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.