At its Monday, July 27, meeting, the Falmouth Select Board voted unanimously to expand parking at the Mill Road parking lot from its diminished 50 percent capacity.
“Mill Road or one or more of the Menauhant lots are probably the best places to trial if we were to open up capacity,” acting Beach Superintendent Margaret G. Clayton said.
Select board member Douglas H. Jones agreed, making the motion to move one of the concrete barriers in the Mill Road parking lot. Beach staff can use Mill Road as a test case to see what sort of impact that fully opening a parking lot will have on beach crowds.
Ms. Clayton said beach staff are monitoring the number of beachgoers on a daily basis and grading the crowd density on a scale of one to five—the more densely packed beachgoers are, the higher the level. The highest level reached thus far is level four, which means groups of people are sitting three feet apart on the beach.
“The level fours we’ve seen have been at Chapoquoit Beach at high tide, places where the real estate does not match the demand,” she said.
On a typical day Falmouth’s west-facing beaches can reach level four during high tide. Most other beaches reach level three, meaning people are sitting approximately six feet apart on the beach.
As for the proposal to open additional parking spaces at the Old Silver Beach residential parking lot while closing spaces in the public lot, Ms. Clayton said she does not recommend it.
“It can be a [level] four on the residents side, but only a [level] two or three on the public side, which is why I am hesitant to change it,” she said.
In addition, she noted that while the parking lot is divided, the beach itself is not. People can park on the public side, walk across the bridge and use the residents beach, and vice versa.
“The crowding is happening now, and giving more parking isn’t going to help the crowding,” select board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said. “What it would help is maybe allowing more residents to be part of the crowd at the beach. People would have to make personal choices about their comfort level.”
Board member Douglas C. Brown asked about expanding parking in the Wood Neck Beach parking lot. Ms. Clayton did not recommend this.
“Wood Neck is a concern because of how people park in the 50 percent when there is no attendant,” she said.
Ms. English Braga described the parking situation at Wood Neck Beach as “very bad” after the parking attendant leaves in the afternoon.
“You could never fit an ambulance if someone had an emergency. They’re parking on both sides. That’s the beach I go to because I have a little person, and there is barely enough room sometimes to get a regular car through, never mind if you have an emergency,” she said.
Ms. Clayton said parking attendants are doing their best to manage parking with reduced lot capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is a period at the end of the day when the beaches are staffed with lifeguards but no parking attendants.
“The parking attendants have been amazing, keeping to that number and parking people as best they can, but that last hour, when it is just lifeguards and no parking attendants, we’ve had an issue a couple of days where we had to add extra cones so that no one would block the equipment locker. People will creatively park, in all different ways,” she said.
The beach department took steps to address this issue by extending the hours of parking attendants at Old Silver Beach and Chapoquoit Beach.
“For an additional hour daily, seven days a week, those parking lots are manned,” Ms. Clayton said. “For Chapoquoit, it prioritizes the resident/taxpayer sticker because those who wanted to get in at 3:45 PM when the parking attendant leaves, they now have to wait until 4:45 PM. It gives a little bit more time, following the lunchtime turnover, for those spaces to still be filled by residents with beach stickers.”
At Old Silver Beach, most of those accessing the beach during that extended hour have been residents with stickers.
“There have only been two days, but they’ve sold about 20 nonresident daily passes in that hour because the parking lot is still full that late in the day because of how popular Old Silver is,” Ms. Clayton said.