Gulfport could benefit from paid parking, sure, but the peace of mind that comes with free parking is worth far more to people, Joe Opaleski writes.
Pinellas County beaches aren’t cheap to visit, which means they aren’t always accessible for lower-income residents. St. Pete Beach’s current parking costs $3.25 an hour, a high price tag for the area’s top attraction. That’s why I’m honored to live in a place with free waterfront parking.
While it doesn’t have views straight to the horizon, or waves big enough to successfully surf or boogie board on, Gulfport’s free parking is magical. Maybe it’s the savings alone, or maybe it’s the lack of parking cops stalking you in golf carts, but the peace of mind that comes with free parking is one of my favorite things about this community.
It’s true that Gulfport could use the cash from paid parking areas to complete important projects or pay city workers. A price hike in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the city of St. Pete Beach to provide additional cleaning for public restrooms and other facilities. That’s great, but I think every yin should have a yang.
Every beach that costs money to park beside should be complemented by a lovely free option. This is especially true for our county, where everything seems to get more expensive by the day. Without the free waterfront parking our town offers, beach days could be rare for nearby families.
A 2017 article in The Gabber quotes City Manager Jim O’Reilly explaining that Gulfport’s beach parking wasn’t always free. Around 30 years ago, drivers looking to visit the city’s waterfront area had to pay a fee and would end up parking in the neighborhoods to avoid it. This led the city to implement resident parking permits for designated streets and to make the waterfront area free.
As I scroll through my ParkMobile app and groan at all the money I’ve spent parking at St. Pete Beach while showing family or friends the popular site, I’m thankful for our city’s lenient parking policies that offset the small fortune I’ve lost. Even though Boca Ciega Bay seems to be two-feet deep throughout the entire swim area, and you might get domed by a volleyball while lounging in the sand, I’ll take our free oasis over expensive St. Pete Beach any day.
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