Monday, April 4, 2011

Salem Parking ... Simplified?

The city has had a parking study going on for God knows how long. It seems they are actually looking to take some action now. I followed the earliest concept that came from this study. I think the final product is pretty different from what I remember. Some of what they propose makes some sense, and some of it doesn't make much of any at all. Some seems like a pure money grab. So let's look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good:

  1. Enforcement hours until 8 PM. OK, so really this is a money grab, but it's a money grab that I like. Let's use the lots at Lafayette and New Derby as an example. It's 5:30 at night, and you're on your way to a friend's house. You want to pop into Pamplemousse to grab a bottle of wine, or you're feeling klassier and want to run into the Beehive for a whoopie cushion. These lots are your closest, best bet for a parking spot for ten minutes. There's only one problem. It's now 5:30. Nearly every spot in these two lots has been gobbled up by a Derby Lofter, and won't be made available again until they leave for work at 7:45 in the morning. Yes, even though they have passes to the garage down the street, they choose to park here because it's free after 5 and it's about 300 feet closer. What should happen here is that one of these lots, maybe the one that exits onto Lafayette only, should be short term, maybe half 30 minute and half hour spaces. Heck, charge a buck an hour for them. People who need to get in and out to patronize a business will pay it to have the space. Alas, we'll get to the actual plan in "the bad" Enforcement till 8 PM will help keep spots open for people patronizing businesses, and push residents to the permit garages, where they make the most sense.
  2. Really inexpensive parking in the South Harbor Garage. Great news for people willing to walk from there to Pickering Wharf, and great for patrons of Murphy's and Beer Works.
  3. The garages are cheaper than most of the meters. The expensive garage goes from $1.50 an hour to $.75. The cheap one to $.25. One of the ways to clear parking for the comers and goers (those who spend money) is to get those who work in the businesses downtown to stop feeding the meters in the prime locations. I've been saying for years that you need to make it painful for those parking all day not to go to the garages if you truly want the downtown to thrive. This plan may do that.
  4. Monthly passes for downtown employees. To park at meters all day costs about $4 a day currently. This plan makes a monthly pass available for $25 for employees of downtown businesses. The catch, you have to walk a little. These zones would be a little off the beaten path, but easily walkable. If you do, you could save over $50 a month in parking bills.
  5. Meters that take credit cards. I struggled with whether to put this in "the good." I've had terrible experiences trying to use the ones in the Church Street lot. Also, I was just on New Chardon Street in Boston, where they recently replaced all the meters with new-fangled credit card machines. They also come with little LED lights that were very noticeable, even during the day, that lit red or green, based on whether there was time left on them. Wouldn't really fit the old-time aesthetic we are going for in much of downtown. Why is this in "the good?" Right, the one ticket I got in Salem was because I had no change. I always have a debit card.
  6. First one's free. Annually, your first parking ticket will be forgiven. Somehow I bet they strike this one. 

The bad

  1. This plan calls for increasing the meter time limits to 4 hours. This is completely backwards. You want the person spending the day to go to the garage. If they are going to change the time limit, it should be to create more 30 minute and 1 hour meters. Not more 4 hour meters. It's not clear if they are even going to keep any of the short term meters that currently exist.
  2. Go read what I wrote about credit card meters above. It belongs here, too.
  3. The plan is to increase the cost of parking in the Salem lot adjacent to the MBTA lot to $4, to match the price charged in the MBTA lot. This probably won't increase revenues as much as they think. The Salem lot fills faster than the MBTA lot because it is half the price. There are many days that the Salem lot is full and the MBTA lot is not. Raise the price, and you'll see that flip the other way. The MBTA lot is nicer, in better condition, and closer to the tracks than the Salem lot. The two are not comparable, and the rates shouldn't be either. Pure cash grab.
  4. Some would put enforcement until 8PM here. I disagree, as I stated above.
  5. Meter tickets would go from $15 to $30. I don't entirely have a problem with that. Put money in the damn meter, moron. It's money that frequently comes from sources other than Salem homeowners.
  6. That said, we're talking about meter rates that rival, and sometimes exceed Boston, where you can park at most meters for $1 an hour. Same story for meter tickets. Ouch.

The ugly:

  1. The supposed purpose of this new plan isn't to gouge people, but to simplify. That's a noble (stated) goal, but I'm not buying it. Go back to the article linked above. The article points out that the city has 13 different types of parking. In this new world there are six different price points for parking. Click on the photo attached to that article and count for yourself. Even more confusing, go to one city parking garage and pay a quarter an hour to park there. Go to the other, pay 75 cents for the same hour. Talk about confusing. So they've taken two types of parking, meter and garage, and turned it into six. I don't buy that we're simplifying. We still haven't talked about resident parking, monthly permit, annual permit, employee permit ... do we really have fewer types than in the old system? I don't think so.
  2. If you're a resident of Crombie, Lynde, or Federal Street, or Summer, and Dodge Street, this plan sucks for you. The resident sticker parking on your street becomes available either to all, or to downtown workers from the hours of 8-5. Sucks if you don't work standard hours. Sorry.
  3. Do the math on the expected cost to implement these changes. The cost is estimated at $850,000. The expected increase in revenues is a whopping $60,000. So in slightly more than 14 years we will have made up what we spent. MY GOD! We must just be terrible at math. I'll let you in on a little secret. That $850,000 doesn't include the cost to keep replacing these fancy new smart meters, which I'm sure will do just fine with New England coastal winters. Those credit card strip readers will just keep humming, and won't be constantly broken, and in need of repair in the frozen, salty air, right?

I get the idea here. Really, I do. Make the most underutilized parking more attractive by lowering the price, and the most attractive parking the most expensive, because people will pay for it. Here's the thing, though. Salem doesn't have a parking problem, really. It has a lardass, lazy, refuse to walk 3 blocks problem. This convoluted proposal won't fix that. The mayor and council relationship seems contentious at this point. Though the council was on board with this study concept previously, I'm not sure they pass this into law.

An unrelated note: I know there are a lot of Kim Driscoll haters out there, but seriously, people, it could be a lot worse.


  1. Thanks for putting so much thought into the pros and cons of this plan, G. It saves us Cliff Notes folks a lot of time.
    I agree with you that THE BIGGEST problem with the downtown parking situation is business owners and their employees feeding the meters in front of their shops. How do you save these people from themselves, even when you are trying your best to help them? I think $30 is too much for a ticket in Salem and 25 cents an hour is too low for parking in the South Habour Garage (ever check out the view from the top floor there, by the way. It's nicer than you might think!) I also thinki that $850,000 is WAY too much money to spend, even looking at the longterm benefits, to improve the current situation. I would go to $20 max on tickets, charge $1 per hour in all garages and publicly execute business owners and their employees who feed meters for their own vehicles in front of their shops. These people need to be put out of their misery NOW.

  2. The most blatant offender is gone. It used to be that you couldn't drive past Derby Lofts without seeing the giant Escalade with chulamama plastered on the side of it parked directly in front of Chulamama. I vowed to never go there.

  3. I guess everyone else made the same vow, G!


Don't forget, keep it klassy!