PROVIDENCE – Following Governor Gina M. Raimondo's announcement yesterday at the COVID-19 press conference, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will ease parking restrictions by increasing parking by 25% at Rhode Island state beaches starting Saturday, June 27, to try to keep lines of cars moving and reduce wait times at entrances. Since beaches opened June 1, DEM has limited parking to 50% capacity at major beaches to prevent crowding and ensure adequate room for physical distancing on the sand. Despite the parking limits, however, last Saturday's beach-perfect weather drew visitors by the thousands as more beachgoers than ever carpooled and got dropped off. The Governor's decision immediately adds more than 2,000 spaces systemwide. At 75% capacity, beach lots will hold around 6,000 vehicles. DEM will monitor closely the impact of the new capacity limit.
"Beach lovers know that with many thousands of people all going to the same places at the same times, hot, sunny days result in traffic jams," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Although DEM cannot eliminate beach traffic, we are hopeful that increasing parking capacity by another 25% and raising customer awareness of our option to buy season passes online at www.beachparkingRI.com will reduce entry times."
Director Coit was referring to a second announcement made by Raimondo that DEM will discontinue selling season passes at beach entrances. Because of the documentation required, selling season passes takes from five to seven minutes per transaction, whereas the sale of a day pass takes only about a minute. With thousands of beachgoers, the longer transactions add up and slow traffic.
If visitors prefer a person-to-person transaction, they may buy their season passes at the offices of DEM's parking vendor, LAZ, in the overflow parking lot at Scarborough State Beach. This office is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. A RI resident season pass costs $30. Anyone who buys their pass online or before heading to the beach will be able to use newly installed express lanes for quick entry at Scarborough North, Scarborough South, Roger Wheeler, East Matunuck, and Misquamicut state beaches.
With COVID cases continuing to decline in the state, officials are urging Rhode Islanders not to become complacent about the pandemic. "If we stop following our public health guidance, we could end up in a bad place very quickly," Raimondo said yesterday.
"By far our biggest concern at beaches is mask wearing, or lack thereof, on the pavilions," said Coit. "Whether to buy a Del's, pick up food at the concessions, or use the restrooms, visitors generally are not wearing face coverings, which are one of the most effective ways of limiting the spread of the coronavirus. Wearing a mask in all public places where you are close to other people and cannot easily, continuously, and measurably maintain six feet of physical distance is what the Rhode Island Department of Health recommends and it's the civic-minded thing to do."
Over the coming days, DEM will be launching a new online tool so beachgoers can check to see whether beach parking lots are full before taking a drive to the beach. Soon, beach visitors can go to www.riparks.com/beachpass to check on parking lot status, and then plan their beach day accordingly.
Despite these changes, beachgoers should expect that they may encounter traffic backups and closed lots. Beach traffic may be diverted when overcrowding occurs. Please be patient and plan for delays.
Any Rhode Islander who already holds a 2019 no-cost disability beach pass may continue to use it for entry into state beach parking lots for the 2020 season. Those who have misplaced their 2019 pass or who are eligible for a new no-cost disability pass may contact the RI State Parks Headquarters at 667-6200 for instructions on how to obtain it.
For updates on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.