Could Parking Meters Come to Beacon?

City discusses option and revenue it could generate

By Jeff Simms

Beacon officials this year are planning to revisit Main Street parking regulations, a divisive but recurring issue as the city grows.

City leaders have discussed installing timed meters several times, including in 2014, when Dutchess County planners recommended them along Main Street, and in 2015, when the council began to set aside funding for Main Street parking and “streetscape” improvements.

Mayor Randy Casale suggested during the council’s March 11 meeting that the fund — it now has $11,000 in it — should be expanded and used to improve public transit, as well.

A map posted on the city’s website shows its municipal parking lots in black. (Click to enlarge.)

The idea, he said, is that parking meters on Main Street, if they’re implemented, could be used to upgrade Main Street. “If you want prime parking, you should pay for it,” Casale said. With visible improvements, the city could make the case for meters that “here’s what it costs to drive and park, and here’s what it gives you.”

A supplier estimated in 2013 that it would cost the city about $207,000 to install 24 meters — 19 would handle multiple spaces and five would cover single spaces — but that the equipment would pay for itself in about 16 months.

Meters could be a tough sell for both the council and residents. Council Members Amber Grant and Jodi McCredo said off the bat that their instinct is not to charge for parking. Meters could penalize merchants already dealing with high rents, McCredo argued, while Grant said that alternatives to driving should be a bigger part of the conversation.

“If the goal is to create a more walkable and bikeable city, what else are we doing to get to that end?” Grant asked. In addition to bike racks installed on Main Street in recent years, “there’s more that we can do,” she said.

A study conducted in 2014 by Dutchess County estimated there were nearly 1,900 spots on and near Main Street: 1,104 on Main and adjacent streets, and 794 in private and municipal lots. Between 38 percent and 59 percent of the spaces were occupied at any given time, the county found, with peak usage on weekday afternoons.

The pay station at the municipal lot in Cold Spring (Photo by M. Turton)

What About Cold Spring?

There have been discussions over the years of adding parking meters on Main Street to ease congestion and as a source of revenue.

A parking committee formed in 2008 counted 2,550 parking spots in the village, including 950 off-street (excluding driveways) and 1,600 on the street. It calculated that metering 121 spots on Main Street and at Depot Square with 12 pay-and-display stations, as well as 46 spots in the municipal lot on Fair Street with a single pay station, could bring in $180,000 annually based on a rate of 50 cents per hour on weekdays and $1 per hour on weekends and the meters operating from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

The Village Board didn’t act on the report, and in 2014 another parking committee was formed. It recommended removing the painted lines on Main Street, which studies had shown could increase the space for parked cars by 15 percent.

In 2016 the village added the single pay station to the municipal lot that had been recommended by the 2008 committee. It grossed $15,000 in six months, exceeding expectations.

With an 85 percent capacity rate considered ideal, the data “suggests there is still ample parking capacity in the downtown area for future growth,” the Dutchess planners wrote.

Much has changed since 2014, and the city plans to take new counts, possibly using drone photography, along Main Street, Verplanck Avenue, Washington Avenue and several streets that run parallel to Main, Casale said.

At 291 Main St., the Telephone Building isn’t as affected by a parking crunch as merchants on the east and west ends of Main could be. The Telephone Building — the headquarters more than 100 years ago for the Hudson River Telephone Co. — also has its own lot. But Deborah Bigelow, the building’s owner since 1992, said she noticed a spike in pedestrian and street traffic in the summer of 2017, when it became difficult to park the equipment she uses to maintain the Main Street facade of the building.

As a shopper, she added, “I know there are days of the week and times of the day when it’s going to be hard to park on Main Street. That has, more or less, always been the case. Now, it’s more the case.

“Friday afternoon was always tough. So was Saturday,” she said, “But those windows used to be smaller. Now it’s Thursday through Sunday.”

Looking to Aspen

When considering parking, the federal Department of Transportation points to Aspen, Colorado, as an example of a city that’s taken a “contemporary” approach.

Aspen implemented a “pay-and-display” parking system in 1995 (drivers place a receipt on their dashboard) while issuing residential permits for adjacent neighborhoods and doubling its bus services. Its goal, the city says, was to “decrease congestion, improve air quality and preserve our small-town character.” The revenue funds free public transportation in Aspen.

The changes were initially panned by many residents, and the city council agreed to hold a public referendum after it had been in place for three months. By the time of the vote, three-quarters of voters supported it.

In addition to meters, the Dutchess planners recommended revenue-sharing to incentivize owners of private lots to open them to the public; building a lot on the east side of the Madam Brett House; and adding clearer striping on roads adjacent to Main to encourage more parking there.

Beacon has moved forward on other recommendations in the report, such as enhanced bus service — the Beacon Free Loop bus was launched last year — and establishing the fund for parking and Main Street improvements. The report recommended improved biking and walking access in the city, as well.

During the March 11 meeting, city planning consultant John Clarke suggested gathering the parking studies that developers have done when seeking approval for their projects and using them to create a composite view. The city could then commission a new report that included a bike-plan study, he said.

“That’s how you can provide a good alternative for parking and traffic issues,” he explained. “You can accumulate all that development data instead of having to start from scratch again.”

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5 Responses to "Could Parking Meters Come to Beacon?"

  1. Kelly Ellenwood   March 23, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    To counter Jodi McCredo’s argument, metering parking at certain “premium” times on Main Street could actually be a boon to merchants. Logically, with a time constraint, people will move their cars more frequently, allowing new customers to park.

    Conversely, with no limit (or unenforced limits), drivers will likely leave their vehicles for longer periods, limiting turnover. The meters can be programmed to be in force for the premium times, i.e., from Friday through Sunday. Residents and people who work on or visit Main Street can park without feeding the meter during the rest of the week.

    The goal is to encourage more walking and biking and use of public transportation. My family is making a habit of taking the Beacon Free Loop when we can, especially Thursday to Saturday.

    Reply
  2. Michael Armstrong   March 24, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    I led the Cold Spring Parking Committee, a subcommittee of the Cold Spring Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan, in 2008, when it prepared a report on parking in the Village. The committee of a half-dozen volunteers studied parking reports from three or four similar communities around the country to see how professionals approached the subject. Volunteers counted the spaces in the village, divided the community into general zones that reflected different uses, and created a block by block spreadsheet to show not just how many spaces were available, but how occupancy varied depending on the time of day and day of the week. To figure out occupancy, volunteers drove around village streets during specific hours, on weekdays and weekends, and counted and recorded parking space occupancy block by block.

    The committee also read the latest research on parking, which included Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. My personal bias going into the study was skepticism about metered parking, which I thought would be an inconvenience, a business-killer, and just another tax on ordinary folks. Shoup’s book was an eye-opener. Through a careful historical and statistical review, Shoup demonstrates how keeping parking free leads to poor access (no available spaces), and an endless demand for more and more land that never quite seems to meet the need for parking spaces. To concerns of business owners along Main Street, the goal of metered parking is to create access, to make it more likely that visitors will be able to find a convenient space. Metered parking is not a tax, but a user fee, a charge for the use of a limited public resource. Modern parking meters are convenient, and unobtrusive (and programmable).

    I calculated that the Village would net income (all revenues less all costs) of approximately $180,000 per year if parking meters were installed along Main Street and in the Municipal lot. My calculations reflected seasonal variation in demand, likely occupancy block by block, reasonable parking pricing based on similar communities, meter costs, enforcement, and so on. I made a spreadsheet with my assumptions and figures available to anyone in the village who cared to review them. We presented our report and recommendations to a well-attended meeting in the Village’s firehouse in October 2008. Residents were astounded that this Village of about 2,000 people had around 2,500 public spaces, not including driveways. (As Tom Rolston, one of the Parking Committee members, said, “We don’t have a parking problem; we have a convenience problem.) Some residents demanded that a resident permit system be established to ensure that residents could always find parking at or near their homes (a permit system then, and now, illegal in New York State). Some argued that parking meters would destroy the character of the village. Some doubted that meters would really improve access, and some believed they would harm local businesses (all of the hard evidence suggests otherwise).

    In the end, the Village limited the investment in parking meters to a single multi-space meter in the municipal lot, and never ventured any further. A Village effort to restrict parking in some additional areas around Main Street went nowhere (due to confusion about what a residential parking district actually did, versus what people thought it did). Close to $2 million in revenue has been lost in the decade since our study, money that could have been improved the public restrooms at the foot of Main Street, rebuilt the Cold Spring boathouse as a facility offering riverside amenities to all families in the Village, or improved or replaced the firehouse. Based on my own experience, I urge all of you with strong opinions about metered parking to become informed, and think carefully about the costs of free parking.

    Reply
  3. Michael Armstrong   March 26, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Residential Parking Permit Zones are an important tool in managing parking, but one that is often misunderstood.

    In the late 1990s, I believe, Cold Spring petitioned, with about 20 other Hudson River communities, for a state law carve-out allowing the Village to exempt residents from complying with the four-hour parking time limits within an area west of the railroad tracks where, it was felt, commuters were parking to avoid paying for a space at the Metro North lot. After many years (around 2007), the zone was approved and Cold Spring residents could legally acquire permits from the Village clerk. When I checked just a few years after this was implemented, the whole thing was almost completely moribund, with only a handful of permits issued. However, signs stating that the area west of the tracks was a Residential Permit Zone did seem to discourage some commuters.

    When Cold Spring applied a few years ago to establish parking zones east of the tracks, the whole project seemed to peter out. Many seemed to think that establishing a Residential Parking Zone would outright prohibit non-residents from parking there, or at least guarantee residents a spot near their homes. Neither is permitted by New York State Law, which governs street parking (municipal parking lots, not being a street, are not subject to those same rules). Without the guaranteed improvement in access, the will to proceed faded.

    To the best of my knowledge, New York State still does not permit communities to exempt residents from paying for metered parking (only time limits). Main Streets are business districts, with retail establishments depending on customers to have easy access. It makes sense to meter Main Street to improve access. In Cold Spring, and to some degree Beacon, the streets intersecting Main Street are mostly residential. Normally, there would be no reason to meter a residential street. I think, though, that the proximity to a bustling business zone complicates things. I can honestly think of no practical solution other than allowing residential exemptions to metering in residential zones next to business districts, where parking has become a problem. This will not guarantee spaces, but just by ratcheting up the hourly rate, communities can exert real influence on making spaces available on residential streets.

    Again, Main Street itself should be metered, with no residential exemptions, and the sooner the better. But the residential zones on either side of Main Street should also be metered, with the important difference that residential exemptions be allowed. I would urge our state representatives to give communities the right to permit residential exemptions to parking meters in R1 districts.

    Reply
  4. Mark Roland   March 28, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    There are many facets to the dilemma of where to put our personal 3,000-pound vehicles during the 94 percent of the time we’re not driving them, and some of the ideas for mitigation are, at first glance, counter-intuitive. For example, the notion that meters are bad for merchants has been disproven; they eliminate long-term parking at the curb.

    Unfortunately, the best time to tackle this is before, or at least along with, zoning codes. The city has never made changes as part of an overall plan, and it also has failed to take into account that Beacon is a small river town hemmed in by a mountain, so one-size-fits-all solutions offered by planning consultants are not necessarily going to work. Bus service is not a solution; they are used in Beacon mostly by people who don’t have a car in the first place.

    Council Member Amber Grant and others have employed the feel-good phrase that we should make the city “more walkable and bikeable,” but paving over the woods next to the Madam Brett house will not move us in that direction. Nor will continuing to look for ways to accommodate automobiles within the town center, because the problem is not parking, traffic or overdevelopment. It’s too many cars trying to occupy our 5 square miles.
    We can talk, put in meters, pass a resolution, put down more pavement, or make another zoning change. But is anybody seriously going to give up their personal steering wheel? In the immortal words of Charlton Heston, “From my cold, dead hands.”

    Reply
  5. Frank Haggerty   March 31, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Ideas and proposals for “solutions” are largely a function of which of many possible “problems” are acknowledged as needing to be addressed, and exactly how these problems are framed and defined. Under-examined or ignored assumptions typically are in operation. This is true as much on the level of the individual as it is with respect to the behavior of groups, societies, and governments.

    For example, when one considers it is a problem (let’s call this problem “A”) that there are too many automobiles, and/or that there are too few places to park them, in a given area or community, even if only during specific days or times, one may attempt to effectively increase the total number of parking spaces (one but not the only way is to impose a “cost” for using them). One may also attempt to reduce the number of automobiles (e. g., by facilitating other methods of transportation such as trains, buses, human-powered vehicles, walking, etc.). Or some combination of both of these efforts.

    Suppose instead one considers it a problem (let’s call this problem “B”) that instead there are too few automobiles, and/or there are too many places to park them, in a given area or community, even if only during specific days or times. One may then attempt to decrease the number of parking spaces (the space could be used as greenway, as parks or playgrounds, etc.), or to increase the number of automobiles (automobiles could be subsidized). Or some combination of both of these efforts.

    Let’s consider another, I would suggest, related issue.

    Suppose one considers it a problem (let’s call this problem “C”) that a government, which is generally considered to be doing a good job, is not sufficient financially to operate in such a way as to meet all (each and every one) of the “needs” of its jurisdiction. As long as taxes, fees, etc., are not generally and otherwise considered already too onerous, one might solve this problem by increasing taxes, fees, etc., or by creating and imposing new taxes, fees, etc. One might also charge for needs formerly done at no charge to the recipient(s) – or simply allow private enterprise to meet the needs, again at some cost to them. Or some combination.

    One may on the other hand consider it a problem (let’s call it problem “D”) that a government is considered to be doing a poor job of economically meeting the “needs” of its jurisdiction, or that it is so robustly and adequately financed – possibly because taxes and fees are too high – that it is wasting or mismanaging its resources. The basic needs may indeed already be met but extra and unneeded government funds are budgeted and spent out of habit. One might solve this problem by forcing a change in government (via elections or by public debate or petitioning). Or one may force a reduction of taxes and fees. Or some combination.

    I would suggest that problems (really I think they are best but rarely termed interpretations) A/B and C/D are typically so interrelated that it’s almost impossible to address them individually. Who decides what the problem(s) exist and are pressing, which problems do not exist or are not pressing, and which problem are to be addressed? Is it, in my example, A and C, or is it B and D?

    Harvey Molotch, in his 1976 essay “The City as Growth Machine”, concluded there is a general bias towards economic growth in public policy, and that this is due to the relative ability of various interest groups to apply pressure on city governments. If he is correct, problems A and C in most cases will receive acknowledgement and attention and attempts at solution, while problems B and D will in most cases not be acknowledged or receive attention or attempts at solution.

    That is, of course, if and when it is generally acknowledged that economic growth and the financial health of governments are directly proportional to the number of automobiles in a community, and to the ability to easily park many of them. But that so? Is that the case, specifically, in Beacon today?

    Reply

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