By Forest Riggs

Like the annual return of the swallows to Capistrano, so do the flocks of visitors and tourists return to Galveston Island—especially during the end of April and throughout May—and it is happening now.

There is something about this time of year—even though technically it is still Spring Spring—that sort of shouts, “Summer is beginning!” With so many improvements, new things to see, places to eat, newly sanded beaches and other attractions, it is no wonder that several magazines and polls have recently named Galveston as one of the Top 10 beach/island destinations in America. But this is something we locals have known for a long time!pay2

Other than a spat with your love interest, nothing can ruin a good time quicker than returning to your vehicle and finding a parking citation wedged under your wiper blade! Ugh! Unfortunately it happens over and over every day. From the Seawall to the Strand, the parking Nazis are out there on foot, scooters and Segways. Although a total pain in the rear, you can’t fault the uniform clad ticket-writers; in truth, they are only doing their job.

In my neighborhood (the East End/UTMB area) the “Parking General” is a very sweet lady named Gloria. She is the best, kindest, do-anything-for-you type of woman to some; to others, she is a monster. She has been targeted on Facebook, threatened on the street, cussed and even had beer bottles hurled at her. Folks try avoiding high parking fees at the UTMB campuses (even employees). They constantly park along the streets, ignoring the red and white signs and then they explode when they return to find a ticket on their vehicle. I see it daily; some rant and rave, rip the citation and toss it to the ground (thanks) or start snapping pics with their phones considering a protest in court. Poor Gloria!

pay3For years, there was no charge to park along the Seawall and it seemed to work out well for everyone. I have been fortunate enough to live in several waterfront destinations, both in the United States and abroad, and none offered free parking along the shoreline or seawall-type situations. We had a good thing going here for a long time! Call it greed, call it progress, but things changed, and in Galveston, they have changed a few times over the years.

The final decision on Seawall parking came in 2011 when locals voted to allow metered parking along the famed boulevard. Of course this was met with noisy protests from the vote’s opposition. However, an olive branch was tossed out: the fees would help fund nice, modern bathrooms and showers along the Seawall, palm trees, colorful vegetation and the vague possibility of lifesaving crosswalks. Galvestonians have seen such ambiguous promises in the
past. So far, all we have seen are “fancy” Porta-Johns disguised as mobile restrooms. No palm trees, no vegetation beds and certainly no crosswalks. There have been some protruding “bus stop things”—built right out into the traffic! So far, this has resulted in a few accidents and a death!

Regardless, locals and visitors still want to park along the Seawall and trek down to the sand and water, or even across the street to a favorite club or restaurant. I have talked to several folks, mostly older, that do not carry or use a “smart phone” and have become very irritated with trying to park and pay along the Seawall. A few younger people have commented that it is “not very user-friendly or encouraging me to come back.” Noted!

During Mardi Gras, with all the Seawall parades and activities, scores received tickets along the raised route. Visiting friends have asked others and myself why the city just doesn’t allow free parking during Mardi Gras. The simple truth is that giving something away generates no money!

It’s not just the Seawall where parking is a female dog (so to speak). There are several parking problem areas around the island. Trying to park downtown and around the Strand area is a nightmare and the same goes for neighborhood districts and the UTMB area. The residents in these areas have had a hard time with visitors and business patrons blocking drives, taking parking spaces and littering.

The key is to pay attention! Make sure you look for signs (in the neighborhoods they can be hidden behind vegetation) and read the signs carefully. Most of the LGBTQ hangouts are located in or very near residential neighborhoods. Mostly in these areas you will see signs that read “No Parking. Mon.–Fri. 8 am–5 pm. Residential permits exempt” followed by a modernized image of a tow truck. Word to the wise: don’t risk it–you will be towed. The key to avoiding a citation is simple: look before you park! The Island welcomes visitors from all over, however it does not offer much in user friendly, easy parking space.

Many merchants downtown wonder why their business is not as great as they wish, or why locals don’t come there to shop, eat and drink more often. For the most part, the answer is parking. It’s a hassle to find parking in order to run into a boutique or gallery! Even clever locals still circle around, seeking a “free” spot farther from their destination, which can still land you with a violation depending when and where you find a spot. Most businesses on or near Pier 21 will validate your parking ticket stub, usually for two hours.

Regardless of why you visit, or where you park, just be careful. The locals want friends, family and visitors to come to Galveston and have a memorable time and not leave with a parking citation that ruins your island experience. Happy and safe parking; with a little common sense, there will be no need to scream, “Mayday!”

Seawall Parking: $1 per hour, eight-hour max (charged to your credit card). Yearly pass $25. Hours: 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., seven days a week. Area of metered parking: 6th Street to 69th Street and 81st Street to 103rd Street. 69th Street to 81st Street is free.

Downtown Parking: $1.50 per hour, one-hour minimum, 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with a $.25 transaction fee for pay-by-phone. Citation fee: $30. Fifteen-minute grace period. Sunday free.

A resident of Galveston where he can be found wasting bait and searching for the meaning of life, Forest Riggs recently completed a collection of short stories about his beloved island and is working on a novel.