Parking in Princeton has always been challenging for visitors, employees and even for some residents.
So the Princeton Permit Parking Task Force has been hard at work searching for a solution.
The Princeton Permit Parking Task Force, which was formed in May 2019, provided the Princeton Council with an update on its discussions at the council’s Jan. 27 meeting, which was filled with interested and concerned residents.
“(Parking) is a perennial problem that probably has no perfect solution, but we are looking for a better solution than what we have right now,” Mayor Liz Lempert said, turning over the meeting to Princeton Council member Leticia Fraga, who chairs the task force.
The purpose of the task force is to address daytime and overnight parking, and the task force members also acknowledge that they may not be able to find a perfect solution, Fraga said.
“We want to share with you what the task force has been discussing. This is not a proposal and it is not a recommendation yet,” Fraga said. Input would be sought from the Princeton Council and from residents before any decisions are made, she said.
The task force is eyeing two neighborhoods – the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood and the “tree streets” neighborhood – for a pilot program that would test possible parking solutions, Fraga said.
Those neighborhoods were chosen for a potential pilot program because that’s where most of the parking complaints originate, said Princeton Council President David Cohen.
The Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood is bordered by Paul Robeson Place, Witherspoon Street, John Street and Birch Avenue. The pilot program would include the entire length of Leigh Avenue and Birch Avenue, between Witherspoon Street and Bayard Lane.
In the “tree streets” neighborhood, the affected streets would include Moran Avenue, Spruce, Chestnut, Pine and Maple streets and Linden Lane on the north side of Nassau Street.
On the south side of Nassau Street, the pilot program would include Olden Street, Murray Place, Princeton Avenue, and Aiken and Patton avenues (between Murray Place and Harrison Street).
The current parking system varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. In the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood, regulations vary – depending on whether the street was in the former Princeton Borough or the former Princeton Township, before the two towns consolidated.
The draft plan presented by the Princeton Permit Parking Task Force for review and discussion by the Princeton Council proposed a 90- to 120-day pilot program. It would apply to residential and employee parking permit programs.
All residents who do not have a driveway for off-street parking or whose driveway is inadequate would be eligible to apply for a maximum of two permits for on-street parking. There would be no fee for the permit, which would be valid around the clock, during the pilot program.
Residents would be able to purchase an overnight parking permit for guests for $3 per day or $20 per week. Guest parking permits would be limited to not more than one week at a time or 42 one-day permits in the calendar year.
Vigilant Parking Solutions would provide all of the equipment, including license plate recognition technology, for free during the pilot program.
The employee parking permit scheme would allow business owners to purchase a limited number of parking permits for their employees, who would be allowed to park on designated streets. The permits could be transferred between employees who work different shifts.
Employees with permits also would be allowed to park in under-utilized metered parking on Witherspoon Street and Franklin Avenue in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood, and on William Street, which runs between Washington Road and Olden Street.
The fee for the employee parking permits would have to be determined.
When the meeting was opened up for public comment, Hawthorne Avenue resident Tony Lunn told the council that he was “a little confused.” He said he had hoped that the task force report, as presented at the meeting, would have defined the problem.
“We do need to know how you came to these conclusions. Look at the pros and cons of what you are doing,” Lunn said. He suggested possible expansion of the Free-B bus system, which loops through town and does not charge a fee.
And since the parking permit task force is considering neighborhoods that are close to the Central Business District, Lunn suggested expanding the parking permit system to the Western Section – the neighborhood west of Bayard Lane/Route 206, which includes Hodge Road, Library Place and Boudinot Street.
“You should consider the Western Section as part of your examination. The streets are wide and you don’t have a lot of (people) parking on them,” Lunn said, as some attendees chuckled.
A Spruce Street resident said he loves his apartment, but it only has one parking space. Both he and his girlfriend work out of town, so he rents a parking space that requires a 10-minute walk to reach it. He said he would like to have an overnight parking permit.
Former Princeton Council member Jenny Crumiller urged town officials to take into account the negative impact of adding more parking through the parking permit system. The Princeton Council should talk about policy – why it is doing this and what problem it is trying to solve, she said.
Crumiller, who lives on Library Place, said that while all Princeton real estate is expensive, houses and apartments with little to no parking cost less and the property taxes are less. People who buy or rent housing that has limited parking may have done so because of the lower price, and they are willing to live with those constraints, she said.
“This discount for no-car or one-car households should be called a progressive program for promoting sustainability and walkability. Many households that live closest to Princeton University and other downtown employers currently live with one or zero cars without having to pay the added costs for parking that they don’t use,” Crumiller said.
She said she understands that there is pressure to add more parking, and she has sympathy for those who do not have it. But the downside to adding more parking and filling in the empty spaces on the streets with cars “is going in the opposite direction of where we really want to go,” which is encouraging sustainability, Crumiller said.
But two residents – one who lives on John Street and one who lives on Leigh Avenue – disagreed with Crumiller.
One resident pointed out that it is not possible to live in New Jersey without a car, even if it is possible to walk to work.
The second resident said she does not under “what the problem is” about granting an overnight parking permit, because “we are also taxpayers. It is not cheap to live here.”
Princeton Merchants Association President Jack Morrison, who also sits on the parking permit task force, told the council to gather data and analyze it. The town needs a plan that works, not one that it hopes will work, he said.
“We have to move cautiously. Look for the intended and unintended consequences, because even though we call it a ‘pilot,’ it will be almost impossible to take anything back,” Morrison said.
The next step is to solicit input from the Mayor and Princeton Council and to hold community meetings in the two neighborhoods for residents to voice their concerns and comments, Fraga explained. This would allow the task force to return to Princeton Council with a concrete plan.