Saturday, June 5, 2010

Alternative to a Parking Problem: Take the Trolley!

Click here for the Easton Farmers Market trolley schedule!

Posted by: Noel Jones

In today's Express Times, Ed Sieger writes about the city's new 90 day free study of 50 parking spaces downtown. Click here for Ed's full report. Buried parking monitors will keep track of how long people park, how often cars outstay their limit, and how often people put in extra quarters to stay longer without  moving their cars.  All of this will be used by the city's parking task force to determine whether or not the city's current meter rates and time limits are in the city's best interest, for instance, it's important to assess whether parking tickets at the meters are priced so low as to draw parking away from the paid parking garage for all-day parking.  The purpose of meters is to allow people to pay for short-term parking and then release the space so that it is free for someone else who needs to park downtown.

One solution on Saturdays for the perceived parking problem downtown (I, personally, have never had a problem finding a spot downtown) is to take the new trolley that goes through the West Ward a few times each Saturday morning during Farmers' Market hours. It has a few different stops in different areas of the West Ward, and drops off right in front of Valenca at Center Square. It also picks up there, and takes residents back up the hill, which is even better than taking it down the hill, not just because it's easier than walking, but because it gives you the ability to buy bags of stuff at the market without having to drive your car down and look for parking. The added bonus for any residents in the West Ward who live on a block that does have a parking problem--for instance, residents across from the juvenile center--you don't have to risk losing the parking spot in front of your house to go down to the market. I took the trolley last Saturday, and it was slow, but relaxing and fun. I was glad to see a few other people using it too, and would like to see a lot more, so that we keep the service for our neighborhood!

Click here for the Easton Farmers' Market trolley schedule.


Anonymous said...

sorry, the trolley is an example of how messed up the city's logic is.

parking meters and fines are to control parking. in Easton parking meters and fines are about raising revenues.

if you want to raise revenues why offer free transportation? it seems that the effort is self defeating.

eliminate the trolley and let everyone park for free.

noel jones said...

i'm not sure i follow your logic. if all the parking were free, there would rarely be an open spot for anyone who drove downtown, because without a time limit, why would anyone move his/her car at all? i think the idea behind timed meter parking, aside from making money for the city, is to ensure a circulation of customers supporting local business, and, in this case, the vendors at the farmers market. if the early birds get there and take all the spots, and shoppers that come later are shut out of all the parking, they might be frustrated into going elsewhere, no? without a giant concrete mall parking lot with space for everyone, it's hard to justify free parking where it's limited when you're trying to stimulate commerce...

whether or not the trolley is free, the real issue is alleviating parking issues by using more mass transit when it's not absolutely necessary to have one's car on hand. for the West Ward, it's not necessary, because a free trolley will carry anyone up the hill that doesn't want to lose their parking spot at home or look for parking downtown, pay meters, worry about time limits, etc.

DRL said...

Anonymous at 4:35 expresses quite succinctly how much the general public misunderstands parking and it's role in cities. Parking was introduced into cities when no one knew the ultimate negative effect the car would have on urban life. There is no way to accomodate individual vehicles for everyone who wants to drive into town without destroying the town in the process.

Americans through history have always tried to incorporate the newest travel modes into their cities but the automobile was a different animal that couldn't adapt to that incorporation as other modes did. A bibliography of the last fifty years of urban criticism will reveal this better than I.

This theory has been proven in Easton over the past fifty more and more buildings were eliminated for parking lots the general economy collapsed. The parking supply increased by fifty percent while the economic vitality and number of businesses shrunk by an equal amount.

The city has been struggling for decades to get it's bureaucratic mind around these issues but there has been much cognitive disonance supplied by a range of "stakeholders" - from developers and shopping center consultants to traffic engineers and ill-informd politicians to the chambers of commerce and regular citizens. Now - when we finally have a planning staff in place that finally "gets it" - people continue to throw out the same old wive's tales about free parking being the savior of downtown.

San Fransisco was the first city earlier last year to begin a large scale parking survey using the monitoring equipment now being employed in Easton. Their problems are much graver than ours of course and I have watched the progress closely.

Here are a few basic givens about parking, it's pricing and it's management:

- Meter rates are not set to generate revenue, but to produce a reasonable open inventory of available spaces. If the pricing is set properly, the vacancy rate should be about 15% (or the current 85% occupancy in the Easton test zone as stated in the E-T article).

- Enforcement of parking meter spaces misses 85% of violators - again, similar to the numbers stated by the Easton Police. This is a national average...we can't successfully enforce parking meters with the past's technology.

- It is statistically cheaper over time for people to not feed the meter and chance the ticket than it is to obey the law. This makes providing the inventory of open spaces the city should have available physically impossible.

Finally, parking is the most overlooked aspect of good urban design today. Improper management of a valuable and scarce resource by cities results in all kinds of negative outcomes: excessive driving, less car pooling and mass transit use, traffic congestion and pollution, higher rents for tenants, less affordable housing for residents, higher retail prices in our shops and restaurants and more land wasted in low value uses like parking lots and garages.

These are the facts. I am extremely happy to see the city realising the follie of past mistakes and finally dealing with this issue head on. I will probably request inclusion in this parking task force.


Anonymous said...

Both of you do not understand my statement.

There are plenty of empty parking spaces throughout downtown especially on Saturdays. Look at 2nd, 3rd, 4th, Ferry and Spring Garden, etc.

If those spaces were full, having a trolley to bring people in makes sense. In this case the trolley rolls and those spaces are left empty.

My point is why have meters at all. People are not parking their cars in these spaces. I would prefer to see the spaces full and demand exceeding supply. That is not happening. The likelihood that it will happen is reduced by the fact that the city is providing free, alternative transportation to the market.

I understand what the purpose of metered parking is. In Easton, Pa, which has rules different from the rest of the world, parking meters and fines generate revenues. That is why the city has expanded and maintained meters in entirely residential sections of the downtown. In doing so, they have created an excess supply of residential units because there is little demand. Ask landlords and residents, no one wants to live in the downtown section because of parking-not because there is not enough, because there is an undefined cost. (that cost goes two ways. it affects the resident and visitors to the resident)

to answer your question, Noel, if all parking was free, then there would be no spaces. Right, and then bring on the trolley. The problem is that there are plenty of unfilled spaces right now. the trolley does not bring new parkers who provide revenues to the city.

to answer your question, DRL, I never stated that free parking is the savior of downtown Easton. In fact, downtown died a long time ago. Parking meter rates including fines were never increased to reflect increased demand for limited supply. In fact prices were increased to make up for falling revenues or to avoid other tax increases. The result of the city's mismanagement of parking rates has contributed to lack of demand and extreme vacancies in residential and commercial properties.

Fia said...

The free trolley to the Farmer's Market is intended for low income residents who may not own a car. It is an attempt to get senior residents and families with young children who use food stamps and WIC coupons to the market to purchase fresh food. The trolley is certainly an added benefit to those of us who have cars but the point of the trolley has nothing to do with improving the parking situation on Market Day.

Anonymous said...

that may be true for the west ward stops. i don't think that is true for the college hill and forks township stops

noel jones said...

Anon 1:10

All parking meters everywhere in the world are for generating revenue. How could it be otherwise? If someone were to say, "we're putting parking meters in, but it's not because we want to make money," it would be like saying a blue sky isn't blue. But there are additional reasons for doing it as well, i.e., making sure that parking spaces are freed up in regular circulation for a constant influx of visitors. And I think the point that the mayor is making in saying that they're not trying to generate revenue one $20 ticket at a time is that the city thinks bigger than that when trying to come up with new revenue streams--a random $20 ticket here and there will not generate a significant amount of revenue, but every little bit helps, and no one is going to have limited parking without charging a parking fee for each spot, because people would never move their cars if that were the case.

As for Fia's comment, the trolley is great for seniors and those low-income families without a car. Some outreach will have to be done to get the word out to them however, because ridership is very light right now. I was also delighted to hear recently that food stamps can now be used to buy fresh produce at the Farmers Market. The face of America's poor has become obese over the years partially because of not having access to fresh food and too much access to high-fructose corn syrups packaged foods. I think that if we limited food stamps to only healthy foods, our poorer residents would begin to regain some of their physical health, be less depressed and more likely to seek a way out of their situations.

Anon 8:19 I agree--the trolley may be aimed at benefiting low-income families in the WW, but on College Hill and in Forks, I think it's about the freedom to go to the market without the headache of driving, finding parking and watching the meters. It's also just fun!

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:35 you are so far afoul of reality that I don't even know why I am responding but I must. DRL is correct and so is Noel (althoyugh I* don't know either). Your complaints about how messed up the city's logic is shows ghow little you even know about Easton's Farnmers Market. The market is driven and staffed by more than 80 volunteers who work hard every weekend and bring to our downtown more than 3,000 people to Easton every Saturday morning. The trolley is fubnded through a competitive state grant, not city tax dollars. The trolley is just one aspect of the market. As for your parking comments you really don't understand. Currently, being diowntown every Saturday I see the employees who feed the meter every 2 hours. That is counter to the wqhowe meter effort. If I were the business owner I would require the employees to park in the garage or an off street lot. The street poarking should be for customers -- just like the mall requires employees to park atr the end of the lot.

Easton is on the move and either get on the cart or move. It is that simple. Take your logic to a place that finds your illogical statements logical.

Anonymous said...

how do you get those three thousand people in those trolleys? Do they walk? Maybe, they share rides? They don't park. All the spaces are taken by employees. Employees of what? the bank, it's closed. city hall, it's closed. crayola, they get paid spaces in the garage. restaurants, they don't open Saturday morning. that leaves the pawn shop, dunkin donuts and the ghosts of Lenny's and Bixlers.

this conversation is not about the farmers market. It's about how a community deals with its downtown or for that matter any other section of the city. (South Side is really appreciative of the trolley rides!)

Our parking policies and rates stink. They drive people,residents and customers, and businesses away.
Downtown Easton's future is not in a seasonal event that is open several hours on a weekend. It has to have a future that is more than that.

the fact that a city sponsored event is promoting a transportation mode to avoid parking meters and tickets only demonstrates a need by the city to change its philosophies. as I said in the first post. eliminate the trolley and let everyone park for free.

parking meter rates and ticket rates were set by council to avoid raising real estate taxes. that move was a mistake. it has put one section of the city out of business. the city has a history of dumb moves which caused the west ward to deteriorate. it's time for this lunacy to stop

Dennis R. Lieb said...


I agree with your comment that I don't follow your logic. I've read your comments a few times now and have decided everyone would be best served if I take more time to dissect your argument fully and then post separately on the parking initiative in Easton. I think that would focus everyone a bit more than drifting off the topic of the trolley post. Look for something in about a week...after I get my review of the GASLAND documentary out there.


noel jones said...

looking forward to both

Cathy said...

Please anon dont forget about people in the West Ward who dont have vehicles. Some have children. This trolley will be very helpful to them. Mostly not enough people really know about it yet and that is why its not greatly used yet. Yo Weed and Seed - maybe could help get the word out for families in West Ward here is a fun way to get downtown and back every Saturday. Maybe sponsor a free ice cream event for riders just to get them into the idea of using it and into the idea that it is for them, not a tourist thing which is probably what they think when they see it. Dont give up on this trolley - its a great idea - it will just take some time (it took time for the farmers market to get going too!)

noel jones said...

Hear, hear!