Letters: A task force member’s perspective on the Princeton permit parking plan

I’m writing as a member of the Permit Parking Task Force who grew up on Jefferson Road, and, several years ago, returned to live in the same neighborhood, just over a block from the High School. Princeton’s Council recently heard the Task Force’s initial recommendations for improving the town’s permit parking regime.  Since then, the Task Force has posted on its website both answers to Frequently Asked Questions and a set of charts that compare how the existing parking permit rules apply to each of the centrally located Princeton neighborhoods and how the proposed changes in these rules would affect each of them. These documents incorporate some modifications of the Task Force’s preliminary recommendations to Council in response to the resident feedback received at that Council meeting. Hopefully, a perusal of the website will help to clear-up the misconceptions on which much of the voiced opposition to the proposals has been premised. Some further refinements of the proposals remain under active discussion. (See https://www.princetonnj.gov/329/Permit-Parking-Task-Force)

In this letter I focus on how the Task Force’s proposal will affect my neighbors in the High School Permit zone, particularly in respect to its provision for some limited parking permits for downtown employees. This Zone was established to prohibit PHS students from parking on residential streets during the school year. However, unlike other centrally located neighborhoods, here current regulation also excludes all daytime parking for downtown employees and customers from September to June. By contrast, during the summer months, anyone can park in the zone all day, while most other inner neighborhoods have a posted, year-round, two-hour limit. Moreover, unlike those other inner neighborhoods, High School zone residents receive as many as four daytime permits, two for their own vehicles and two for guests, and at zero annual cost.

The Task Force’s proposal:

  •  Would, on each of the blocks closest to Wiggins Street, allocate a limited number of permits for employees. During the summer months, this most likely would result in fewer employees parked on Jefferson and Moore between Wiggins and Hawthorne than under present regulation. As in other inner neighborhoods, from 50 to 70% of the spaces on each block would remain available for residents, their guests, and contractors subject to a three-hour limit. Given the distance from Nassau Street, there should be little if any use of these spaces by customers.
  • Would, in lieu of the current permit allocation, allow any resident to purchase one year-round, 24-hour permit, and any number of 24-hour guest permits through a user-friendly, on-line system. The year round, 24-hour permits could be shared across two-license plates. This system would replace the existing, formal legal ban on any overnight parking whatsoever, and the unofficial procedure that now necessitates phoning into the police on a nightly basis—a nuisance for police and residents alike.

Some opponents argue that the town, before offering employee permits to park on residential streets, should first look to the underutilized, off-street spaces available in garages and lots. The Task Force agrees, but has found significant constraints on accessing these resources on either a free or discounted basis.

Others assert that employers should be willing to purchase parking for their employees at private market rates ($240/month in the garage with the most available spaces). I would strongly disagree. Our downtown restauranteurs and merchants struggle to compete with businesses on Route 1 and 206, who benefit from ample free parking and significantly cheaper rental space. And the owners of commercial real estate (and, indirectly their tenants) pay their fair share of property taxes as well. As a Jefferson Road resident, much of my property value and (more importantly) my quality of life, derives from my home’s proximity to a vibrant downtown.

The Task Force’s proposal would also extend High School Zone protections and permitting to the streets east of the high school, a number of which now have no restriction whatsoever on either Nassau employee or PHS student parking. Clearly no plan can be expected to satisfy all interested parties in all respects, and, inevitably there will be some homeowners who feel that any parking on their street detracts from the residential character of their neighborhood and their prerogatives as property owners.  However, I’m hopeful that the majority of those residents most immediately affected by the plan share the Tasks Force’s interest in increasing the overall equity and consistency of the current permit parking regime and perceive a common public interest in helping to preserve the commercial vitality of Princeton’s restaurants, cafes, and merchants. 

Peter Epstein