Marlboro needs to review commuter parking policies, improve local infrastructure

Typing Letter to the Editor for the Opinion page.

By Paul McPolin

It is time for Marlboro’s leadership to drive into the 21st century when it comes to parking policy and infrastructure.

My daughter recently graduated from the University of Chicago and landed her first job in Manhattan. She needs a space in a municipal park and ride lot in order to catch a daily bus to work.

Her family already pays $216 a year for the privilege of parking at the Union Hill lot (a price the town never adjusted for COVID19-interrupted commuters).

But the town arbitrarily decrees that only two cars can be listed on the single placard they give you, and only one of those cars can use the placard on a given day.

So basically that’s one car per family, which might have worked for the Brady Bunch in 1972, but not for most families living in suburban New Jersey in 2020.

Carpooling in my family is not an option because our workdays have starting and finishing times hours apart. So my daughter was more than willing, eager even, to pay $216 for her own permit to park in our taxpayer-funded lots.

But when she called the township clerk, she was told she couldn’t because only one permit per residence is allowed. She then asked if she could buy a permit for the Texas Road commuter lot, which has no waiting list and, presumably, plenty of empty spaces. No, she was again told.

In a town where many families not only have two commuting parents, but multiple commuting kids, these policies are ludicrous.

It’s bad enough that the streets outside my community have no sidewalks, which meant my three kids could never safely walk or bike to the park, library or school when they were young.

Now they are working adults and they still can’t walk or bike to bus stops that are miles away. The state’s lousy transit system effectively forces them behind the wheel – only to be told by the town they are not welcome at the park and ride once they get there.

I explained this Catch-22 to a judge recently during my court hearing for, you guessed it, parking without a permit at the Union Hill lot. He sympathized, but said the town simply doesn’t have enough parking spaces at Union Hill to issue more than one permit per family.

Perhaps our politicians ought to actually park there. They would see dozens, if not hundreds, of empty spaces in the lower lot (this is pre-pandemic; post-pandemic the lot is a ghost town).

The town might have sold enough permits to match the exact number of spots there, but every day people call in sick, go on vacation, work from home or change jobs. It’s OK to over-book. This is not a wedding venue.

When was the last time the town conducted a parking census to see how many empty spaces they have, and how many more permits could be issued without overflowing the lots? And if such a census showed there were too few spaces, why haven’t they acquired or built more?

Please don’t tell me my daughter should use the daily rate commuter lot. That cost is $3 per day, or $750 a year – more than triple what permit holders pay. (These lots also have chronically empty spaces that could be converted to permit parking). She is already paying upwards of $125 a week for the bus.

And don’t point us to the “free” commuter lots. The closest one to my home, the School Road park and ride, only serves buses until 7:22 a.m. Night buses stop running from the Port Authority to School Road at 6:25 p.m. This window is far too narrow for many commuters.

This town should be more welcoming to families with young adults who reluctantly rely on more than one car. It should make public transit – an answer to reduced fossil fuels, global warming and hair-pulling traffic – more accessible, not less.

And the need for commuter parking (and better bus service) will become only more urgent as hundreds of new homes are built along the Route 79 corridor as the town meets state affordable housing mandates.

Marlboro needs to not only issue more permits and create more spaces, but improve its existing  facilities.

The Union Hill lot was refurbished a decade ago at huge taxpayer expense – but the scope of work was better suited to patio repair and the result was what you would expect from a drunken uncle.

Instead of poured, steel-reinforced concrete, which a transit station serving thousands per day would normally have, the two main staircases were constructed of paving stones. Predictably, they crumble every winter. The handrails anchored in them wobble.

The shelter is too small to fit the long queues of rush hour riders.  And what is with this town’s aversion to sidewalks? The lot has none in the parking field, so you need to dodge backing-out cars as you walk to yours.

The issue of commuter parking could be avoided entirely if Marlboro residents were able to walk to their bus in the first place. Like many members of this community, the nearest bus stop to my  home is 1.3 miles away.

And it requires crossing busy Route 79, where it’s not uncommon to see commuters hurdling the cement median at 7 a.m., clutching their coffee for dear life, as they dart through traffic.

When they get to the other side, in the vicinity of Ryan Road, there is no bus shelter and – of course – no sidewalks, so they stand in the soggy grass.

Memo to NJ Transit: create more routes, build more shelters, and add buses and stops that offer alternatives to the commuter lots.

In the meantime, Town Hall should get to work loosening up its commuter parking policy and improving infrastructure. Maybe it would slow down the parade of older families and young adults putting our town in their rear-view.

Paul McPolin is a resident of Marlboro.