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Beach Parking

Tom PattonIn a special workshop this week, a nationally known parking consultant said he couldn’t believe Jacksonville Beach doesn't charge for parking. He said it was the only city to which he’d ever been that had free parking so close to the beach.

And he’s correct. St. Augustine, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Cocoa Beach, New Smyrna, Daytona… I’ve been to a lot of coastal cities in Florida, and this is the only place where there’s not a charge for beachfront parking. And it doesn’t seem to slow beachgoers down anyplace else.

Beach parking would certainly be a revenue stream, and a lucrative one, particularly during the summer when the beach is such a popular spot. Certainly, Jacksonville Beach could use a revenue stream. All of our beach communities could.

When I spoke recently to a Jacksonville Beach police officer, he told me that the experiment with $10 parking at the beach this summer did cut down on some of the problems that have cropped up at the beach.

All that being said, the $10 flat charge to enter one of the two designated pay parking lots regardless of how long you intend to stay is a bit over the top. Most of those other places that charge for beach parking have meters, so at least you pay for only the parking you use. The concern is that, particularly in this difficult economy, people who have finally determined that they can afford to go out to dinner or enjoy some nightlife at the beach that a $10 parking fee might decide to find somewhere less expensive so that their entertainment dollars will go further. Since beach parking has always been free, lumping on a $10 charge right out of the box will certainly cause some sticker shock.

I don’t think I mind so much that people who are going to take up a parking space all day to go to the beach will wind up paying a few dollars to park. It still makes for a pretty inexpensive day’s entertainment. But if you're going for dinner, or the nightlife... that $10 is ten bucks that won’t be spent with local businesses.

It seems inevitable that parking meters of some kind are coming to Jacksonville Beach. It may be that that Neptune and Atlantic Beaches will be watching this very closely. Atlantic beach limited parking on 1st street in front of One Ocean to two hours when there were innumerable complaints about construction workers at the hotel taking those prime parking spaces, squeezing out people who would have patronized the businesses. I have often seen people unpacking beach supplies in the scarce spaces on Atlantic Boulevard, but they’re there, so why not? There may be no way to determine if parking charges in Jacksonville Beach increase the traffic further north or south.

You do sometimes have to wear your walking shoes when you go to the Atlantic Boulevard area for lunch or dinner, simply because there’s no place to park near the restaurant you’ve chosen, but we should all probably walk a bit more.

I suppose if it came down to parking meters or another increase in my property taxes, I’d choose the parking meters. At least that way the people who are using the parking spaces, no matter where they’re from, will be helping support my little town. But a flat $10 fee in Jacksonville beach is just too much for someone who’s going to stay a couple of hours for dinner.

It’s difficult enough to justify going out as it is. The prospect of paying that much to park is likely enough to make people think twice about going at all.

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