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New Bedford’s real parking problem

The National Park Service gets it right with its thoughtful placement of bike racks at its visitor’s center on William Street.

Studies have been done. Streetscapes have been ripped up. And parking garages have gone up, come down, then gone up again. Over the years, New Bedford has worked mightily to address its parking problem.

In reality, there isn’t a parking problem. There’s a walking problem – as in Americans become neurotic when they can’t find a parking place exactly where they want it when they need it. When that parking space turns out to be on the next block downtown, OMG! We have a parking problem.

Meanwhile, those of us less auto-dependent and more physically active have to contend with the real parking problem…(cue dramatic music)….

The lack of bike racks almost everywhere throughout the city.

And guess what, this isn’t a city problem – as in City of New Bedford. The city has done its part. There has been a real effort to install bike racks in very many public places from city libraries and parks, beaches and baseball fields.

So who has been the scofflaw in this story? Mainly, businesses – like restaurants and bars, bakeries and corner stores.

Pay attention to details

When I was a wee lad, I spent a summer on the Jersey Shore working at a small restaurant called the Raspberry Cafe. It was a nifty but small spot – five tables and a counter – but an eclectic mostly vegetarian menu and, importantly, outdoor seating which allowed it to serve many more customers than the indoors could handle.

The owners worked hard to make sure it was an inviting, well-run place. They went out of their way to pay attention to details.

One thing that caught their eye was the number of people who would cycle up and down along the boardwalk and then stop in for breakfast or lunch. For many, it was their weekend routine.

So, they wanted the cafe to function well for all these folks, and did something that no one else had done before in the commercial district: They installed bike racks for these patrons to park their bikes at while eating.

Needless to say, they were a big hit. All those cyclists kept coming back for their granola, banana and yogurt breakfasts because they felt welcome – and could park their vehicle.

Soon, bike racks were everywhere, as other merchants caught on. And lo and behold, the town became known as a bicycle-friendly place – another feather in its cap.

A Six-Pack and a Schwinn

Though I’ve always been a prolific bike rider, the lack of bike racks is really getting on my nerves this summer and causing me to cast an evil eye on some favorite places.

I’d rather not name names, but urge any establishment reading this – especially the ones who offer outdoor seating or grab-and-go offerings – to consider making the economical and customer-friendly decision to install bike racks where possible at your place of business. It will only grow your business.

As noted, the city has done a good job of making bike racks available at many public spaces. So has the Whaling National Historic Park at its visitor’s center. Bizarrely, UMass Dartmouth CVPA has none at its Star Store campus.

(And to clarify, leaving your bike a few blocks over and out of sight isn’t the same as parking your car on the next block. We are in an urban environment and wheels, seats and other bicycle parts have been known to go missing – if not the entire bike! Bike racks should be placed where there is a reasonable expectation that eyes will be on them.)

Perhaps the funniest instance of a place suffering from a lack of a bike rack is a popular and well-populated liquor store I visited last week.

A rather gamey place under the best of circumstances, a fight broke out over the ownership of both a six-pack and a Schwinn, which had been leaning, unchained, against the side of the building while its owner found his libations inside.

The rightful owner won the fight. But, I’d like to win the war – and see more bike racks all over New Bedford. If for no other reason than to keep the peace!

Steven Froias