A fatal accident involving a motor vehicle and a bicyclist in Stone Harbor tragically brought home a growing problem that we have been unable to deal with. A subsequent pedestrian death in Ocean City provided additional evidence.
The arrest of two Wildwood Crest men who assaulted each other over a parking space dispute is an example of road rage carried over to parking rage.
The success of the county’s tourism efforts has led to an ever-increasing number of cars. They have come to pose a danger to the increasing number of pedestrians and bicyclists. They have also created a parking nightmare, allowing parking to be an issue in a variety of otherwise disparate municipal actions.
We need to find a way to deal with this problem before we have more tragic encounters.
Soon after the tragic death of a borough bicyclist, County Engineer Robert Church spoke with Stone Harbor Borough Council about a worrisome intersection at 96th Street and Third Avenue. He spoke of the downside of one potential option for reducing pedestrian risk in the intersection. That downside was that safety option would cost the elimination of three parking spaces. Parking spaces have become gold because no one knows what to do with the influx of cars.
Wildwood Crest recently had to take the step of adopting an ordinance prohibiting its residents and vacationers from using front lawns as parking spots.
As small cottages have given way to McMansions, two-bedroom homes have become five bedrooms or more. Everyone arrives with a car.
We are confronted with a basic and inescapable problem. What to do with the cars?
A few resort communities in the country have taken the step of going car free. Visitors park outside the resort and are shuttled into town in a variety of ways. Such a drastic solution may not work in Cape May County, but we need to start thinking about the issue in big picture terms.
Part of the problem is that everyone has distinct parking concerns. Permanent residents differ from seasonal homeowners, retailer and restaurant owners’ needs differ from those of workers in the community, and beachgoers cite the need for transport of chairs, coolers, and assorted other equipment. One must also deal with the belief held by many homeowners that they have an inherent right to park in front of their homes.
It is useful that planning and zoning boards have come to recognize parking as a crucial item, including a need for off-street parking in new construction plans, but the problem is more than parking. It is moving vehicles. It is streets crammed with pedestrians and bicyclists competing for real estate with an ever-increasing number of cars.
We need to create incentives that draw people away from the use of their private automobile every time they need to move around. We need to do it in ways that do not harm the attractiveness of a vacation at the shore. Mainland communities may need to be part of plans to alleviate the parking and safety risks on the island resorts.
The solutions may involve finding creative ways to reduce the dependency on the automobile once here by encouraging transportation alternatives. Towns may have to look at a range of parking convenience and incentive pricing options. It is likely that solutions may involve remote parking options, bolstered by pricing incentives, and supported by effective shuttle services.
We need to think big about a big and growing problem. The current increase in the number of vehicles is not sustainable. The building boom continues and with it come the cars.