May 12, 2021

Parking Task Force is Almost Ready To Present Plan

By Anne Levin

Thanks to new technology, the parking woes that plague different neighborhoods of Princeton could soon be eased. The Permit Parking Task Force has been working on coming up with a better system for residents, employees, and customers of local businesses in areas where spaces are at a premium.

At a meeting of the Princeton Merchants Association last week, Councilman David Cohen gave an update on proposed changes to help  with permit parking. Cohen and fellow Council members Leticia Fraga and Michelle Pirone Lambros are on the task force, along with local residents and business owners.

The Council members plan to hold a work session on the issue at the next Council meeting on May 24. A gathering with residents of the town’s Western Section is being planned for sometime next week. The task force, which is preparing a draft proposal, has already met with residents and businesses in the Tree Streets and Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhoods.

“We’re working to create a system that is fairly consistent town-wide,” said Cohen, “making the rules responsive to varying needs for parking at different hours of the day and days of the week. We also want to put a lot of emphasis on customer parking as well as employee parking. We’re planning to create three hours of shared parking on every street in the permit zones, except for Bank Street, for residents and visitors. We chose the three-hour duration to align with the fact that the meters are [already] for that duration.”

The problem is particularly acute in the Tree Streets neighborhood, where there currently is all-day parking that fills up with employees of nearby Nassau Street businesses and University-affiliated users. “We want to free up some of those spots there, and also in the high school zones,” Cohen said.

For employee parking, permits will be issued on a block-by-block basis to ensure that the employees are spread out instead of clustered in the blocks closest to the businesses. The idea is to give out permits to 50 percent of employees, to be used only on certain streets so as not to take away from customer parking. Cooperation by residents across Nassau
Street on Murray Place, Patton Avenue, and Aiken Avenue has increased the number of potential spots.

Businesses would be charged $10 a month for permits that could be shared by employees. “If you have multiple shifts, you can actually associate more than one license plate number with the permit,” said Cohen.

The Hamilton-Wiggins corridor, where there are currently 12 2-hour parking spots and about 49 all-day spots, has been an area of particular concern. Should the town install bike lanes there, the spots would need to be relocated.

The technology that makes the changes possible is license plate reading, mounted on enforcement vehicles, Cohen said. “They can check quickly for permitting, which is on the license plates. And even for the customer parking, the technology makes it easy to see whether people are gaming the system and moving their cars. It allows us to know if anybody has re-parked in the same zone, which won’t be allowed.”

The task force is looking for input on the proposal, Cohen told the PMA. Dorothea von Moltke of Labyrinth Books said that for her employees, who park on Wiggins Street and in the Princeton High School neighborhood, sharing spaces will not work because some shifts overlap. But she would likely pay the $10 monthly fee. “Honestly, that’s really reasonable,” she said.

Lambros said the town would probably need to add one more enforcement officer to the staff. “The amount of money would be significant, but we’re hoping it would be offset with the $10 monthly fee paid by the businesses,” she said.

Speaking a few days after the presentation, Cohen said the new technology is a “win-win, where there is actually better parking for everyone. We felt we needed to come up with a better system for managing and sharing between these different users.”

The issue has been studied for the past few years. “It seems like something that should have been quicker, but there was a hiatus with COVID because a lot of the parking pressure was lifted,” Cohen said. “Also, it’s one of these cases where letting it just stew in the back of the brain really helped us boil it down to the essentials, and come up with a plan that is quite simple and elegant. The same set of rules work in all the neighborhoods.”

Should Council vote to approve the proposal, required ordinances could be passed early next month to implement the program. “At that point we’d order the technology,” Cohen said. “We’d shoot to have it up and running by mid-August so we can have a few weeks to get the kinks out before the students come back.”