Task force member: Proposed new system will simplify parking in Princeton

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 resident


  1. The website is http://www.sensiblestreets.org. The website has links to the studies underlying the Council’s plan, which state as a goal “Protect Residential Neighborhoods from Commercial Parking Spillover.” This goal was removed from the Council’s proposal, which included a new goal of sharing the burden of commercial parking in residential neighborhoods. It is not a forgone conclusion that residential neighborhoods should bear a burden and cost of commercial enterprises parking. Harmonizing residential parking is one part of the proposal. Converting residential neighborhoods into commercial parking garages is another. Residents deserve to know and help decide if this is good for residential Princeton.

  2. I think what the task force is saying, is that “Corporations are people too.” ?? Businesses deserve to utilize the natural resource of community neighborhoods just like a corporation deserves to drill for oil on public land. Everyone gets to exploit it, because it is there.

  3. I could not disagree more with the simplistic assertions of the parking Task Force. Charged with developing a comprehensive plan to take Princeton into the 21st century, their best answer is to try and stuff cars onto streets established over 100 years ago, and into neighborhoods meant to capture residential living, not commercial traffic. Instead of developing ride sharing from a centralized location, or striking a deal with the YMCA which is +80% unutilized, the Task Force has decided that “encouraging” street parking in outer neighborhoods is the best answer. Tell that to Oxford or Cambridge – funny, their collaborative culture came up with a remote parking plan almost 50 years ago. Subsidizing Ralph Lauren or Lululemon because they don’t want to pay for their own answer is just bad policy – we are the constituents, not retail. We should not be asked to undermine our quality of life as residents for retail’s profit, and the inability of the Task Force to develop a long term, comprehensive plan. This “share the pain” mindset is antithetical to the idea of serving all of us as residents.

  4. I live just off Blue Spring Road in Montgomery Township. In the past, I often visited the shops in Palmer Square, Spring Street and Nassau Street. But Princeton has made it more challenging to visit the downtown, I find myself just not bothering at all.

  5. There is currently an under-utilization of available parking IN TOWN as shown in a study conducted by the Town in 2017. Aside from the private garages who apparently are unwilling to provide subsidized parking options, there are other lots that are under-utilized during the week, including the YMCA and places of worship. Perhaps the town can find affordable employee parking through agreements brokered for use during their down-times which would also allow the employees to park near their place of work? I can’t imagine an employee will want to drive into Princeton, only to have to park a quarter of a mile or more from their place of work on a residential street. Not fun in the dark or in bad weather…

  6. Apparently, there is an assumption that privatizing street parking for businesses is somehow “equitable,” when it is the opposite. But also, task force members who will benefit from new, low cost parking — essentially a real estate giveaway — should recuse themselves from the task force as they have a conflict of interest.

  7. Parking on a public street should always be viewed through the lens of a comprehensive city planning determined with safety as a number one priority. Princeton’s neighborhood street were designed over a hundred years ago. Width and meandering travel ways never anticipating the volume of traffic experienced by the volume of development. The business of parking in neighborhoods should not subsidize a commercial district. These are two very different aspects of planning and not interchangeable as the Parking Task Force seems to confuse. Safety should be first and foremost. For those streets already overburdened due to increased traffic volume, the problem during rush hours makes walking, crossing and use of the street scape difficult, not conducive to family use, the underlying principle of the street where you live. To underwrite the failure of proper commercial development on residential communities is wrong. Quality of life, safety, walkable streets define small town living and Princeton. A formal long term solution should be considered not a bandaid that goes against every underlying principles of safe street and residential life. I respectfully disagree.

  8. Response to Princeton’s Proposed Permit Parking Plan
    Part 1.

    I started to read the Permit Parking proposal (sensiblestreets.org) and was so taken aback by the introduction that I focused on its details.

    The first Guiding Principle” asks residents to
    “Share available on-street parking resources equitably between residents, customers of neighborhood businesses, visitors, and employees.” (all italics mine)

    But analyze that.
    There are no “neighborhood businesses” beyond downtown because businesses are not permitted on residential streets. Those streets are residential: R-1, R-2, etc.
    The only possible purpose for the euphemisms is to confuse anyone opposed to commuter-clog by accident-inducing, bicycle-and-tree-unfriendly cars.
    Why have residential streets at all?
    The next Principle says that Princeton will
    “Adapt [sic—I think they mean “adopt”] general rules to meet the needs of individual streets…without overcomplicating the system.”
    But why complicate it at all? Let’s separate the needs of streets from those of retail. These are different questions (see Part 2, below).
    The town’s final Guiding Principle will be to
    “use latest technology to benefit all users of parking as well as simplify municipal paperwork, and enforcement.”
    Here I had to parse even the punctuation. What it says is that the Plan will “benefit…enforcement.”
    How? With municipal records of all license plates? Cameras on street corners?
    Don’t we protest, even deride such “enforcement” tech in China? Would you put it in Princeton

    Princeton used to have a borough and a township, a.k.a., a commercial center with a ring of supportive customers around a “donut hole” for business. But “one Princeton” is increasingly two communities pretending to be one: reclusive large lots surrounding increasingly packed, traffic-ridden, unsafe-for-bikes-and-schoolchildren,“residential” streets—a transfer of roles. Those who live on smaller inner-ring lots are now scolded for not wanting to “share.”

    Part 2.

    There is an alternative.

    Let’s finally declare that much debated, exclusively pedestrian area on the commercial stretch of Nassau—not just for the few crowded blocks of Communiversity, but for a reasonable distance, with shuttles every 10 minutes from all those under-utilized parking lots. Add clear signage and make those shuttles electric. Charge for parking, and make the shuttles free.

    What a straightforward solution: convenient parking, easy business access, no pollution. Room for bike lanes and outdoor dining. No dangerous and frustrating wait at VanDeventer, and no cars making potholes between Nassau and Robeson. No change to Tulane. Princeton downtown as a pedestrian haven, a genuine tourist attraction that brings relaxed customers for—and greater variety in—our merchants. Special events? Licensed street merchants? Food trucks? Farmers’ Market? An ever-changing scene for University students—no more “boring” downtown, not to mention a great way to help out the smaller and startup businesses crowded out by high rents. And no invasion of—let’s admit it—a main attraction: Princeton’s quiet residential streets.

    Surface transit should be easy enough to develop. How about ensuring a reliable schedule? An analysis of Tiger Transit, Public Service and Marvin van usage would get us started.

    Princeton wouldn’t be the first town to replace parking meters with pedestrian pleasures. Check out San Francisco’s Embarcadero. It took an earthquake to change things there. For us, it’s a natural.

  9. As commented no one owns the street. However, the street is a fundamental component of any neighborhood. It facilitates the flow of a community and communities are built around the houses, the families that live in them and the local businesses that support them. An “ecosystem” in balance we need to understand and protect.

    We do not have a parking problem, we have a utilization problem. This plan does not address how to utilize the facilities that already exist. However, as written this plan will make parking in front of our homes more problematic, potentially dangerous for our children and erode the neighborhoods we all aspire to maintain.

    Now let us center on the proposal itself and how it is being “marketed” to us all. It is deemed a pilot plan. A pilot comes with measures of success and a timeline for assessment. Yet nowhere are the criteria or timeline for assessment eluded to. My personal belief is that the word pilot is being used to give the appearance of a something temporary and thus a more palatable undertaking. I argue there is nothing temporary or palatable about this. Can anyone ever see it ever being dismantled ? No, whether it works or not it will be the first step in pushing parking onto the shoulders of those who have chosen to live in our community.

    There are clear examples of long term, successful and safe alternatives in other university towns around the world. They just are not as easy or as quick to implement as what is included in this “pilot”.

  10. Of course a PARKING TASK FORCE is going to come up with a PARKING solution, not a TRAFFIC solution.The PARKING SOLUTION is to add more parking (simples). The problem in our town is not PARKING, it is TRAFFIC, congestion and access. We need a COMPREHENSIVE plan, that incorporates all stakeholders: residents, homeowners, renters, workers, tourists, cyclists and walkers — not just those with cars.
    Great idea in one of the posts above: “Charge for parking, and make the shuttles free” and ADVERTISE the same.

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