Rich Wilkins doesn’t agree with my call for turning the parking spaces in Easton’s Centre Square into pedestrian plazas. The crux of his argument is that the real peak times aren’t during the Easton Farmer’s Market (where it gets very busy) but during the weekend evening bar crawl:
Let’s do some educating on this one. Dinner time in downtown Easton, and even Farmer’s Market time, are not “peak” time. “Peak” time in the circle is after 10 pm on “bar” nights- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It is totally common to drive around the circle in Easton at 10 pm on a Friday night and not be able to find a single spot in the circle, nothing in the lot across the street from the police station, and nothing down one block towards the free bridge in that lot. Parking is a total mess essentially three nights a week in the evenings. The business being drawn in drives. Getting rid of these spots is definitely not a good idea.
As someone who enjoys drinking in Easton, I can attest that Rich is absolutely right about this, and parking is a nightmare on weekend nights. You’ll circle around forever trying to find a curb space. The recent parking study they did found that demand for parking peaks around noon, and again around 8 pm.
But why is it so much harder to find parking at night than during the other peak in the afternoon? The main reason is that the primary tool Easton uses to manage the demand for curb parking – charging money at parking meters – goes away at 8pm every night:
The new hours for metered parking in the city’s Downtown district are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
And, as those who park regularly in the city have probably already noticed, the price of metered curbside parking has also increased, to $1 per hour, which is now payable with a debit or credit card, as well as with change. The new solar-powered smart meters also accept silver coinage–that is, nickels, dimes, and quarters–instead of just quarters, which many had complained was limiting and inconvenient.
I hear a lot of excuses about why the “culture” in Easton won’t allow the city to keep charging for parking to manage demand whenever it’s busy downtown. But the economics are impenetrable. You need to charge for parking whenever it’s busy. That means Friday and Saturday nights during peak bar-going hours. And it means Sunday mornings during the church crunch as well.
Nobody likes to pay for parking, but there’s a direct trade-off between convenience and price. If it’s busy, and you don’t charge, it’s going to be crazy inconvenient to find a space.
There’s another issue here too, which is that free parking in the evening subsidizes drunk driving. At the margin, people would be more likely to carpool with their friends if there was a price for parking. People would be more likely to take the bus (or a free trolley service, if Easton offered that.) Free nighttime parking encourages people to drive, and encouraging people to drive to the bar is a horrible public safety proposition. It should be more expensive to drive to the bar to encourage people to carpool or take public transportation or cabs.
The extra revenue could go toward paying for the free trolley service to immediate areas like College Hill, Southside Easton, Phillipsburg, Palmer, Wilson, etc. Downtown Easton’s never going to have a ton of parking because it’s a compact walkable area, so more growth is going to require them to figure out some creative solutions like this – higher meter prices + cheaper, more frequent transit. Eliminating 24 parking spaces or so in Centre Square just isn’t going to be a big deal, and we know that because during the peak times when they do charge for parking, it’s not that hard to find a space.
(via Christina Georgiou)