Magazine

Point of View

Albany, DC, and Ventura, CA, of All Places

By John Van Horn

Wow! Parking Authority Boss Thinks Outside the Box
The Executive Director of the Albany (NY) Parking Authority surprised local politicos by suggesting parking programs that certainly differed from those usually expected from parking professionals. Michael Klein cautioned that he wasn’t backing any of the ideas but putting them forth for discussion.
“I don’t think we should follow the old model, point blank,” Klein said, instead suggesting that a city task force on residential permit parking look into a system that uses market forces and incentives – rather than “rationing and command and control” – to “sort out the conflicting perspectives.”
I always suspected that my buddy Mike was a closet Shoupista, but this really tells the tale. I particularly like the suggestion, also reported in Albany’s Times Union newspaper, that would provide that residents living in a residential parking permit area could sell their permits to anyone they like for whatever they like. This means that if a hospital is next to a neighborhood, the residents could sell unused permits to hospital employees on the open market.
It makes perfect sense to me.
Of course, some of the local politicos didn’t see the wisdom in Mike’s comments:
“I don’t think we need to re-invent the wheel,” task force chairman Councilman Richard Conti said afterward. “I think the old system, which is used in other cities, works.”
What Mike is doing is exposing its members to alternatives. He wants them to consider new ideas. It’s a tough row to hoe. Nobody ever got in trouble buying IBM, and nobody ever had a problem doing something someone else has done.
Way to go, Mike – all those seminars at the IPI really paid off, as did a couple of meetings of the Temecula Parking Group.
***
Guess Who I Ran Into in Canada?
I was surprised to see Larry Donoghue at the Canadian Parking Association convention in Whistler, BC, in early October. Last time we ran into each other (at PIE, I think), the nonagenarian told me he was retiring. But there he was, learning all he could about pay-on-foot and on-street systems (pay-and-display). Larry told me he was keeping current with the latest technology and was paying big bucks to anyone who could give him ways to crack the new systems.
When I asked him about his “retirement,” Larry told me that he had been having balance issues and thought they were the first step to a cane, then walker, then a wheelchair and then a gurney out the door. He said a young friend (85) told him about some exercises. Larry started doing them and his balance came back, and he had no excuse for retiring. (I guess being over 90 doesn’t count.)
***
Food Trucks Taking Parking Spaces …
Established restaurants and traditional cart vendors are getting some competition from gourmet food trucks in Washington, DC, and they don’t like it. So they are using parking policy as a reason to go after them, the District’s City Paper reports.
The Money Quote, from one Dupont Circle merchants group: “The concept of allowing commercial activity at a parking meter is inconsistent with the public policy that parking meters are for customers, not commercial activity or employees.”
Seems to me like some are getting hit in the pocketbook and don’t want to compete. My feeling is that these trucks are a new way to merchandise. They add to the street “scene.” They get people out of their staid office environment and into a healthier one.
In the newspaper article, the merchants complain that the people who eat at the trucks cause traffic jams on the sidewalks. Huh? Isn’t that what you want – people standing around and walking by your windows?
Of course, the trucks need to follow rules similar to the local merchants, pay the same taxes, get the same approvals, meet the same health codes, and the city needs to determine where they can set up. Perhaps higher fees for parking would be in order. Or maybe spaces could be carved out in off-street lots for them. Time to think outside the box.
As for the restaurants that are being “hurt” by the trucks, get with the program. Why do people go to them? They are fast, they offer “different foods,” they are cheaper. Gee, maybe you need to rethink your lunch model. Personally, I would prefer to go inside and sit down and be served if I could get out of there in a hurry and have some good food at a price I could afford.
There is a great fish restaurant near me here in LA. You go in, order at the counter, pay, get a number, and your food is brought to your table in about 5-7 minutes. It’s fresh, good and quick. You have already paid, so you don’t have to wait for a check. I much prefer it to a so-called gourmet food truck. But it’s the only one in the area like that.
You gotta move with the times … Of course, in DC, it might be hard for a lobbyist to change a congressman’s mind while sitting on the grass near a gourmet truck. I wonder if expense accounts cover grass stains?
***
Parking is Hands-On; This Mayor is Too …
Bill Fulton, Mayor of Ventura, CA, is talking about the new downtown parking program recently fired up in the Southern California coastal town. It’s working as advertised. With an increase in charges for on-street parking, long-term parkers (read that store employees) are moving to off-street lots, and those who want to park on the street can now do so.
How does the Mayor know all this? He’s out walking the streets at 10:30 a.m., a half hour after the new rules went into effect in mid-September. He then goes out again at 3 p.m. He talks to parkers, to merchants, to store employees. His comments:
Main Street merchants have come to see that paid parking can help them too by opening up short-term spaces close to their store. As the owner of Jersey Mike’s told me today, her customers used to have to circle the block three times looking for a space or park in a faraway parking lot. Now they can park right in front of her shop for a quarter – or a dime – or a nickel – while they pick up their order. Because even though it’s $1 for the first hour, you can buy less time with coins. And there’s less traffic on the street because there’s less “cruising” for a parking space. …
And he’s back out walking the downtown streets at 6 p.m.:
Some people who grumbled about this idea pointed to the experience this summer at Ventura Harbor: Paid parking was instituted in the prime lot near the Village on weekends. But, the complainers pointed out, the Harbor ended the program early because they didn’t achieve their revenue goals. True enough, but it was a gloomy summer and tourist business was off generally. And what the complainers tend to overlook is the fact that the Harbor actually did meet the parking management goals. Employees and all-day parkers going to the Channel Islands parked elsewhere, freeing up plenty of space for people shopping at the Village. In that sense, it was a success.
This guy is smart. He knows that parking is really a street-level business. Sitting in one’s office looking at reports doesn’t tell the tale. You have to go out and look, talk, ask and see. Then you know what is going on in your parking garage or lot, or on the streets of your city.
How many of you parking facility owners walk your property as this mayor does?

Article Abstract from November, 2010




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