January 19, 2022

Council to Have Another Meeting Before Voting on Permit Parking

By Anne Levin

Following up on Princeton Council’s special work session devoted to permit parking last week, the town’s Permit Parking Task Force met Tuesday morning, January 18, to debrief and consider the next steps.

The task force has been grappling with several aspects of the parking issue for the past three years. The January 11 Zoom meeting attracted some 180 members of the public and lasted more than five hours. Numerous residents and invited panelists — members of the task force, some downtown business owners, and representatives from nonprofit Sensible Streets, which opposes the task force’s recommendations — voiced their opinions. But there wasn’t enough time for Council members to fully discuss the issue. The topic is to be revisited at a future meeting.

Comments from the public came from residents of different neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, there were many from the Tree Streets and Witherspoon-Jackson sections, which are currently being considered as part of the task force’s plan. While the Western Section and High School neighborhoods were dropped from the recommendations after strong opposition from residents who don’t want daytime parking by employees of downtown businesses on their streets, several of them still chose to speak.

The presentation by Sensible Streets, “Better Process, Better Alternatives,” was delivered by Western Section resident Jonathan Hopkins. “We believe that the process itself pre-determined the outcome here,” he said. “The compromise that’s being presented amongst various interests is actually a compromise amongst the interests of the task force itself.”

Phyllis Teitelbaum, of the High School neighborhood, thanked the task force for their efforts, but said, “It must be extremely disappointing to find this plan you’ve worked so hard on is meeting so much opposition. But you need to listen to the opposition. Princeton residents do not want employees to have permits to park on residential streets.” Teitelbaum added that the plan is “based on the false assumption that the town is responsible for providing parking for the town’s businesses. This is simply not true.”

John Heilner, a former Western Section resident who now lives across town, said the latest proposal by the task force “requires only a couple of small tweaks. If we are to allow employee parking on any of our residential streets, the Western Section must be included. There is no reason residents who live there should receive special treatment versus our neighbors in the Witherspoon-Jackson and Tree Street neighborhoods.”

The task force was formed in 2017 in response to a report on Princeton’s parking issues by the transportation consultants Nelson Nygaard. Councilmembers Leticia Fraga, David Cohen, and Michelle Pirone Lambros serve on the task force along with representatives of local businesses and the public. Lambros said this week that she is stepping down now that she believes the work is completed.

Cohen’s take from the work session was “a range of opinions, about a third in support and two thirds critical,” he said. He referred to public opposition, a few years ago, to the consultant’s recommendations for changes to metered parking. “There was no support for the changes at that time,” he said. “But it was the right thing for the community. People discovered the sky did not fall. We generated more income for the municipality and helped stop meter-feeding by employees of businesses.”

Cohen praised the civilian members of the task force. “They have been amazing and really devoted to this,” he said. “They are committed to doing something equitable. They are people from different neighborhoods, making sacrifices to make it more fair. They feel like their work isn’t done, and want to keep at it. Others feel this is too toxic, and we need to move on. I can’t predict what is going to happen.”

Lambros said she is grateful to those who provided constructive feedback at the work session, where there were some valid points raised. She also thanked the task force for helping provide a foundation for Council to find solutions to parking challenges.

“These solutions need to include enhanced public transit, a parking bank, expanded shared lot agreements, and infrastructure improvements,” she wrote in an email. “Moving forward, I believe that this work should be incorporated into the master planning process which is beginning this year. We now need greater input from our staff, more data on our actual need, and ultimately the business community must play a more active role in finding solutions to its parking needs.”

Fraga, who is Council president, felt the work session was positive.

“Everyone who wanted to speak was heard, and we on the task force also had the opportunity to correct some misinformation and to answer questions from Council and from the public,” she wrote in an email. “From when it was first established, the task force has been working on addressing the issue of Princeton having a parking regime with different rules for different neighborhoods. Although the task force had considered a pilot program starting with the two neighborhoods that have been most impacted by spillover parking, it was never our intention to not include other neighborhoods as part of a parking solution. Although we heard from members of Sensible Streets that they oppose the task force recommendations, we also heard from residents in other neighborhoods that they would oppose any plan that favors one or more neighborhoods over theirs.”

Fraga added, “Members of the task force unanimously agree that we need to include all neighborhoods in order to implement uniform parking solutions. We look forward to continuing the conversation with mayor and Council in the very near future. A date has not been set, but I will be sure to announce it well in advance of the meeting.”