Mohler-Faria met with the student government association last week, and e-mails were sent to all students urging them not to park downtown.

“We warned them about the inappropriateness of parking downtown,” he said.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.
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