(June 21, 2013) With the Fourth of July less than two weeks away, resort officials are confident in their preparations for what may well be the city’s greatest possible experiment in traffic logistics.
“It’s the first time we’ve done this, so there will always be something to learn, but we’re hoping it will go smoothly,” said city Communications Manager Jessica Waters, in regards to the plan to charge a $50 flat fee, upon entry, for Fourth of July parking at the inlet lot.
The plan was approved earlier this year by the City Council on the suggestion of City Engineer Terry McGean, who explained that he was less concerned about the rate and more concerned about solving the logistical nightmare that occurs every Independence Day following the city’s downtown fireworks show.
While visitors typically trickle in gradually during the morning to spend time on the beach and Boardwalk before the evening fireworks, they all leave at the same time once the show is over. Further, because the inlet lot charges by the hour – with patrons taking a time stamp ticket upon entry and paying upon exit – leaving creates more congestion than entering.
“That’s where this whole idea spawned from, that people were getting upset that they had to wait in line to pay and leave, and had to pay for the time they were waiting,” Waters said.
Details of a flat-rate system were worked out in meetings with city staff last week, Waters said.
“Their plan is to make the typical exit lanes the entry lanes, so then you’ll be allowing three lanes of entry for payment,” Waters said. “On a typical Fourth of July, the lot fills up between 10 a.m. and noon. As soon as it fills, they’ll change the flow back.”
Staff will begin flushing the lot at 4 a.m. on July 4, Waters said, and any cars having been left overnight will be charged.
“It’s not common for cars to be left in the lot, but they’re going to be working with the police throughout the evening hours the night before,” Waters said. “We’re going to be advertising heavily to let people know that if your car is in the lot, you’re still expected to pay the $50.”
A turn-around lane will be available for those unaware of the new fee and who do not wish to pay, Water said, although the city will be publicizing the rate structure as much as possible, Waters said.
The normal rate for in-season weekends at the lot is $3 per hour. Assuming that most Fourth of July patrons park in the morning for the beach and Boardwalk activities and do not leave until the fireworks’ conclusion – roughly a 12-hour span – the average cost per car would otherwise be $36.
However, city officials have said they anticipate the rate hike to be acceptable to patrons in exchange for a much more hassle-free experience.
“This is not going to be come-and-go as you please,” Waters noted. “The $50 rate will be parking all day, one entry only.”