March 14, 2018

Work Session on Parking Issues Dominates Council Meeting

By Anne Levin

The future of parking in Princeton took up a large portion of Princeton Council’s meeting on Monday, March 12. Julie Dixon of Dixon Resources Unlimited gave an overview of a recently completed study on how the town should approach ongoing problems associated with parking.

Keeping up with technology and remaining transparent are key elements of the process, said Dixon, whose company has advised towns and cities all over the country. “We look for realistic implementations and solutions that will last,” she said at the beginning of her presentation. “There is a lot of technology out there, and we don’t want to put you into a closed system.”

A visitor’s first and last impression of Princeton is through parking, Dixon said. “Parking really means customer service. You want to make sure it’s a positive experience.” She stressed that not all changes to parking С which involves meters, pay stations, garages, and more С should be made at once. Instead, they should be gradually implemented so as not to overwhelm citizens.

Regarding the question of single space parking meters versus pay stations, “It’s not necessarily an all or none solution,” Dixon said. “You’re looking at a hybrid.” What is key is that all meters or pay stations would take credit cards. Dixon also advocated increasing signage and developing “a clean aesthetic that blends in with the community but is also recognizable.”

Mobile payment is a must, she said, not just for convenience but also for validation programs. This type of payment could also be integrated with public transit. Dixon suggested that using license plate recognition at pay stations is preferable to displaying a ticket on the dashboard, or paying by the space.

Before coming up with rate structures, “define what it is you’re trying to obtain,” Dixon said. “If it’s turnover, you don’t want a pay-to-stay model. It depends on the community.” Other topics she discussed included valet parking where a car is dropped off at one place but can be delivered to another, which can reduce congestion; getting citations out of the courts and managing parking independently, which would involve changing state laws; and making sure there is an active preventative maintenance program in place for the equipment and technology.

Peter Madison, a Princeton resident and former member of the Planning Board, suggested that an advisory committee of residents, shop owners, and Princeton University be formed to study the issue. “We’re hiring another consultant to review a previous consultant’s report and make comments,” he said, referring to Nelson Nygaard, who has also done a parking study of the town. “My concern with them is that they’re not Princeton residents. They don’t have the experience of living here for many years or working here for many years.”

Mayor Liz Lempert responded that a route similar to Madison’s suggestion had been taken in the past, without helpful results. “This is a really important process that needs to be open and transparent,” she said. “We spent two years and hundreds of hours trying to come up with some parking ordinances. We came to Council, but there was no agreement. I’m trying to learn from a failure and say we’re not going to do this again.”

Using consultants is also important because of their familiarity with the constantly changing technology, Lempert added. “The implementation piece of this is very important. We want to be on the cutting edge of things. We don’t want to be building on implementations that communities were doing 10 years ago. We want to be building what they’re going to be doing for the next 10 years so the investment we’re making is good use of our money.”