June 16, 2021

Continuing to Place Burden of “Commercial” Parking on Two Neighborhoods is Inequitable

To the Editor:

Recently, a polished but anonymous website has trumpeted opposition to a proposal for a pilot parking program developed by Princeton’s Parking Task Force. The website warns ominously about the introduction of “commercial parking” into Princeton’s neighborhoods. The fact of the matter is, though, that residential streets have always included parking derived from Princeton’s businesses.

Employees and customers — many of them, of course, residents of more distant Princeton neighborhoods — park on streets designated as two- or three-hour zones (such as Green and Quarry in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, Pine and Chestnut in the Tree Street neighborhood, and Hodge and Boudinot in the Western Section). They also park on unregulated streets, such as Lytle, most of Spruce, Moran, and Maple. In the most affected neighborhoods (primarily the Witherspoon-Jackson and Tree Street areas), residents are frequently crowded out from parking on their own blocks. There are other residential areas where, despite proximity to the downtown business district, visitor parking is effectively banned.

By allocating a limited number of spots for the use of downtown employees, the pilot proposal aims to lower the impact residents of some streets face from visitor parking. Including streets that currently bar visitor parking will help advance this goal. It’s important to keep in mind that businesses already pay a significant portion of taxes in Princeton and should share in public resources. No one owns the streets because we all do — residents and businesses alike. The task force seeks to distribute street parking more effectively in different areas of town while retaining the resource as a means of sustaining the vitality and convenience that benefits us all.

The proposal also aims to simplify the current patchwork of regulations that govern different sections of town. For example, residents of the part of Witherspoon-Jackson that was formerly in the township currently have access to two 24-hour on-street permits. One block away — literally — in the part of the neighborhood that was in the borough, residents are subject to two-hour limits during the day and for overnight parking must resort to a lot with limited spaces off of McLean Street (for a fee). Applying such onerous restrictions to one set of residents while excluding others is inherently unfair.

No parking system can resolve all issues for everyone. Perfect uniformity need not be the goal and is likely impossible. Areas where many homes lack off-street parking depend on the public resource of the streets in a way that neighborhoods featuring homes with bigger lots and set-backs do not. Student parking near the high school puts special burdens on residents of nearby homes.

The task force continues to solicit suggestions and feedback on its pilot proposal and on ways to balance the needs of different stakeholders and neighborhoods in a fair and equitable manner. Continuing, however, to place the burden of “commercial” parking on two neighborhoods, while sparing all others, is definitively inequitable.

Bland Whitley
Member, Princeton Parking Task Force
Leigh Avenue