Enjoy sun, sand, free parking a bit longer

Isle of Palms Mayor Dick Cronin said Tuesday that the city will probably not implement its new beach-visitor parking pass this summer, but will roll out the program in May of 2016.

ISLE OF PALMS — It’s looking like visitors will not be required to purchase a beach parking pass this summer but the city intends to implement the program in 2016, Mayor Dick Cronin said Tuesday.

“I know we were hopeful. There isn’t enough time,” Cronin said during a City Council meeting.

Some council members expressed concern that rushing implementation of the program would lead to a botched rollout.

A consultant who recommended the parking pass system said it could be implemented in midsummer but Cronin did not favor that approach.

“To go live in late July for one month to me is not worth the effort,” he said.

But not everyone agreed.

“I think we have got to get on with it,” said Councilman Patrick Harrington.

Councilman Michael Loftus suggested moving forward.

“We can probably implement this the beginning of July,” he said.

After the discussion, council took “no” vote on the issue. Cronin directed city staff to “keep the pedal to the metal” for starting the parking pass system at the beginning of summer next year.

Under the latest proposal, a pass would grant access to roadside parking on designated streets near the beach. The cost of a pass, how they would be purchased and how many would be sold has yet to be determined.

The city says the parking-management program is necessary because traffic on the island in the summer has become a crisis as reflected in data gathered last Memorial Day weekend. At peak times during the day, there were more than 8,000 vehicles on the island but only about 2,200 public parking places. The result is gridlock that can affect public safety, the city says.

“Currently, there is no way for a motorist to know, in advance of contemplating a trip to the beach, that all of the available spaces are filled,” City Administrator Linda Tucker said in a letter to the state Department of Transportation, which OK’d the city regulating the state-owned roadside right of way.

The city wants to implement the parking pass program from May through Labor Day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Some 300 signs would be put up on the island to show where parking is allowed under the program. That was an aesthetic issue for Councilwoman Sandy Ferencz.

“It’s just going to make this an island of signs,” she said.

On neighboring Sullivan’s Island, there has been concern that an IOP beach parking pass would cause visitors to flock to Sullivan’s if the parking there remains free. For that reason, Sullivan’s has been moving toward a managed parking plan. Town staff is completing an inventory of parking spaces, taking public comment from residents and reviewing payment options. The town has not hired a consultant to develop a parking plan, officials said.

Officials on both islands have said a parking plan is a way to better manage the crush of visitors from Memorial Day to Labor Day. They have described it as a safety issue, much like setting a legal occupancy for a building. Longer emergency response times on a crowded island are cause for concern, they said.

Charleston County has indicated that from the perspective of EMS response, the crowded roads on the islands are manageable.

“Traffic congestion is never a good thing, but our medics are trained heavily in driving in traffic and maneuvering in tight situations, because traffic congestion exists all over the county,” said county spokesman Shawn Smetana.

On both islands, parking is available in the neighborhoods along road shoulders. The IOP commercial district has city and county lots with parking for a fee. IOP visitors often go to the neighborhoods, though, for free parking and a less-crowded beach.

Folly Beach offers beachfront parking for a fee paid at kiosks up and down the island. There are also two county lots and several private lots available for a fee. Neighborhood street parking is still free, as long as motorists obey the rules.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.