Sunday, February 17, 2008

Blue Back Square Parking Blues

Blue Back Square just cannot seem to shake the parking problems that has dogged it since the public hearings on this project. Even way back in the beginning, people saw this as a huge potential problem; and that is the fact that people will avoid paying for parking whenever and however they can, especially if they can avoid being soaked for the cost of parking in the town owned garages.

And yet at the same time, one cannot expect town residents and other people to pay for parking in order to use public buildings like the Town Hall and the Library, or even to shop at places like Whole Foods. So it was inevitable that we'd have this problem of folks parking for free on residential streets like Burr Street, or using Whole Foods lot as a parking area while they patronize REI or Munsons. Meanwhile the town is losing gobs of money in parking revenue which is supposed to be paying off our bonding for the project. It's a problem and it impacts all town residents financially! We are losing revenue and causing residential parking woes.

Here are some excerpts from the Courant article:
Burr Street residents and property owners are complaining that Blue Back Square visitors and construction workers are parking along their street to avoid paying to park at meters or in the garages.

The residents have petitioned the town to establish a permit system that would allow only residents and their guests to park along the north side of the street, which is now jammed daily with parked vehicles.

"Unfortunately, Burr Street bears a disproportionate share of the free parking associated with those people. As residents and property owners, we want to work with the town to ease that burden and maximize revenue for the town's parking garages," said [Justin]Clark, who presented the idea of permit-parking only for residents to the town council Monday night....

But officials worry that setting up a resident-only parking permit system would set a precedent, prompting residents of other streets near commercial areas in town to ask for the same thing.

"What we've been doing, and will be doing, is regularly assessing the overall parking scheme of the center, with a particular eye to the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods," said Mayor Scott Slifka.
Well, it seems it is time to stop "assessing the overall parking scheme". We've been assessing it forever - and we knew these problems would present themselves. We know what the problem is. We need to have some solutions already. The fact of the matter is that even businesses in Blue Back Square are telling folks to go validate their parking ticket at the library, where you can get 2 hours free parking.

It would seem that the only way to deal with this issue is for the town to give parking permit stickers or hang tags to residents who live in the Center, free of charge, and continue to validate parking for those who legitimately use Town Hall and Library services. All others should have to use the garages or meters. As for Whole Foods - they need to put up a gate system and give out parking validation upon purchases made there.

Either that or the town has got to give up on the idea of collecting revenue for the garages from the public and just make all of the businesses in the surrounding area kick in a percentage of what the bonding costs; call it a transportation fee and charge it to each business in the whole Town Center or at just Blue Back Square. As we recall, representatives of these businesses were folks who lobbied to bring Blue Back Square into town in the first place. Now they can help pay for their customer's parking. They'll only raise their prices to compensate - so everyone pays anyway.

The whole idea of paying off bonded debt with these garages was stupid from the start. Why bother to pay to shop at Blue Back when there are so many other places to spend your money without paying to park. But now that we have this problem we are pretty much stuck with it, and like it or not we have to either force people to pay for the privilege of visiting, or figure out some other way to pay off our debt.

Here's a blast from the past - a bit of deja vu all over again...

Mr Van Winkle - Blue Back Hearing 06-16-04:
There has also been some issues and we
10 will certainly be ready to address those and help you
11 understand how parking lots and garages will operate.
12 We obviously also have not done a detailed plan, but
13 have a full understanding of what our options are and
14 how we would work. We have talked about the library,
15 certainly having free parking and parking in the North
16 Garage through perhaps some validation system, sticker
17 system, something along that line, that will allow
18 library parkers to go into the library, use it and then
19 be able to get out of the garage without having to pay.
Page 25
20 At Town Hall the same thing, where we end up with 535
21 spaces on the Town Hall site, those spaces will be open
22 and free to the public.
23 In the perfect world, that would be no
24 problem. I would be happy to have them open and free
25 to the public, although we expect there will be one or

1 two cheaters who will try to sneak in the Town Hall
2 lots and have lunch at one of the fine restaurants in
3 the Center, so we are going to need to do something to
4 try to deal with those who might attempt to use the
5 Town Hall lot. Again, a validation system where -- you
6 heard some of it the other night, but employees would
7 certainly park for free in designated areas in the Town
8 Hall lot away from the building, and the public would
9 be able to come, perhaps through a validation system
10 again, drive in, take a ticket, go see the Building
11 Department, the Building Department would do a
12 validation, and they will be able to leave the lot
13 without having to pay. Public hearings like this, we'd
14 make arrangements for all those sorts of things to
15 occur. It's a little more comprehensive and complex
16 system, but it's trying to deal with those who might
17 decide to park here and not use Town Hall and methods
18 to deal with that. We've looked at many, and we
19 certainly expect to be able to handle that.
More discussion on the parking issues during the 6-23-04 public hearing are here.

Then of course Councilman Spada even brought up the issue in Q and A back then:
MR. SPADA 06-30-04:
Thank you. I'm just going
19 to keep rolling.
20 Library, Mr. Van Winkle, and you may
21 have, through the hours and hours of these, you may
22 have addressed this, but if you could just repeat the
23 answer. There was a concern that some of us jaded
24 souls have that people would park and then run into the
25 library and grab a book and validate the ticket and
Brandon Smith Reporting Service
1 then spend the day in the Center.
2 Do we have any strategy to combat
3 that, or is the strategy not to combat that and live
4 with it, and if so, have you put forth an estimate into
5 the projections of the revenue on that sort of an
6 impact?
7 MR. VAN WINKLE: Well, of course,
8 although I am certain people will do that, some people
9 will do that. The great majority of us all are not
10 cheaters, and, you know, I don't expect people to cheat
11 the system as a regular basis, but I do think we will
12 find people who will go in, visit the library, and then
13 go up to a desk and ask to have their card validated.
Page 37
14 The validation at the library is a two-hour validation
15 and they would get that off.
16 If we had an excessive use of that, we
17 would have to find some way to adjust it. Maybe there
18 is some card swipe as you walk in, so we know how long
19 you've been in the library. So you take your card, you
20 come in through the library, and it tells when you
21 enter and when you leave, it tells you. There is
22 certainly ways to deal with it.
23 Certainly, again, the great majority of
24 us are honest, and we are not the kind of people who
25 will do those sorts of things, but we will find people
Brandon Smith Reporting Service
1 who do it. We have people now who feed meters in the
2 Center. We have people who park in our parking lots
3 and swap a ticket with someone on the second shift. So
4 the person on the first shift comes in, they get in at
5 8:00 in the morning, they work all day. The person in
6 the second shift comes in, they swap tickets. The
7 person on the second shift would go out free, on the
8 first shift would go out free. The person on the
9 second shift would go out after we close our booth.
10 And we had people doing that. So we started watching
11 for it. We started trying to find ways to do it. We
12 kept our booth open longer. There are methodologies we
13 can obviously do as we see this development, I think
14 that's what we will do.
15 I don't have a particular answer for how
Page 38
16 many cheaters we have in West Hartford that will employ
17 that system, although once they get in the library,
18 then they will find that there is a lot going in the
19 library, and it will increase the use of the library
20 for a very good reason, so it might also be a nice
21 incentive.
22 MR. SPADA: I appreciate your optimism,
23 I would agree with you, you just confirmed it. Thank
24 you.
So much for the Desman Associates Plan.

Kind of hard to believe those discussions took place almost 4 years ago. We are still dealing with the issues.


Kevin Walsh said...

I must be missing something. The suggestion that folks who live in the Center should receive parking stickers or hang tags strikes me as a solution in search of a problem. Why shouldn't these folks be able -- indeed, be expected -- simply to continue to park their cars where they always have (garage, driveway, etc.)? Given the town-wide ban of on-street parking from 2am - 5am, these folks must have dedicated off-street parking for each of their cars already.

On the other hand, it seems to me that a strict (and fairly short - say, an hour or two) time limit, or even an outright prohibition, on all parking on Burr Street (or Arundel, or any of the residential streets around the center) could help address any legitimate concerns that have been raised. I suppose that placing parking meters might also be a viable option that could bring in some revenue, but I certainly recognize that folks might not be excited at the prospect of seeing parking meters sprout in front of their homes . . .

Hall Student said...

Free Parking at Bishops Corner, and Plenty of it!

While Blue Back may be pretty to look at, its inconvenient! Name something you can't get done in Bishops Corner. Try it, you'll love it!

I am obviously a huge Bishops Corner fan. Today, I went to blue back (and the center), there was nothing fun to do, idk what it was!
My friends and I ended up following a starbucks stereotype person (Jeans, Junky Shirt, and a Bag Wrapped around him) We followed him to CVS where he bought Cigs (what a surprise). and we followed him until he left.

West Hartford Talk said...

Kevin, residents could surely park their cars in their driveway or their garages, but what if they want to park on the street? What if they have guests who are visiting? It's just that the resident shouldn't be penalized for parking close to their house, and with resident hang tags others who do not belong there can be identified. They do this (resident permit parking) in other cities.

We don't think the Burr Street residents - or anyone else who lives on local streets would be happy to see meters on their block.

But you do bring up some good points here. Thanks for posting.

Kevin Walsh said...

WH Talk - I am familiar with resident permit parking in Boston. However, my understanding is that the residents of the neighborhoods where resident parking stickers are used do not typically have their own driveways and/or garages. Thus, the example of Boston, at least, seems like an apples and oranges comparison.

You have asked "What if [residents] want to park on the street?" Fair enough, but aren't we now really talking about controlling WHO is parking on Burr (or Arundel, or Brace, or Ellsworth, etc.) rather than HOW MANY are doing so? That is a different question, and I am not sure that it is a legitimate gripe. I can't control who parks on the public road in front of my house, and know of no one in West Hartford who can.

As for visiting guests, I suspect that the residents' driveways would be able to accommodate their guests' cars in most instances.

Elliot Check said...

Kevin makes some good points. We live about 3-4 blocks west of the center on Farmington and the parking backs up to here. Same is happening on Ellsworth and the side streets.

Should they give permits to the whole town?
I certainly don't want to see meters in front of my house.
Joe Visconti says same is happening over on his street as well.

Hartwell Rd Resident said...

I think the point that this will set a precedent and others will ask for a similar system is valid. We live behind Hall and in baseball/soccer season, I can barely drive down the street let alone could any guests at my house park on it. I realize the Burr street folks are facing it 7 days a week all year long - but the people who park on our street have FREE parking right up at the school. They just don't feel like making the walk back to the fields.

And are we forgetting that we've always paid to park in the center?