If Easton Prices Its Parking Correctly, There’s No Need for Time Limits

Christina Georgiou’s coverage of Easton parking issues is always top notch, so naturally there’s a lot to pick over in this Patch article.

Here’s the proposal:

  • The elimination of free street parking on Sundays.
  • The reduction of the hourly rate in the city’s parking deck to encourage more to park there instead of city streets.
  • An increase that might double the current rate for metered street parking.
  • Changing the enforcement hours for meters, so they’d run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., rather than 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I already wrote about the proposal here, and the economics of parking here, but I want to quickly address a few of the ideas in Christina’s article:

“People are getting tickets roaming around looking for quarters,” she said. “If you’re going to start them that early, you need a way for them to get quarters.”

This is why it’s so important for the city to make smart meters that take credit cards ubiquitous as quickly as possible. Having to find quarters to park is stressful. I’m pro-parking pricing and I’ll certainly cop to hating to have quarters. It’s terrible! Using the electronic meters in Bethlehem has been awesome. It’s so simple, and I think it takes away most of the stress people feel about metered parking. The best single step you could take to bring the heat down around parking politics is to take the “method of payment” annoyance off the table.

Andrew Gerns, of Trinity Episcopal Church on Spring Garden Street, is most worried about the addition of metered parking on Sundays. He said many parishioners stay and shop after church services, which often don’t end until after the possible noon enforcement time.

A lot of people still seem to be confused about the goal of parking pricing. Others do understand the need for demand management, but let their personal dislike of paying for parking cloud their judgment about what the best *citywide* policy would be.

The point of pricing parking is managing the demand for parking. Businesses used to understand that higher curb parking turnover is better for business than low parking turnover. You see that people understand this very well when they complain about business owners or their employees hogging curb spots all day, preventing customers from parking.

If those business owners and customers would move, it would be more convenient for customers to park. Likewise, it would be more convenient for *other customers* to park, if the first customer would vacate the space sooner.

I don’t see why the basic economics would go out the window just because we’re talking about church parishoners. If there’s a large number of people trying to park in a small crowded area all at once, it makes economic sense to raise prices at that time, so that people who prefer to walk more/pay less will park further away, and people who prefer to walk less/pay more will park closer.

This makes sense to do whether it’s a busy time in the middle of the workday, whether it’s Christmas weekend shopping, whether it’s church, or whether it’s the weekend night bar and restaurant crowds. Meter prices should rise whenever it gets busier, and lower when it’s slower. Smart meters can do that.

So I think this idea from El Warner is pretty silly:

Councilwoman El Warner said she feels the city might do without parking meters at all, and perhaps enforce a time limit on street parking instead.

“We don’t need all this technology—we just need chalk,” Warner said to a burst of audience applause.

Time limits are just such a kludgy way of managing parking demand. If you get the pricing right for the peak times of the day, the city won’t need to set a maximum time limit at all.

I think Megan McBride is also looking at this the wrong way:

“I think there needs to be more emphasis on people that are trying to come to town and spend their money,” McBride said. “There’s a punitive atmosphere Downtown. It’s not something that makes me or anyone want to shop Downtown. We can’t afford to lose anybody over something we can change. We don’t need smart meters. We’re not New York City. We’re not even New Hope. I feel there’s a cocky attitude when people say, ‘they’ll just come to Easton anyway.’”

Let’s be honest: nobody’s been losing business in Easton because of the parking rates. The parking rates are low. If anything, people have lost business because the meter prices are too low to create enough turnover during peak times of the day.

What’s really punitive is forcing potential customers to drive around the block a million times looking for a parking space because your parking is underpriced, or making them carry exact change to be able to get a curb spot downtown. That’s the thing that stresses people out the most.

Easton can’t do anything about the need for metered parking, but it can do a lot to improve convenience. That is what is going to make people feel less stressed about parking downtown – resting assured that they will be able to find a convenient place to park without a big hassle, even if it costs a little more during the busiest times. There’s a trade-off between price and convenience, and I think people care about convenience a lot more.

A few weeks ago when I went to that “The Future is Female” art show at Our Garage Space in downtown Easton, I had to circle around the block like 4 times before I finally found a parking space. I cursed Sal Panto that the meters weren’t running to create some open spaces so I could just pay to park somewhere and be done with it. The economic rationale for parking pricing is still strong on weekend nights, when downtown is crowded with bar and restaurant patrons.

A compact downtown like Easton’s is never going to have a ton of parking, so to make parking more convenient, you need to manage the parking supply you have more efficiently. That means raising meter rates *only* at the peak times of the day, but also doing it at all the peak times, including the ones in the evenings and weekends. The upside is that it will be much easier for everyone to find parking spaces close to where they want to be, it will be more convenient and less stressful to park, and it will reduce traffic congestion.

Any extra money the city receives from the dynamic pricing could be used to fund the Main Street Initiative, the Ambassadors, or some other useful downtown public service that people want. I heard some interest in a trolley loop for downtown that brings people to and from the parking garage. That would be an excellent use of parking revenue. Or why not create a fund for participatory budgeting and let the neighborhood decide on public improvements to fund with the money?

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