GLOUCESTER — Out-of-towners seeking relief from the summer heat have long traveled to Gloucester’s storied beaches. While the visitors help boost the local economy – spending money to park at the beaches and frequenting downtown restaurants and boutiques – the traffic created on weekends has become one big headache and pushed the city to consider different options to improve the flow.
“We’re looking at everything and we’re doing everything we can,” said Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken.
Every Saturday and Sunday morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day over the last decade, Cathy Dagley has stepped outside of her home on Hartz Street around 8 a.m. and placed four traffic cones in front of her house.
Dagley lives about a 15-minute walk from Good Harbor, a tolerable stroll for the beach-goers who start looking for spaces on her street on weekend mornings. Since anyone can legally park on either side, residents such as Dagley say they must self-police the street.
Dagley and about 10 other neighbors put out the cones to make sure a fire truck can make it down the street. Since Good Harbor has a carry-in, carry-out trash policy, her neighbors have put a barrel out on the road because some visitors have tossed beer cans and other trash on the street in the past.
Most of the guests are respectful, she said, but others can get testy.
“My neighbor was away for the weekend and I saw somebody pull into her driveway and roll over her flower bed,” Dagley said. “And so I ran over there and put one of the cones there. And then a woman came and saw the spot, and drove over the cone and parked.”
While there are many beaches in Gloucester, most out-of-towners come to Good Harbor Beach and Wingaersheek Beach, where they’ll pay $30 to park in municipal lots — if they can get in. In recent years, the city has added electronic bulletin boards to alert drivers about the status of lots and also provides an update on its Facebook beaches page (on Saturday, July 30, a post read: Saturday 10:15 a.m. — Good Harbor parking lot closed, Residents only. Re-open approximately 2:30.)
While the lots are large – 950 spaces at Good Harbor and 650 at Wingaersheek – the city reserves about 300 spaces at the beaches for residents, who pay $20 for a season-long sticker.
“It’s a two-edged sword,” said Paul McGeary, a former city councilor and mayoral candidate, describing the influx of beach visitors. “Having been discovered in a big way, as has happened over the last three or four years, is good for the economy but it does create some hassles.”
On a recent weekend, Gloucester Assistant Police Chief John McCarthy said his department had issued 150 parking tickets at $45 a pop and had towed at least a dozen illegally parked cars near the beaches.
“It’s nothing to write 100 tickets on a weekend,” said McCarthy. He said that more cars could be towed, but the city is hampered because just one towing company services Gloucester.
For some at Good Harbor Beach, parking illegally and risking a $45 ticket – and even a tow — seems worth it. “The last time we came, we parked on the road,” said Gina Oliver, of Lowell. “If you’re paying $30 to park in a lot, you might as well pay $45 for a ticket.”
Todd Sanford, manager of Sullivan Tire on Bass Avenue near Good Harbor, has also witnessed beach-goers who want to avoid paying for parking or a ticket. “I’ve seen people drop off their car here, get an oil change, and then go to the beach all day,” he said.
And then there’s the issue of replacing the city’s “No Parking” signs, which seem to go missing every year. “We have signs that are stolen; we have signs that are vandalized. Every year there’s more,” said Mike Hale, Gloucester director of public works.
Efforts by the city over the last decade to promote visitors has worked. Gloucester collects around $1.7 million in revenue annually from the beach parking lots, which goes to pay police overtime, beach workers, beach maintenance, and other fees, said the mayor, Romeo Theken.
In an effort to unclog the northern end of Route 128 at Blackburn Circle — which is the exit for Good Harbor and Wingaersheek — the city has encouraged visitors to get off 128 three exits earlier and park for $10 at Stage Fort Park, home to Half Moon Beach. Tourists also can take a seasonal trolley from the park to Good Harbor every hour.
Jeff Worthley, a former city councilor, is a member of a task force charged by the City Council to come up with beach parking improvements. That committee is expected to send its recommendations to the council this fall.
“We’re looking at signage, timing of lights, the flow in and out of the parking lots, and the traffic patterns of streets used to get to the beach,” he said. “But one thing’s for sure: There will always be beach traffic. We’re just trying to manage it better.”