Thoughts on the Jan. 11 parking permit special council meeting

I am writing in response to some of the comments said against the parking task force proposal in the January 11 Special Council Meeting that was dedicated solely to this topic.  I am not on the task force, but support their proposal.

It is evident that the Sensible Streets organization, whoever their governing body and membership is, is very good at outreach and information dissemination, even if that information is mischaracterizing facts, misleading readers, and often just plain incorrect.   I listened as one opponent after another used these “facts” in their arguments, even as their comments followed a very tight presentation about the proposal by the task force themselves.   Overall, I thought the task force did an excellent job, but was disappointed that these “facts” were allowed to circulate throughout the meeting without repudiation.  Here are some of these points I would like to correct:

1)      At the end of the meeting, a representative from Sensible Streets, Susan Jeffries, said that the high school neighborhood, where she has lived for many years, had a difficult time when students were allowed to park anywhere on their streets some years ago, before current regulations were put in place. “Cigarette butts, litter,” and other problems reared their ugly heads.  This proposal is allocating just a few (approximately 2-4) parking spaces per block to paid employee permits.   How can 3 employee permits per block (as an example, because this number varies slightly on each block based on resident needs, which can be clearly seen in the task force’s documents) create the scene that Susan was referring to?  The point of permit regulation is so that doesn’t happen. 

2)      People kept repeating that residents should get priority over employees.  Indeed, they should.  The task force agreed with that too.  In their presentation, they said that the residents’ needs are first met on any given block and only after taking them into consideration, does their plan open up only a few spots to employee parking.  Again,  it will not be employees taking over entire streets.  There will be a designated area of parking on certain streets for a very limited number of employees, and the rest will be available for the residents.  Nowhere did anyone say that employers’ needs will come before residents’. The point of giving permits for employee parking is that it will be regulated so employees will never again take over the streets and thus displace residents (which is currently happening in at least two neighborhoods in town).

3)      Another oft repeated false statement is that employee parking is a handout, “a subsidy” for local businesses. The false statement is that a $30/month employee permit is “below market rate”, using the $6/day daily parking rate at the Princeton Junction train station as an example ($6 x 31 = $186/month).  Councilman David Cohen said that if you want to use the PJ lot as an example, you should actually look at the monthly permit rate for WW residents and business owners.  This would actually bring that number down to $45/day.  Further, none of those spots in the permit lots are any further than one quarter mile from the train platform. In the Princeton proposal, the limited number of dedicated employee permit spots would be approximately a half mile from downtown.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to say that $30/month is not a “subsidy”, but actually pretty close to market rate for surface parking that distance from the destination.

All of this vilification of businesses in town will have the unintended consequence of pushing out our beloved small businesses that give our town a soul to neighboring, more small-business friendly towns like Hopewell (see: Green Design) and lead to the further corporatization of our town (more Starbucks or Hermes, anyone?) that almost no one wants more of. 

4)      The parking study completed several years ago by Nelson/Nygaard said that the town already has enough parking spots to meet our needs.  Sensible Streets keeps using this statement as an argument against the proposal, saying that the task force didn’t do their due diligence to follow up with this point.  However, Councilman Cohen pointed out that the study actually was in part referring to the plethora of unused street parking. Additionally, the task force spent years exploring the options listed in the study. I know because I talked with them about it.  They are quite open to discussing how they arrived at their current proposal.  All it takes is reaching out to them.

5)      People kept repeating that caregivers and other people who come to our homes regularly would be excluded from this plan and that is simply not the case.  There is an entire slide in the presentation dedicated to these exceptions. 

I appreciate one comment from a councilmember towards the end of the meeting addressed to some opponents of the plan (maybe from Councilman Leighton Newlin?) — if you don’t have any problems in your own neighborhood and you don’t want to be a part of the solution that is best for the town as a whole, then you are also part of the problem. Compromise is necessary in order to have a healthy and vibrant community, and so far Sensible Streets has not demonstrated their belief in “compromising for the greater good”.   They irresponsibly repeat false and misleading information, and some others supporting them are irresponsibly buying into their stance without doing their own research. They have used neighborhoods in which they don’t live as bait to fuel their misinformation, and many residents in these neighborhoods don’t appreciate being used in such a manner.  All it takes is a respectful email to a task force member asking for clarification of any of these points and other issues of concern for the reader, rather than slandering the volunteers and falsely stating they have some “surreptitious” motivations to trick Princeton residents.

My heart hurts for the lack of empathy some residents have for their neighbors, while simultaneously believing that we should “Make America Kind Again”.  These ideas start at the micro level, so let’s bring them to Princeton too.  I also hope that some of the ugly, false statements made about members of the task force can be forgotten with time and that we can come together as a community again. 

Kristina Corvin
Leigh Avenue


  1. The Task Force’s proposal asks residents to give up quality of life to prop up already high rental yields and investor returns. If businesses can’t afford to operate (which is not true, based on the merchant’ association own presentation on real estate trends in Princeton), then the landlords need to accommodate lower returns with lower rents. Palmer Square is a prime example. Residents helping to enrich Palmer Square and other investors under the guise of helping low wage workers needs to be better communicated.
    Sensible Streets has been doing what the Task Force has failed to do. They have been using their own time and money to provide the notice, outreach and parking data that the Task Force has not. Sensible Streets is a coalition of volunteers working on behalf of all residents, not just their own neighborhoods or self interests. They are providing real data on impacts from legitimate safety and commuter studies, and presenting impacts which are well recognized and described by town councils around the country. Finally, they are providing solution alternatives that have been deployed successfully elsewhere, which should be “piloted” first before residential neighborhoods are asked to bear the brunt of the burden.

    1. Alice, please! Sensible Streets did not mobilize until there was talk of including the Western Section in the plan. It’s very convenient of them to say they “are working on behalf of all residents.” But let’s get real……. they don’t want any employee parking on their sacred Western Section streets. There are long stretches of those streets that sit mostly empty all day. Let’s find a community solution that allocates 50% or less of unneeded resident parking on all our streets that are within a 15-20 minute walk of the CBD.

  2. In light of Ms. Corvin’s recent social posts towards her neighbors on parking, perhaps the kindness should start with her:

    “As you can see, the parking issues in town go way beyond your entitled little neighborhood over there.”
    “Did you read the proposal?  If you did you’d understand a lot more is at stake than a jalopy or two parked on precious library place.”  
    “To me it feels like a thinly veiled attempt to keep the wealthy in this town from being offended by the plebians.”
    “It does not mean it only be like Grand Central Station with cars lined up and down the street on each side with riff raff dirtying up your neighborhood”
    – K. Corvin on Nextdoor and Princeton Facebook groups

    Ms. Corvin bullying others should be no exception to community civility.

  3. There are not parking problems in my neighborhood, tree streets.

    So please leave the parking regulations alone in tree streets.

    Contrary to the letter writer, this preference does not make me part of the problem.

    There seems to be ample parking at any time of day for residents, visitors, employees, customers, and anyone else, on the end of Spruce close to Quarry Park and “down the hill” on Linden. The opposite end of Spruce and “up the hill” close to Nassau, things fill up in the morning.

    There are about four residences without driveways on Maple. Whatever exception may be made for overnight parking for these few should not be used as a lever to dictate 24/7/365 restrictions on everybody else.

    If Princeton Ave / Murray Place has no all-day parking for employees, well, I am fine with suffering the “inequity.”

    If there is a parking problem in Witherspoon-Jackson, address the issue in Witherspoon-Jackson as is best suitable for Witherspoon-Jackson.

    If the parking situation in tree streets evolves to be a problem, it can be reexamined in the future.

    There is no need for one-size-fits-all.

    Oh, and maybe wait until we can have in-person council meetings. It’s one thing to have a Zoom call. The room packed full of residents drives home a certain ground truth that real people, not mere flickering images, are affected.

  4. I agree that “one size fits all” does not work.
    Fix parking for Witherspoon Jackson by going door to door to get a real count of the need. Actually speaking to the people affected. I mean, really, residents waiting for decades to park on their own street and parking in front of their homes that don’t have driveways is outrageous. We are a town, not a city. A neighborly approach would benefit everyone involved.

    Allow parking in the Western section just like in any other part of Princeton. Exempting specific sections from basic public parking is unacceptable. It certainly does appear that council is beholden to specific residents, businesses and lobbyists. Delve into campaign fundraising and you may uncover the relationships for yourself.

    Why make a problem where there isn’t one?

  5. @TreeStreeter I don’t know your details but as a fellow Tree Street resident, there has been a parking problem on the tree streets for the past decade. The task force is to be commended for trying to solve the problem.

  6. The author accuses the opponents of vilifying business, spreading false information, not doing research, not reaching out to or understanding the PPTF, amongst others.

    First, there is a lot of goodwill on the part of the residents close in who oppose the plan. We all live close to town because we value the town and we are amongst the most consistent customers of  local business. We all remember when Woolworths, Nassau St Hardware, Carousel and others departed. We have friends in WSJ and the Tree Streets as well who were forced out – it is a small town. You are wrong painting us as vilifying business and other neighborhoods. And we are not all in the West End.

    We have legitimate concerns that PPTF  recommendations are often insufficiently motivated and have potential serious consequences long term that will harm even those they try to help. For example, what local business will stand a chance when chain stores get access to the same subsidized employee parking  program? Let alone what that will mean for the residential neighborhoods close in who are critical to the tax base.

    In fact, the opponents I talked to believe the task force is  doing important work with good intent, but they are being asked to address extremely complex issues in their spare time without sufficient support. Unfortunately this often leads to what may look like sound analysis and solutions but are not.

    For example, let’s discuss  #3, where  you say  it is just FALSE that $30/mo = $1/day  is well below market rate. Let’s dig in.

    First, the parking lots at WW are in fact heavily subsidized and with reason. Some are owned by West Windsor, but, in fact most by state agencies such as NJ transit and are supported by various government programs,  cross-subsidies on passes  and tax incentives.  Why? In order to pull people *onto public transit* and overall reduce private car commuting.   The PPTF plan, similarly, is a potential engine for pulling  private car commuters into one location — our neighborhoods. Many studies cited by Sensible Streets and others to the Task Force make this clear.  Saying the employee plan rates should equal that of mass transit lot rates in WW,  is just wrong, unless proponents are in fact intentionally trying to generate a wave of car-commuting employees  (which to be clear, I do not think is their intention). Comparing rates to these lots and in-town sites, and  finding we underprice them, should however set off alarm bells. Yet, this  issue has been raised several times but ignored by PPTF.  

    You provide a number of calculations using permit data.  Good. But the WW parking lot financing is actually extremely complicated. For example, there  is a waiting list of many years for a spot (3-9 years right now). As a Princeton resident I waited  7 years. This is evidence of massive under-pricing.  Also, due to the long waiting lists, many who gained their permits are loathe to give them up when they do not use them (I am one of them – have had one now for 19 years — often unused for years, 5 days a week other years).  As a result, the lots are over-subscribed, with more permits than spots, so the effective cost /day is actually much higher than that calculated from a single permit price.
     WWPA understands this very well — we once discussed with them a second ‘priority’ list for people willing to give up permits temporarily. They were decidedly not interested.   WWPA also has reams of data projecting usage patterns to manage additional explicit overallocation of permits. So, just the way you and PPTF  work with raw numbers here  is incorrect.  

    Second  thing you do here which is wrong: The parking area in WW is a massive  lot located next to train tracks and office parks.  Comparing it to parking on-street in high-value residential Princeton real estate based on the distance walked to train tracks, and assuming the WW is correctly priced, makes no sense, sorry to be blunt. Some WW businesses and owners rent parking slots  under the table, and there is also a private lot  costing much more. When I commuted it was common to see users taking dangerous walks on bare Dinky tracks when they walk from there – farther, dangerous walk, yet higher prices.

    Unfortunately your letter is typical of proponent responses – it sounds like it is thoughtfully analyzed, but when one digs down it rapidly turns out to be more complex.

    Here is a simple calculation that is actually reasonable (aka indifference calc):  what would a current employee prefer (A)  meter feed 3 times a day a few blocks away from Witherspoon, paying $8 per day  vs (B)  paying $1/day on Murray and knowing the spot is waiting, and walking an extra few blocks at the beginning and end of that whole day ? Right now many do (A) so that is a good estimate of the market ‘s clearing rate. Then market rate for Murray parking would be the price at which point the employee would stop using Murray and go back to meter feeding. It should clearly be at least $7 but is  probably well north of $10 a day given convenience.

    Why this matters a lot is that this mispricing feeds into other issues. The environmental impact of the plan according to PPTF ‘may be positive’, e.g. residents don’t have to move their cars each day.  But a $7/day difference means aside from existing employees jumping from public transit into cars,  now makes it possible for other people who commute an extra $7/56c (IRS rate) = 14 miles further  to start accessing our  market. More employees, many  driving an extra 14 miles per day, would blow away the effects of residents no longer shuffling cars around (which could be fixed independently of the employee parking, in any case).

    I am not even saying  that employees necessarily have to pay full market price; there are other considerations here. Or that the above is a full analysis. These things are complicated, which is why careful study and data are needed by experts. We had better understand the consequences as people tend to pull the handle on free money machines until something  breaks.

    In a 3 year parking study, one would expect  car-related issues such as pricing, traffic patterns and commuting impact  to be addressed — even if council decides it OK to  punt on tougher issues such as property values. One would be especially concerned when the plan pushes against master and environmental plans for Princeton that are trying to go the opposite way.

    We are all in this together. Why go hell-bent and bet the town on a huge multi-faceted plan? Why not take staged approaches, especially when they can be used to collect data and evaluate other options along the way?

  7. The parking lots at WW/PJ are heavily subsidized and with reason. Some are owned by West Windsor, but, in fact most by state agencies such as NJ transit that are supported by various government programs, cross-subsidies on passes and tax incentives. Why? In order to pull people *onto public transit* and overall reduce private car commuting.
    Permit wait lists are between 3 to 9 years right now, evidence of massive underpricing. WWPA takes explicit advantage of this as part of an overallocation process (once gained, people pay for years even if not used to avoid re-entering the queue). They also have excellent data and overflow management provisions. In short, the WWPA permit process is carefully designed to generate the lowest possible sticker price with one goal only — to pull cars to lots and put backsides on train seats. The way you view their permit prices understands their process exactly backwards.

    The PPTF plan, similarly, is a potential engine for pulling private car commuting into one location — our residential streets. Many studies cited by Sensible Streets to the Task Force make this clear. Saying the employee plan rates should equal that of mass transit lot rates at Princeton Junction, is just wrong, unless proponents are in fact intentionally trying to generate a wave of car-commuting employees (which to be clear, I do not think is their intention). Comparing plan rates to these lots and in-town sites, and finding we will underprice them, should set off alarm bells.

    The correct way to price Princeton parking is to use indifference calculations. An employee which currently meter feeds $8 a day in-town and gets an all-day permit on Murray, should be charged a price to just below the point where they will go back to meter feeding, and high enough to also avoid pulling other employees off of public transit. It is at least $8, but considering convenience, likely well north of $10/day.

    Anything less is a subsidy, and even more annoying when as Sensible Streets and others have pointed out, it will mostly not end up in employee paychecks or local businesses, but in landlord rents, many of whom are outside Princeton.

    In a 3 year parking study, one would expect car-related issues such as pricing, traffic patterns and commuting impact to be addressed — even if council decides it OK to punt on tougher issues such as labor and economic impact and property values. One would be especially concerned when the plan blows up master and environmental plans for Princeton that are trying to go the opposite way.

    The PPTF is under-resourced. These issues are complex, but well understood by professionals. Even if you agree the PPTF plan makes sense, and many do not, a good plan badly implemented is still a bad plan.

    We are all in this together. So why push a huge change with missing data and bet the town? Why not take staged approaches, especially when they can be used to collect data and evaluate other options along the way?

  8. I think the task force council members need to step out of their echo chamber, walk into the neighborhoods they represent, speak to those greatly affected and figure out a better solution. Sometimes what looks good on paper is harder to implement when you factor in genuine real life circumstances. And sometimes the solution does not have to complicate life for everyone in town.

  9. I have relied on there being free parking in the tree streets whenever I needed to do anything on Nassau St, where parking is obviously not often available. By taking up all the “free” spaces in tree streets with permit parking, you won’t be doing businesses on Nassau St any favors. Already it’s usually necessary to walk at least 2 blocks in even the best of circumstances. I don’t believe these spaces should go to permits. Also, residents of that area need there to be some open spaces for visitors.

  10. I am very late to the commenting here but I do have to point out that there is a very simple way to address bad parking on any street, and that is to paint lines limiting the number of cars that can park on the street, the same way parking spaces are outlined on any metered street — but without meters. This is what limits crazy parking on meter-free Madison Street, and it should have happened long ago on Jefferson and Moore to manage student parking, and it is what needs to happen on Maple, Linden and parts of Hamilton. Once the parking spots are properly delineated, you have a specific number of spaces to talk about, and that might make it easier to come to a resolution less drastic than the one being discussed at the moment. It also would make the streets with bumper-to-bumper parking look less terrible.

  11. @Rebecca I have the exact opposite opinion. I find all the white lines painted on the street aesthetically ugly. It’s fine with me if cars are parked bumper to bumper as it means that more cars may fit on a given street. If you look at the lines already painted on some of the recent tree streets (Maple? Spruce?), one can see that they are painted with enough room for larger cars and trucks, and when smaller cars park there, there is a significant amount of unused space left over.

Comments are closed.