Carlson Proposes Paid Parking on Elm Street


Elm Street in New Canaan, December 2021. Laura Ault photo

New Canaan’s highest elected official last week said the town should pursue a change in parking on Elm Street whereby spaces there are paid instead of free.

First Selectman Dionna Carlson told members of the Parking Commission at their regular meeting that, at the same time, the town would “switch with Park Street to free parking,” an apparent reference to the paid Park Street Lot.

“Most people understand that we have sort of a backwards system: Our most valuable parking is free and our least valuable is paid,” she said at the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “And we’re seeing lots of people circling on Elm Street, creating more congestion, so it just doesn’t make sense.”

Town officials have looked at the prospect of switching Elm Street to paid and making the spaces at lots further from the very heart of downtown New Canaan free. In examining the idea 10 years ago, parking officials framed their reasons for the change in terms of downtown workers taking up the free spaces all day. Yet that problem is being effectively addressed through “business permits” sold or given to employers for their employees’ use at lots including Park Street, Morse Court and Center School.

Carlson said she has broached the idea at private and non-government-related events, and that people appear to be in favor of it.

The current system “does not make sense to a lot of residents,” she said.

“Most people understand it doesn’t make sense the way we have our parking laid out,” Carlson said. “So i wanted to sort of bring that to your attention because I think it’s a priority. I think I actually brought that up on the campaign, too. But we are getting to a point where we might be able to look at this more in earnest and start to move forward with trying to get that accomplished. The one thing I know when i drive in town is i can always find parking. I just can’t find parking on Elm Street.”

Asked whether she wanted the Parking Commission to formally vote in favor of the change, Carlson said not yet.

“I want to vet it more with the business community,” she said. “It’s still early and there’s some work that neds to be done, and some data that needs to get out to the public.”

The town would still maintain its disabled spaces on Elm Street. 

Commissioner Katie O’Neill suggested that the town consider increasing the number of 15-minute spaces on Elm Street to accommodate the faster in-and-out shoppers. (The Commission already removed loading zones that had been on Elm.)

Carlson noted that a newly redone staircase down the LPQ alley alongside the Playhouse will have an ADA-compliant ramp “that will help ppl with mobility issues and things like that getting from Park Street down to Elm Street.

“I think we talk about this all the time: In New York City, everybody would walk three or four blocks to get to anything,” she said. “We’re just a little spoiled here and want to park immediately in front of it. And if you wan to do that, that’s great, but you should pay for that.”

Commissioner Drew Magratten urged Carlson to have her ducks in a row before going to the public with the idea, including details about the proposed payment method (machines or apps or both) and any expansion of 15-minute spaces.

6 thoughts on “Carlson Proposes Paid Parking on Elm Street

  1. Finally someone that understands basic economics. Free means infinite demand. Valueable products deserve high prices. No argument that parking on Elm Street is more valuable than Morris court or Park Street. Us consumers should pay for that value. Let the market balance demand. Thanks You

    • When you want a cup of coffee at Dunk you are not thinking about Adam Smith. You just want to park and grab your coffee. You certainly don’t want to have park, pay for spot and then grab your coffee.
      “The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem” / Milton Friedman.

      • Exactly – you want to make it easy for people who are quickly purchasing something in town to do just that. 15-minute free parking appears to be a good solution – frankly for all of town to spread the parking demand / traffic and opportunities for businesses not on Elm Street. Those who need more time can pay for it. If we are worried 15 minutes is not enough just increase the free time to make it uniform around the town lots / streets. Why should one lot / street be free and another charged – that situation just distorts the market?

  2. Why the change? it all comes down to pay for a short stop to pick up an item then leave. Spaces have been taken up by the restaurants already. Is this why a charge is being made for parking, to make up for this?

  3. Bad idea! please talk to the business and property owners. They “understand basic economics “ .Thank you for your continued vetting Donna. Moves have been made in recent years on Elm street that have only exacerbated this problem. The town of New Canaan’s business district is extremely small and easily walkable if parking areas are connected by a more thoughtful planning/zoning approach .
    This should be the top priority for our town’s businesses and government. Only then will businesses want to come and thrive on ALL the streets of New Canaan’s business district.
    The idea that one street is more valuable than another only advertises a false notion to potential business owners who might want to come to New Canaan to ultimately look elsewhere. Look at what other nearby towns are doing to attract businesses. These towns and businesses are thriving. Some great comments! thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *