June 2, 2021

Town’s Tree-Lined Streets Should Not Have Cars Parked Bumper to Bumper

To the Editor:

I want to address the mayor and Council’s current proposal for expanding street parking availability in Princeton’s in-town and near-town neighborhoods. The proposal reserves spaces for downtown employees and creates new parking by removing the overnight parking ban and adding new permits for residents.

As a former Princeton Council member for 10 years, I know firsthand that requests for parking from employees and residents are often tinged with desperation and stories of hardship. Council members may believe their plan achieves a measure of social justice for low-paid workers and for those who live in modest homes that lack driveways or whose driveways accommodate only one car. I disagree with that in terms of both residential and commercial parking. 

A parking spot for one’s car is a cost of owning a car. Employee parking is a cost of doing business.

When considering providing new parking spaces for residents, it is important to understand that houses with no driveways have lower purchase prices and pay lower taxes than houses with plentiful parking. In other words, these residences are more affordable. Adding new parking spaces will increase their price and their taxes. 

Currently, residents with limited parking who want another car either move or find parking somewhere to rent. With an overnight permit, these residences will no longer include this limitation. Instead of incentivizing low-car households, the proposal incentivizes the opposite.

The U.S. census indicates that Princeton has a higher-than-average number of residents who commute to work by walking. This should be evidence that our decades-old parking limitations are actually progressive in terms of promoting a walkable, bike friendly environment. Are we really going to change strategy now? This question of sustainability has been inexplicably absent in the debate. It seems obvious that adding new residential parking spaces will lead to more cars and more traffic on the streets. Where are the climate activists? 

As for employee parking, the majority of Princeton employers provide parking for their employees. If the town wants to solve the problem for those who do not, it should adopt an ordinance requiring employers to provide parking. Not only would that be fair, it would eliminate the moral hazard created by providing low cost parking when market-rate parking is more expensive. 

Holding the line on street parking is difficult for the Council when residents and employees plead for more. Those who would get new parking spaces under the proposal will likely support it. However, the proposed solution is not a long-term solution. It is only helpful in the moment and only for current residents.

Finally, I hope we are not underestimating the permanent, detrimental effect of vast parking-lot streets on Princeton’s old-fashioned beauty and appeal. Princeton is still a picturesque, tourist-worthy town. I ask whether the mayor and Council want Princeton’s beautiful tree-lined streets parked bumper to bumper like so many cities in the United States. We can be different. We can prevent that future. 

Jenny Crumiller
Library Place