Princeton merchants propose improvements to new parking meter system

The following letter was sent to the mayor and Princeton Council by the Princeton Merchants Association Parking Meter Task Force on Jan. 17

In collectively reviewing the current parking plan, we come to several conclusions and want to propose a set of improvements that would honor the intent of the new plan — as articulated by Mayor Lempert in a recent meeting — to serve first and foremost as a tool for economic development of Princeton’s vital downtown.

It appears that difficulties with the technology of the new meters (including the important issue of refundability and credit card minimums) are already being addressed, which is important and very welcome.

We feel, however, that precisely given the urgency of the issue, both for business owners and for residents, it is wise not to propose other partial fixes in haste, but rather to take another comprehensive look. Our proposal makes permitted employee parking integral to the plan and suggests lower, progressive parking rates as well as better solutions to loading zones, while beginning to address how such changes could honor the current parking budget.

Progressive parking rates (in place of current 2hr parking):

Our proposal: hour 1 — $1.50; hour 2 — $1.75; hour 3 — $2.25

The progressive structure incentivizes turn-over, an ambition of the parking overhaul for the downtown. The third hour is essential so customers don’t need to choose, for instance, between a meal and shopping. Council recently cited data that shows that the average parking duration is under two hours, an index that the 3-hour period would allow for a longer stay for some without leading to too many spots being taken up for too long. For a 3-hour period, the rate would come to $5.50 as opposed to $6.75 at the current flat rate. We fully recognize the importance of any fixes to the new system being budget neutral, and would ask that the council reach out to citizens’ finance advisory committee members to confirm our progressive rate proposal is or could be made budget neutral to their original proposal of the projected revenues. We suggest the following to help offset any shortfall:

*Raise the 10-hour meters from $.75 to $1.00 an hour

*Begin metered parking at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.

*Raise the Dinky daily parking from $4 to $5 a day

*Charge tour buses parked in town a sizable, to be determined fee. (While you’re at it, maybe charge idling buses an environmental surcharge)

*Revisit the loading zones to make them both business- and, during off-hours, customer-friendly by installing 30-minute meters: the timing for metered parking in loading zones may need to be site-specific and can be longer in some places than in others. At a minimum: after 4 p.m. and on weekends. This, too, will provide additional revenue. 

Permitted employee parking:

Your email to us as well as the mass email from the town and statements made at the town meeting of 1/14 all suggest that permitted employee parking in walking distance is being taken seriously as part of the current phase of revisions to the overall parking plan. That said, there are two immediate steps we recommend, which we believe will demonstrate the town’s commitment to this issue:

*It is our understanding that the Franklin-lot is owned by the town and sits empty. It could and should be opened for employee parking immediately. We suggest a $30 monthly fee per spot for some additional revenue.

*Do not convert free parking to bike-lanes: this does little to change the nature of the bike-ride into town and it artificially pits workers against environmentalists.

While the emotions currently being aired by many speak to the fact that a lot is at stake in revising the new parking plan, we truly welcome this moment as one of bringing more and/or different stakeholders into the process and hopefully of coming up with more ideas and creative solutions. It is in that spirit that we submit our proposal and are ready to make time for future meetings as necessary.

Jessica Durrie, Joanne Farrugia, Jon Lambert, Mimi Omiecinski, Cliff Simms, Dean Smith, Dorothea von Moltke and Jack Morrison on behalf of the members of the Princeton Merchants Association 


  1. The progressive structure will not incentive the use of takeout from restaurants in Princeton one of the main reasons many locals in the area come to town is for short service visits like takeout or coffee. These meters do nothing for the downtown except make me want to go to Pennington or Hopewell. I have received my first ticket for parking on the new meters today bring my takeout meal from Olives to around $65 that’s not sustainable. Since i currently use coins in the new meters since paying $1 seems excessive for a 10-15min excursion. I discovered today that the new meters don’t have the old grace period If your a shop owner in Princeton you should be pressuring the town to fix this or get rid of meters altogether.

  2. I would also like to see a Jake Break ban made a part of the town laws. Everyday the trucks that pass through town using the Jake Breaks disturbs the quality of life in Princeton. Many towns have an ordinance that bans the use and tickets offenders. I know this is not a part of the parking discussion. The fines levied on truckers while they are being trained to change would be a help to the town and maybe a subsidy to the parking revenue. A Jake Break uses the transmission to slow the trucks down rather than use the breaks themselves. It is unnecessary at the low speed on Nassau St. The noise is that pulsing engine sound you hear.

  3. I have 80 sales agents that work out of my office on Nassau Street. This has been an extremely horrific exercise in managing them, reimbursing them and setting expectations with them. We May Move out of Princeton just because of this new burden for our clients as well as the sales agents.

  4. I am minimizing or avoiding visits to Princeton since this change.

    I love Princeton but more than 5 dollars every time I visit is a bit much.

    I can shop and eat many other places.

  5. As we all know, Princeton is a highly desirable place for many reasons. Because of the law of supply and demand, this makes our limited public space extremely valuable. While everybody loves a public subsidy, free or cheap parking gives the wrong incentives and is a regressive policy, as borne out by many studies.

    As for the bike lanes on Hamilton: they are part of the town’s Bike Mobility Plan. They encourage both employees and customers to reach the CBD without a car. Studies show that customers on bike over time spend more than customers who come by car. The bike lanes would make it much safer for our children to go after school to the library and to visit their favorite downtown establishments with friends: our children don’t need the mall, they have our CBD!

    For several summers, my daughter worked at downtown establishments. The pay was around $8 per hour, and I have seen how having to park the car in the garage (on very rainy days) put a big dent in her daily earnings. The best way merchants can support their employees, other than raising their wages, is to support their ability to live in town affordably, and to support ways to reach work without requiring expensive car ownership.

  6. @Tineke I find it puzzling how so many people bring up cheap parking as a public subsidy that should be eliminated. People are driving to town is to shop at our stores and participate in our events. Most people will never be able to bike to downtown and we should accept that. Charging high parking fees to discourage driving only makes Princeton into a more elitist town for the 1%. Also, fairness requires acknowledging that using roads for bike lines is an enormous public subsidy for the very small number of citizens who have the ability to bike.

  7. I want to compliment the PMA on their thoughtful proposal regarding the parking fee structure. A progressive fee structure acknowledges that we have many businesses in town that rely on short visits by a large number of customers – think banks, carry-out food vendors and coffee shops – co-existing with high-end retail shops that thrive when customers can shop or dine at a more leisurely pace. The progressive structure should discourage employees from parking in prime spots that employers should want available for potential customers.

    I have two concerns about the Franklin lot. First and foremost, everyone should be crystal clear that the availability of the lot is temporary – and not a long-term solution. The lot was originally designated for affordable housing, and although that restriction was lifted when Princeton University donated the land to the town, it is pretty clear that it will be necessary to use that lot to meet the COAH (Affordable Housing) obligation. And to be honest, it isn’t that close to many of the businesses in the CBD. It is about equidistant between the municipal bldg. and the library. Perhaps the elected officials could use it on a trial basis to determine how convenient it is. 😉 Adding a fee to that lot will drive employees into residential neighborhoods where parking is “free.” Is Council really going to permit every piece of real estate in town? Good luck.

    Continuing to tie the parking fee structure to the now-sunk costs of the meter system and the consulting fees will prevent the governing body from making the best decisions on how to manage traffic and parking. It was important to know going into the project the magnitude of the investment and potential payback even if some of the information was incomplete or inaccurate. But now it is done. The consultant is paid, and the meters and software are purchased and finally installed and operable. If any part of that was a mistake, the reality is that there is no going back. The focus going forward should be on finding the sweet spot of encouraging visitors and shoppers to town while managing parking and CBD traffic. Parking spots are worth more than the dollars they generate on any given day.

    Finally, I am sorry to see the proposed changes to the parking in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. A few years ago, the W-J neighborhood was designated a historic district to great fanfare. We heard wonderful stories about the Witherspoon corridor and its history as a vibrant business district. Ten-hour parking along Witherspoon will place an unfair burden on both the residents and businesses of the W-J, while discouraging future investment.

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