Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some Thoughts on Proposed Changes to Downtown Parking


The Girl Next Door

Parking is always a volatile issue, and more so in densely populated areas, so it's no real surprise that  potential changes to Easton's parking regulations have raised some controversy lately.

During the very many discussions about these issues though, I've noticed there are a few potential solutions that seem neglected, or haven't even been discussed.

On the other hand, some proposed changes, like switching the hours metered street parking operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. actually make a lot of sense.
This is what Northampton Street looks like on any given weekday morning around 8:30 a.m.
What is the purpose of metered parking enforcement at this hour, and exactly who are we ticketing on the rare occasions they are issued? And, if the purpose of parking meters is really to ensure turnover, not revenue, doesn't this seem pretty pointless when there is virtually no one visiting Downtown?

The first is the possibility of offering the first five or ten minutes of parking free. This would allow time for drivers to hunt up some quarters, should they be in short supply. It would also give essentially free parking to those customers the city and businesses should value most—those that come to pick something up, drop off their money and leave.

This can be accomplished with our existing technology too. The meter that 'zeros out' when a vehicle pulls out can just as easily be programmed to start with time on the meter, possibly with a message on the screen, “Welcome to Easton Pennsylvania!”

Everyone loves finding a meter with time on it—it makes them feel like it's going to be a great day. That is exactly what we want when people visit our city. So why aren't we doing it?

Starting with a few minutes on the meter also negates the “unfairness” of the city pocketing change in the form of paid time that is never used.

While many folks seem to love the idea of parking meters that take credit cards, the fact is, the equipment is expensive, estimated at three times the cost of the meters we already have, and they will definitely necessitate that very unpopular rate hike, likely doubling the current rate of 50 cents an hour.

Parking meters that don't take credit cards may actually have a number of advantages...
especially if the first few minutes are free.

Sure, some people don't carry quarters, but should the people who do and like to pay cash really pay more for the convenience of the unprepared? Or for those who are so much better off that a few extras dollars here and there doesn't make a dent?

It could be argued that the less fortunate aren't real customers in the city's Downtown, but this is patently untrue. Even the less well off treat themselves now and again. And they will choose to do so repeatedly in a place they enjoy, one that welcomes them and treats them well. That won't happen in a city that seems willing to bleed them dry before they've had any fun. Their money is as good as anyone else's, and there are more of them nearby than those of the wealthy.

Additionally, in a lousy economy, wouldn't shop owners value those extra few dollars over putting them into the city's coffers, only to pay for a convenience for a few?

Not to mention, what is the message when people feel they have to pull their credit cards out before they've stepped foot in a single shop?

Lastly, keeping parking meters as a cash-only situation is actually very good for shopkeepers, provided they are prepared to make change. And they should be. People looking for change will quite willingly go into any store that has a friendly window sign proclaiming “We have quarters for the meters!”

All those people are potentially new customers—people that otherwise would have passed an unknown shop by without a second glance.

Making change is a form of free advertising and a chance to show off one's wares. Even if they don't buy something that trip, they will remember the shop and come back, or recommend it to others. It also builds community and allows businesses to interact with the public and promote each other.

Mayor Sal Panto recently said that people don't stroll around any more. Well, to a point, he's right—at least about Easton. It's not true at all in places our city has compared itself to, such as New Hope, New York City and Bethlehem, just to name a few.

When the public doesn't know there's anything worth seeing, they don't stay and walk around. And then they don't spend their money here.

But when someone, particularly a business owner or shop clerk tells them about the wonderful little place around the corner or recommends that fabulous ethnic restaurant is or relates what a lovely time one can have on the riverfront just a couple of blocks away, many will.

When they're done and go home, those visitors will tell their friends what a great time they had and what a wonderful city Easton is to visit.

Why would anyone pass that up, to have the public pay double and lose potential customers and dollars?

It could be argued we already pay the Ambassadors to give the public directions and make recommendations, in addition to keeping the streets clean. And, when approached, they do a great job. Truly.

But really, when was the last time you were in an unfamiliar city and asked a person pushing a broom, picking up trash or planting flowers their opinion on fine dining? Maybe if the back of their shirts said something like, “I'm an expert on all things Easton. Ask me!” instead of “Clean and Safe” those questions would come their way more often.

However, for now, until that happens, until we are New Hope or New York City (both of which, it might be added, have few or no parking meters that take credit cards!), or, best yet, we get back to being the City of Easton everyone remembers of old, we need every trick in the book to have people spend their dollars in our shops and restaurants, not to mention salons and other fine service establishments, and their spare change in our meters.

With at least a five or six hour limit at most of them, so they can stay as long as they like.
Anything less is telling people to go home and to take their spending money with them.

Full disclosure: Once upon a time, the author had a very successful little bead and vintage jewelry shop in New Hope. Which regularly dispensed a solid $50 or more in quarters every summer weekend. She probably got ten dollars in sales for every dollar changed, along with some of her best customers, who ultimately spent a lot more than that. She credits an eight-by-ten-inch cheerily hand-lettered sign that said...“We have quarters for the meters.”

Easton observes Memorial Day

Easton's annual Memorial Day Parade went off without a hitch Monday, and after a rather soggy weekend, the weather cooperated beautifully. Crowds lined the streets, as the parade made its approach to the free bridge for a brief joint service in the middle with Phillipsburg NJ. From there it was back to the Centre Square for a rememberance of Easton's very own, led by Joe Cuvo, president of the Veterans Memorial Day Counil of the Easton Area, who acted as master of cermonies for the final event.

Were you there? Well, then, you may just find yourself here...

Children scramble for candy thrown by Suburban EMTs.

While some seem to regard Memorial Day weekend as little more than three days off from work, clearly, these folks know its real meaning and hold it dear to their hearts.

Members of the Easton Police Department, including Chief Carl Scalzo, left, look on as the crowd makes its way to Scott Park for a joint rememberance service with Phillipburg NJ.

City Controller Tony Bassil attended the event, along with...

Pennsylvania State Representative Bob Freeman, right, with Joe Cuvo, president of the Veterans Memorial Day Council of the Easton Area.
Easton City Councilman Roger Ruggles, with Mayor Sal Panto.

The Easton Area High School Rover Marching Band heads back to Centre Square.

Easton Area High School senior Jennifer Estevez sings the national anthem.
She also sang Amazing Grace later in the program.

Easton Area High School junior Nick DeNunzio reads the Gettysburg Address.

A local Boy Scout places flowers on the Soldiers' and Sailors' monument in Centre Square.

Four Easton Blue Star Mothers, whose sons are currently serving in the military, at the Memorial Day event on the Centre Square. They later placed the wreath before the rifle salute.

One of two buglers from the EAHS Rover Marching Band that played 'Taps and Echo' prior to the final benediction.
Though nearly 149 years old, these words written by Abraham Lincoln from the Gettysburg Address still seem relevant today:

It is for us, the living...to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought...have thus far so nobly advanced, it is rather for us to be here dedication to the task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve: that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the face of the Earth.



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