Downtown workers—not shoppers, not diners—take up 70 percent of the parking spaces on Elm Street, and one way to reverse that phenomenon could be converting the main business drag to metered spots and designating the free spaces a bit further off of it, officials say.
The prospect has been discussed on and off for years–its major merit being that employees only force themselves into the downtown spots because as it is, they’re free—though it typically has been met with opposition because there’s a feeling it would be “non-village-y” to put meters in the heart of the village, Parking Bureau Supervisor Karen Miller said Wednesday during the Police Commission’s regular meeting.
Yet there likely is no more effective way to address “the most sophisticated game of musical cars that you have ever seen in your life,” Miller said, referring to workers’ habit of keeping the spots for themselves by swapping with one another prior to reaching their 90-minute limit at a single space.
“The real solution is that it should be paid parking [on Elm and Main] and nothing in the [off-street lots], absolutely,” Miller said at the meeting, held in the Training Room at the New Canaan Police Department. “The employees are parking there because it is free and they can move from one street to another.”
It’s a game of musical cars that goes on “literally all day,” she added.
“The town does it completely wrong,” Miller said. “The parking that is the prime parking is free and the parking that is less convenient you have to pay for. It’s supposed to be done the other way, but there’s been a longstanding concern about taking that free parking away that maybe it’s not ‘village-y,’ that it becomes like Greenwich [Avenue].”
The comments came during a discussion of one resident’s suggestion that New Canaan force downtown employees off of the popular free parking areas on Elm and Main Streets with a new rule that no single car can park in the 90-minute zone for more than once per day.
While the idea is a good one in spirit, members of the Parking Commission agreed at a meeting last month, in the sense that it could deter workers downtown from simply switching places with each other in a coordinated way to skirt the rules, still just one member of that group (which is in charge of off-street parking only) supported the proposed new rule.
Miller said it would be difficult to enforce, because parking enforcement officers are not allowed to single out subgroups of motorists, such as downtown employees.
“Real people will get caught up in this, not just the offenders,” she said at Wednesday’s meeting. The bureau’s new license plate reader, although it could record data, wouldn’t be consistently effective for enforcing such a rule either, she said. For example, it could register that Car X was in Spot Y at a certain time, but unless parking enforcement officers looped back again to record that the very same vehicle was still there one hour or 90 minutes later, there’s no way for enforcement officers to tell how much total time one motorist has aggregated during the day.
The only rule on the books now is in the Town Charter (section 58, paragraph 7), which says: “Wherever the use of a parking area shall be limited to a definite period, no vehicle which shall have been parked in any portion of that area for the time permitted shall be reparked in the same block within one hour thereafter.”
That rule was created back when the parking limit in the downtown was just one hour, and for the same reasons that discussions about these rules are resurfacing: Employees in the downtown had been taking up all the free spaces.
Police Commission Chairman Stuart Sawabini said that the Parking Commission may consider providing free permits to employees at lots off of the main drags downtown. Miller said that very idea has been discussed for years, and an attempt was made years ago when Center School lot had been grossly underused, but “the real problem is that people do not want to walk.”
“That’s the real problem,” Miller said and cited a Wall Street Journal study that found “nobody wants to walk more than 17 feet to their destination.”
Another suggestion was made that the owners of downtown businesses make it a requirement that their employees do not take up the free spaces that may be used by prospective customers. The difficulty there, Miller said, is that the bureau cannot force employers to enforce such a rule.