Both Narragansett and South Kingstown spent the past week clamping down on illegal parking — and increasing penalties for doing so — in response to visitors denied spots at local beach lots, which have reduced their capacity to discourage large crowds.
The moves were made in coordination with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Rhode Island State Police and the office of Gov. Gina Raimondo in an effort to keep Rhode Island residents away from state beaches.
The effort was in response to an uptick in COVID-19 positive test results and was a step to lessen the potential of spread, the state said.
Raimondo reduced the available parking at Scarborough State Beach and Misquamicut in Westerly from 75% of maximum capacity to just 25% of capacity.
That meant that out of a potential 2,445 parking spots at the combined Scarborough North and South lots, only 611 were available.
At the same time as that July 17 announcement took place, Narragansett Town Manager James Tierney and South Kingstown Town Manager Rob Zarnetske issued executive orders increasing the penalties for illegal parking in their respective towns.
“We increased police patrols and parking enforcement, which resulted in over 500 parking tickets being issued this weekend,” Tierney said.
In Narragansett, the new regulation converted all “No Parking Zones” in town to “Tow Away Zones” with a $75 fine. Additionally, Ocean Road from Pilgrim Avenue to Rose Nulman Park was included in the approved parking regulations change, restricting parking to one side of the road. Tierney said that town police had observed vehicles parking on both sides of the road on that stretch, making it difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate.
Now, parking is permitted on the right side of the road in that area if traveling south.
The Town Council voted on the changes on Monday with a 5-0 vote in favor. Residents told Tierney they supported the move.
“I didn’t hear one complaint about it. They thought it was good,” he said.
Rose Nulman Park, which is privately owned and managed, makes the park publicly accessible and the town did not restrict access to that parking area, Tierney said.
“The family that owns/manages the park advised me last week that they were going to keep the parking area closed until further notice due to liability concerns,” he said.
In South Kingstown, residents in the area of Succotash Road had been particularly upset two weekends ago at the amount of traffic on their roads, as well as illegal parking by beach-goers on residential streets. People who tried to go to East Matunuck State Beach on Saturday morning also reported heavy traffic.
The town reacted by enacting an emergency measure increasing the fine for parking in a prohibited beach area to $150, a sixfold increase from $25 in the case of Succotash Road. The executive order includes locations along the entire length of Succotash Road; Jerusalem, the State Pier; and all roadways adjacent to those mentioned.
In Narragansett on Saturday, the enforcement seemed to have the desired effect by the afternoon. With beaches filled to capacity, there were no lines of cars waiting to get into the lots blocked off by state or local police. Roger Wheeler State Beach remained at 75% parking capacity, and the entrance was periodically opened up whenever enough spaces had become available.
Nearby businesses said they’ve had to tell people their lots are off-limits except for patrons.
“They try to park here but we say no,” Mary Jennings, who owns Dad’s Deli & Ice Cream at Scarborough with her husband, Roy, said. She said that she has seen cars parked in the tow-away zones near her Point Judith home, however.
Roy Jennings said there was “a lot of cursing” by motorists that he and staff had to kick out of his parking lot. They haven’t had to call police, however.
But the surrounding streets were filled with cars the previous weekend, he said.
“Last week there had to be 100 cars over here that got ticketed,” Jennings said.
Narragansett Town Beach parking lots have been opened to residents only, and that forced other visitors to the surrounding streets to find parking.
Some visitors seemed to either not know or not care about the parking fines, as several cars parked along roads near the Towers had orange tickets under their windshield wipers.
The parking problems have become a political issue in this election year.
Narragansett resident and Town Council candidate Michael Millen Jr. said he’s in favor of updating no-parking zones to tow-away zones and the increased fines.
“Current fines are simply viewed as the cost of going to the beach for violators and are hardly a deterrent,” he said. He also wants to increase parking fines to $200 or more during the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“As a seasonal town, a seasonal approach to this issue would be a creative solution,” he said. “As with any policy, it all comes down to enforcement. If we do not enforce a good policy, its only value is on paper, and not practice. There needs to be strict and frequent enforcement of parking violations for this policy to be effective.”
To help businesses, a two-hour parking limit in areas around Boon Street or the Pier would prevent beach goers from clogging access to restaurants, shops and parks, he added.
Rhode Island’s eight state beaches experienced a 79% increase in visitors in June 2020 (340,000 visitors) over June 2019 (190,000 visitors), according to the DEM. Nearly half – 47% – of visitors to Rhode Island beaches are out-of-staters, according to an economic impact study conducted by the University of Rhode Island in 2016.