Commission Votes 3-2 To Recommend Metered Parking on Main and Elm

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Parking on Elm Street at 9 a.m. on Friday, May 9, 2019.

Saying it didn’t make sense for downtown New Canaan’s best parking spaces to be free, town officials this month voted to recommend installing meters on Main and Elm Streets.

The Parking Commission as part of its 3-2 vote at the May 2 meeting also is recommending that the spaces running along the northern edge of Morse Court, which now offer free 15-minute parking, also be metered.

“By giving away free parking on the main streets, we create a perverse incentive for people to not use parking in the peripheral lots that are designed to take the load off [Elm and Main Streets],” Commissioner Chris Hering said at the meeting, held in Town Hall.

Hering voted in favor of the change, along with Commissioners Stuart Stringfellow and Peter Ogilvie (who long advocacy for this idea was recorded in a recent 0684-Radi0 podcast). Chairman Keith Richey and Commissioner Pam Crum voted against the recommendation. The matter now moves to the Police Commission, New Canaan’s on-street traffic authority, under state law.

Town officials have wrestled for years with the idea of reversing the way parking now works in New Canaan’s business district, where motorists may park for free in the most coveted areas but must pay for spaces further out. 

Richey said that other area towns have the same model and “they seem to work very well,” and that it’s a bad idea to change what is now a “welcoming thing for our town.” While it’s “illogical” to have “your choicest” spaces free, the “political reality is that it’s never going to happen,” Richey said.

“I known from wasting time on things that never happen,” he said.

The matter arose during the Commission’s meeting during a separate discussion about chalking tires on cars—a practice temporarily suspended in New Canaan, Richey said, following legal findings in other states.

Ogilvie said, “Get rid of chalking, and move on to the more logical thing, which is charging for parking in our most valuable spaces. And then you won’t have any legal arguments. And furthermore, there shouldn’t be any complaints about leniency.”

He referred to appeals made by motorists who had been ticketed in Morse Court for overstaying in the 15-minute spaces. Some of those fighting their tickets called for a “grace period” after the time had expired.

Advocates for making the change also said it would generate more revenue for New Canaan, that towns such as Greenwich have meters on their main drags and that installing them on Main and Elm Streets could be the most effective way to prevent those working in stores and restaurants downtown from taking up free spaces designed to serve shoppers and diners.

Opponents said the downside to doing so includes that the northern side of Elm Street would lose some spaces, because the new metered spots would have to be lined out to accommodate large SUvs, and that there would be a cost involved in installing meters. While the “iron mike” machines that serve off-street lots in New Canaan cost about $8,000 apiece, the parking manager said, it wasn’t immediately known what it would cost to purchase and install a series of meters—serving, say, two or more spaces each—to charge motorists in the center of town.

Crum acknowledged that charging for parking on Main and Elm would solve the problem of employees taking up free spaces, but said one major question remains how making the change would affect merchants.

The Police Commission is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday.  

Here’s the podcast with Ogilvie:

16 thoughts on “Commission Votes 3-2 To Recommend Metered Parking on Main and Elm

  1. If this is the direction that we want to move, it gives us the opportunity to implement a “Smart Town” approach to parking. For example, Somerset New Jersey, recently put in a ‘Park Smarter’ system with electronic meters. These meters take coins, credit cards and payment from your phone. They also are connected to a Smart Parking app that shows people every parking space and which are open and which are occupied. Watch at https://vimeo.com/285846731 It also provides tons of data to the town on what parking is used where, when and for how long.

  2. I would pay handsomely to own an annual resident parking permit (with 2 hr limits around town) – anything to bypass meters & apps!

  3. This action is not very nice. Meters on Elm were taken down in the middle sixties. They were deemed unfriendly and not at all welcoming. When they were removed the citizenry praised both the good spirit and a job well done.
    Our Morse Court and the 15 minutes of free parking section are part of our friendliness and our cling to what is truly New Canaan. Sadly, some of these traits are vanishing. That tiny bit of free parking has been here since all of us can remember. Those popping into Papyrus, across to Mackenzies or the burger shop are being shown our true culture, a New Canaan that we all share. Is the Commission worried that someone stays 30 minutes instead of 15? We should reflect the courtesy we know we have and display that to visitors. Perhaps they will return.
    We have vacant stores and many homes for sale. Our behavior right now is of the utmost of importance. Metered parking and removing the Morse Court kindness are a depletion of this town’s soul.

  4. I agree with Rick Franco about the 15-minute spots on Morse Court; those are really handy, all the time, for quick stops into Mackenzie’s, Press Burger, New Canaan Healthfare, and so on. I am not aware of anyone abusing these convenient short-term parking spots. I also think the “smart parking” system Craig Donovan refers to sounds worth looking into.

  5. Someone please find a way to back our lost parking spaces. Maybe remove the crosswalk in front of the playhouse. I’m tired of circling the block just to get a cup of coffee. I’ve lived here for 25 years and this past year the parking is at its all time worst.

  6. We have far too many empty storefronts in this town to justify putting up yet another barrier to people parking, eating, and shopping here. The slow, confusing, Morse Court machines and the loss of 25 spots last year are plenty to begin with. If this is about revenue, maybe we should start taxing rash decisions?

  7. “By giving away free parking on the main streets, we create a perverse incentive for people to not use parking in the peripheral lots.”

    So, the solution is create perverse incentive for people to not go to town in the first place? I bet Amazon will be happy about this.

    How can adding yet another obstacle to people visiting downtown New Canaan be seen as positive change? This is the completely wrong approach.

    Here’s an idea : Let’s do a little studying and data collecting to see why people aren’t using the other lots? Wouldn’t have anything to do with the Morse Court meter machine never seeming to work, would it? Maybe having an informed discussion about why people park the way they do, and what the town can do to incentivize them in a “non-perverse” way might be helpful?

    But if not, then I put another ridiculous idea on the table : Instead of paying thousands of dollars to install ugly meters, let’s just hire valet parkers up and down Elm. Would solve all sorts of parking problems and class up the joint a bit I think.

    The goal of all our downtown parking concerns shouldn’t be to make money in parking fees, but to make money from all the taxes that wildly successful local merchants will pay because they are flooded with customers who had the nicest experience commuting into town.

    Put local businesses first. And meters last.

  8. I’m a little late to the game here, but am very discouraged by the idea of (especially) parking meters on Elm and Main. Instead of installing what seems like a permanent solution, why not trying some of the less permanent ideas mentioned above (parking apps, a resident parking pass)? Or, even more simply, why not make parking on Elm and Main 30 minutes? That would leave spaces free for those of us who want to run into Family Britches or Pennyweights to buy gifts, to Papyrus to restock wrapping papers, or to any of our other beautiful stores where you just need to stop by. When we need to make that appointment at Kiklo, or that reservation at Cava or Spiga, we can pick a longer term parking space in one of the lots. Employees would then also park in the lots (freeing up more short term spaces) since moving their cars every 30 minutes wouldn’t be feasible.

  9. Go ahead Parking Commissioners…kill town retail for good. New Canaan ( and its ‘ more fair water rates”) is taking a leaf out of the failed Hartford efforts..tolls, taxes, etc.

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