The advent of spring on the Vineyard brings with it the welcome return of things like warm weather, the majestic osprey and the running of the herring. But it also signals the return of several less celebrated Island traditions, including traffic jams, tick bites — and those dreaded traffic tickets.
In the coming weeks, motorists accustomed to parking whenever and wherever they please during the winter can expect to find those familiar purple parking tickets tucked under their windshield wipers if they park too long in a restricted spot. And like the return of the college kids and mopeds, the coming months will also see the return of traffic cops, with their white T-shirts and shorts and forbidding pads of tickets in hand.
Motorists are forewarned that parking fines across the Island will increase dramatically this summer. While parking fines have held to $10 for an overtime violation and $15 for parking in a restricted spot for a number of years, town officials in all six Island towns this past winter approved increases to a variety of parking fines.
In Edgartown, the overtime fee increased to $25 while the restricted fee increased to $30. Oak Bluffs increased the fines to $20 for overtime and $25 for restricted; Vineyard Haven increased fines to $20 for overtime and $25 for restricted; West Tisbury and Aquinnah both increased fines to $50 for restricted while holding at $10 for overtime; and Chilmark went up to $30 for both overtime and restricted fines.
The fines for several other parking violations have also increased, while others have stayed the same.
Dukes County parking clerk Carol Grant said the state recently approved an increased surcharge of $20 for parking tickets not paid within 21 days.
Both police and town officials this week emphasized the increased fines are not meant to be punitive, but instead are intended to discourage people from parking in unauthorized spots and also from parking for long periods of time.
Parking abuses are especially prevalent in the three down-Island towns, where many motorists previously were happy to pay the relatively nominal overtime fee of $10 to park their cars for long periods of time — sometimes all day.
Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin said the lack of available parking negatively affects downtown businesses and also causes traffic problems as motorists continue to drive around looking for spots. The chief said the increased fines are not intended to generate additional revenue for the town but instead are meant to open up spaces.
“This is not about making money, this is about making sure people have a place to park,” he said.
Chief Condlin said the town tries to be reasonable when it comes to downtown parking, noting that police issue parking advisories in early May to warn people that overtime and other restrictions will soon be enforced. He said that technically speaking, restrictions along Main Street and one block over are enforced year-round, although police are generally more lenient in the off-season.
The chief also noted that police this year will be enforcing overtime violations in the town parking lots that occur after 6 p.m. In the past, many people — especially employees of downtown stores and restaurants — have parked their cars in these lots all evening, which takes away valuable spots for potential patrons.
Camille Rose, chairman of the Aquinnah selectmen, said town officials increased fines this year to discourage people from parking too long at the Gay Head Cliffs — where parking is already at a premium — and to prevent visitors from taking up the resident-only spaces. She said the hope is they will also discourage people from parking on environmentally sensitive areas like the edge of Moshup Trail.
“We have plenty of clearly marked nonresident parking, and frankly people have become rather cynical. They are not as respectful of the signs and restrictions as they once were. We have a short season and limited space; we had to take steps to discourage people from parking all day,” Ms. Rose said.
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said parking is especially a problem in Tisbury because of the Steamship Authority terminal. People who live off-Island leave their Island cars overnight in the downtown areas when they take the boat to the mainland, he said.
Because of these considerations, Tisbury regularly employes as many as four traffic officers each day during the summer months, and the town regularly issues the highest number of tickets for all six Island towns.
“I think a lot of people see parking tickets as some form of harassment, but if we didn’t issue tickets then people would take these spots and never leave . . . it’s that simple,” Mr. Israel said.
Oak Bluffs is arguably the most congested of the three down-Island towns during the summer, as motorists compete for a limited number of parking spots along Circuit avenue. Town administrator Michael Dutton said selectmen agreed to increase the parking fees after many businesses complained that people were taking up spots all day and their customers had nowhere to park.
“If you think about it, $10 to park all day is a bargain, especially on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer,” he said.