Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Park Place

It’s hard to get the full flavor of the Spa City’s parking debate unless you’ve once endeavored to dance upon a wet rooftop holding aloft a 15-foot metal rod amid the fury of an early spring lighting storm. Needless to say, the experience is about as electrifying as the local conversation stirred by something as seemingly mundane as a collection of lines painted on a stretch of pavement.

During its previous incarnations, the debate focused almost solely upon building immense concrete parking garages and securing more tracts of asphalt to prevent chubby city consumers from walking three or four blocks to their destination. Forcing these little pork chops to do this –say during an early spring lighting storm –might scare them into taking a traffic-filled journey to the paved paradise of Wilton. Pretty soon, the downtown shops would shutter, the lights on Broadway would dim and the criminal element would move in.

So for nearly a decade, the impetus in the city was to pave just about every patch of downtown not impeded by buildings and to construct massive multi-million dollar poured concrete structures to add a handful of spaces to the waning inventory. This carried on fine up until the second and last of these behemoths was completed in 2005. By that time, the City Council was poised to fall to the Democrats, who decided it was better to fight among themselves rather than finding new ways to shoehorn parking spaces into areas where they have no business existing in the first place.

This is all ancient history now. Today, the parking debate has nothing to do with bringing more cars in. Rather, it’s focused on how to squeeze dollars from the same lazy drivers who insist walking two or three blocks is overrated and potentially bad for the economy.

Ask any pundit in city government at this point and they’ll tell you that paid parking is more of a certainty than it is a debate. Mayor Scott Johnson mentioned it in his state of the city address, and didn’t get any biting response from the city Democrats, who literally relish the thought of tearing the Republican a new orifice in his posterior. After all, they need to support paid parking. It’s the only way Ron Kim, their sole voice on the council, will get the new public safety facility he’s pined for since his first term.

All of the proposals for a new facility include a paid parking component. Some are more creative than others, but all of them include sections of downtown that will be dedicated to those who don’t mind throwing a fiver down for several hours. In other words, get ready to feed the meter Saratoga.

Unfortunately, this whole concept of paid parking is inherently flawed, as other state and regional agencies have shown. Once the beast of paid parking is unleashed downtown, the city will be creating something that will one day grow far bigger than anyone could have ever envisioned.

The first step is simple: put a gate and a parking attendant in front of a few choice lots and watch the ducats role in. This cash will initially be used for its intended purpose to fund the behemoth police and courts building. But as the building’s maintenance costs rise, so will the city’s thirst to establish an increasing number of paid parking spaces throughout the land. Pretty soon, all of the spaces downtown will be paid.

Yet such a plan would surely need a permitting system, which would obviously require some sort an administrator. And this administrator will need an office in the new public safety building. The tedium of answering calls at the office will require an administrative secretary. After awhile, the administrator would need an assistant to help out the finer tuning of the whole system.

However, the administrator, the assistant and the secretary will be wholly unprepared to audit the whole bureaucracy. In steps the private auditor, who will cook the books and find that the parking system isn’t nearly as efficient with its collections and maintenance. He or she will suggest a new computer mainframe to oversee the system, taking some of the stress of the administrator and assistant; individual Blackberries for parking attendants so they can expediently upload fines to the aforementioned mainframe; and Segways for parking enforcement officers, so they agree to the new union contract.

Pretty soon, the collection of parking fees will go to feed the growing beast. When or if revenues decline, the beast will growl and parking fees will increase. Is this far-fetched? Perhaps. But so was the concept of collecting tolls to the state legislators who created the Thruway Authority in 1949. They originally though the public benefit corporation would dissolve once the towering cost of the superhighway was paid in full.

Well, that day came and went more than a decade ago. And since that time, the Thruway Authority has continued to take tolls. Worse yet, they continue to raise them unabated.

This is what can happen when artificial revenue streams are created to fund bloated projects. Of course, not many would argue against building the Thruway retrospectively. At least that structure has the ability to generate commerce. The only things a towering new public safety facility will generate –and the new paid parking system by extension –are more ways for a ballooning justice system to levy tax-like fines on the general public.

29 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thruway will be toll free as soon as it gets out of debt. Remember when they moved the last toll booth, Spring Valley, a few miles north to Harriman, had to keep the debt up. The next time they were nearly out of debt they took over the canal system.

Public authorities ALWAYS work this way - A parking authority in town will be the same.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

WHEEL DEAL et al--

Today's parking problems are as real as the city 'neath your feet--

* The East Side asphalt oasis gone for a Hampton Inn and a Luxury Condo...
* The Price Chopper's Strawberry Fields soon to be pickaxed into the past...
* Free Parking behind Kinkos gated now inhales cash and validated merchant tickets...
* The Marriott & Olde Bryant Inn had the audacity to gate their lot for their paying customers...
* An Expanding City Center will soon make the coming Dance Flurry parking fiasco look like "The Good 'Ol Days.

In the simplest terms, DEMAND had outstripped SUPPLY. And in a startling piece of news, TODAY'S Parking Technology is Light Years ahead of METERS on poles. As for "Gates and Attendants"? They're about as State-of-the-Art as "Horse and Buggies."

It's a Brave New World and a tiny peek awaits at www.parkingtoday.com . There are Certifiable Experts and it's hard to beat DONALD SHOUP, UCLA professor and Author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." He is quoted a zillion times in a zillion consultations. MUCH of his material is available on-line. His "argument" is that there is a measurable science to parking. Like the nearly-universal finding that "congested areas" usually congested because 34% of the drivers congesting the roads are looking for a space to park.

Foolish Capitalist that I am, I see a town where Parking is a commodity in demand, and therefore it has value. In degrees. A fine Saratoga option would be "Pay and Display." You go to one of a dozen scattered Kiosks to "buy" the hours you need in the zone you choose. Pay by cash, coin or credit card. In return you get a ticket to place on your dashboard. BIG and CLEAR it shows the END of your precious time.

You choose your "level of convenience" to match your needs. Real cities that trade congestion for income start with a MAP of PRIORITY spots (see UCLA's SHOUP). One such possible map was in a presentation... and it can work with ANY Developer's design. Here 'tis- http://www.poststar.com/articles/2008/12/12/news/local/141885241.img

Just like USDA beef, you get what you pay for. PRIMO spots on Broadway (RED) cost $1.00/hr. "Secondary" B'way (BLUE) and CITY LOTS (YELLOW) go for 75 cents/hr. NEARBY spots are 50 cents/hr. Special Needs...like elderly, owners, or residents? The system offers Gym-Locker kinda' devices that are sold and "Re-Filled" at City Hall. Bring the gizmo and ID to purchase time for a discount set by the City. Hook it on your inside rearview mirror and start it like a stopwatch. Employees? They still have the City's Ellsworth Employee Free Lot on Division... the lot nobody ever uses because it is easier to park in a Primo spot, then race like mad every two hours.

History and Reality and Places-you-can-Visit are not on Horatio's side this time...not when he says "Unfortunately, this whole concept of paid parking is inherently flawed, as other state and regional agencies have shown."

I love HO like a Brother and I'll transport him like a Chauffeur to Nashua, NH and Manchester, MA and Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. When HO's fingernails are surgically removed from my dashboard, we'll resume this civilized discussion of how paid PARKING PAYS for the 850-space garage that replaces those sacrificed for taxpaying facilities. PARKING PAYS for the crushing needs of the expanded City Center.

And best of all, PARKING PAYS for the Public Safety facility built in a century of computers and co-ed professionalism. And REALLY good ceiling tiles!

A Castle? A Cozy Clubhouse? Let's see what we truly need. We'll see it built in our lifetimes. And PARKING PAYS.

-Kyle York
So Pedestrian

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is my philosophy on the issue of
paid parking:

NOTHING else is free so why should parking for free? Are meters a pain in the ass? yes, but like I said, nothing else is free.....

It's like people who want to go out to dinner but don't want to tip, it doesn't make sense.

why does an affluent community such as Saratoga give a shit about putting in a few quarters to a god damn meter, the pettiness in this town is just too much.

Dorian Gray

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Dorian:

Gawk, hawk, window shop, stroll, sample the springs, frolic in the park, enjoy the architecture. There are plenty of free things to do downtown and right now parking is one of them. Taxes are all ready paid to maintain the streets and lots where the parking spaces lie. If you want to pay more for what you previously enjoyed for free, I guess that's your business

Concerning tips, ever heard of Europe?

Maybe your pocket is flush with quarters, but a lot of people who work downtown, who can't afford to live downtown, are feeling a little pinched as of late.
Maybe they should just focus on being less petty and their seams will burst with pocket change?

Maybe paid parking could work and pay for itself, but your exasperation, at others oh-so-obvious problems, isn't that well aimed. Go look at you own portrait again, Dorian, is it still as pretty as it once was? Pax, PhilthyRex

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kyle's recommendation for “pay and display” tickets makes some sense. This is already done in many cities and these chits work well without requiring parking meters. If a paid parking garage is to work (to subsidize the questionable expansive PS facility sans replacement court facilities), fees will be required for prime street parking. This discussion has been going on for fifty years!

In 1960, the Master Plan suggested (in another urban renewal parcel) that the "City in Transition" tear down all the buildings in the gut to Circular Street including selling all the land along side Congress Park at Spring Street for a Telephone Building and parking lot. The other lands after the removal of all the hillside buildings and the present Skidmore Apartments buildings would be for “Proprietor and Employee parking”. The planners of the day were also willing to permit the Holiday Inn to physically “connect” to the Casino. The medium value of homes was $7,656 and there were 737 single-family homes under that value at that time.

Learning from history, we should be careful that what looks good from the Planner’s drawings might not always be farsighted enough. It's fortunate that early vigilance and skepticism prevented this City from becoming another Glens Falls whose demise can be traced to the very problems this City faced at the time. This city has transitioned, yet continues to be a perennial problem. Reasonable “pay and display” fees sending retailers to a garage (with a discounted monthly fee) or a dedicated perimeter lot with pass card and window sticker will not deter the consumer from dropping $1.50 for some time downtown. It’s a New World yet at this critical time, all proposed growth by government and private developer should strive to be no-load or not-at-all.

5:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What did the OBI have to do with putting up a parking gate at the hotel's lot?

6:00 AM  
Anonymous The Tommyknockers said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paid Parking a Solution or a Bail Out?

Short sighted once again.

Pulling out The Saratoga Band Aid again!.

“Robbing from Peter to Pay Paul” has been the mantra for decades and it always comes up short for the TAXPAYER. If we cannot afford it…just say NO!

Provide A Parking Tax to cover bad debt somewhere else…..or a provide a Parking Solution to solve a problem…..There is a big difference.

Lets provide a solution/plan not just a tax. I am not opposed to integrating a paid parking component to the plan. But let’s start with a plan and have it benefit Saratoga Springs for years to come.

Parking planning can play a direct role in the success of Saratoga’s traffic management, the health of its businesses and the level of satisfaction experienced by city residents , customers/visitors, and the local workforce.
Poor parking planning can have poor results: Traffic can become more problomatic, local businesses may have trouble competing with suburban businesses, in-town residents can get fed up with searching for parking spaces every time they return home.
Conversely, sufficient parking spaces will create satisfied customer/visitors, city residents, local workers and successful businesses.
Developing a plan will help calculate where to locate parking spaces, how many spaces are needed. Establish a parking authority, a useful planning organization that could help develop a long range plan.
They could begin by

Survey intown residencial owners.
These residents have a better understanding of what their parking needs are.

Survey business owners,workforce .
Business owners have a better understanding who their customers are and what their customers' parking needs are. Additionally, their workforce parking needs should be planned for too.

Evaluate local mass transit (CDTA etc.) and determine how it affects parking needs. Typically, mass transit is intended to reduce the number of drivers, and the impact on parking requirements. Integrate CDTA stops into the parking plan rather than just stopping in traffic or small pullover spots.

Understand how climate affects parking needs.
The seasonal weather has a dramtic impact on the parking needs and availability.

Evaluate the types of parkers. Shoppers are more likely to be short-term parkers, while employees of local businesses are more likely to need long-term parking.

Location, Location, location! Where is it and who does it serve. One only needs to look at the scaffolding at City hall hill and relieze that the city hall lot is out of reach for the sort term parker.


If paid parking tax is to fund the capital projects than that is a mistake.

Paid parking comes in a variety of different flavors. Not all are bad and several options should be explored.
The parking debate always gets clouded due to "the pork" that get thrown on top of the discussion that generally does not solve the PARKING problem it is an attempt to solve other issues. Lets get out of the same old BAND AID approach and get serious about it.

Use the city land to develop parking solutions that serve the public and that pay for themselves. A centrally located parking structure with multiple floors will pay for itself!!! Between permit parking and individual parking fees these are the financially successful MUNICIPAL Projects and also provide sufficient free parking for our CUSTOMERS.

Creating additional new spots will allow CUSTOMERS to use the "Premium spots" for short periods of shopping or errands, leaving our local WORKFORCE a park place and not run out every 2 hours to move their car or feed a meter. And it does not have to be free! But just throwing the paid parking blanket down without a plan is shortsighted.


The parking behind City Hall should support the City Center first, as it is a critical component of the local economy and may not an ideal parking solution for the downtown business district.

In uncertain times like this, postpone the Rec Center for another time. We have missed the window of financial opportunity and need to pull back on this before we get any deeper in debt.

As much as I had hoped for a new public safety solution, that too may have missed the window of opportunity and we must get creative in our solutions.
By moving the offices of DPW, The City Planning and The Engineer's Office to the 3rd Floor of City Hall (The seldom used Music Hall and Law Library can be renovated into a terrific office space)
The vacated space below could go to Public Safety for their expansion and provided much need meeting space for public use.
Remodeling the 3rd Floor is a fraction of the “long term” cost any new building. The 3rd Floor project can begin without displacing any one and would keep everyone under one roof and provide more meeting room space for the public to use when completed.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kyle
The lot next to the OBI does not belong to the OBI and the restaurant had nothing to do with chaining off the lot. The OBI is one of the most community minded businesses in the City. To suggest that they had something to do with closing that lot makes me think that maybe, just maybe, you are not as smart as you sound.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous demroc said...

i hear you, this mayor is spending money like crazy, and while we need a public safety building this guy is shoving these basketball courts down our throats. truth is he's already got it spent. to avoid raising taxes this year they short handed the city of money and are pulling it out of the surplus. now to make sure we have the $250,000 it will cost just to operate the building per year on top of the debt service for the building that's his only chance. someone should ask where they're going to come up with the money to pay off the dec settlement from tmac, clocks ticking scotty j.
PS. i noticed someone mentioned about pat designs truck. easy answer, he's on call, so he gets to take the truck home incase he gets a call at 4 am. of course, nobody ever complained about tommy taking his city truck out to the town of saratoga everyday.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous demroc said...

and whats this i hear about ho being a righty. i got a feeling he might be pulling for some independents... but the guy does a very good job for the most part

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The entire lot belongs to the Hilton. The gates were installed and paid for by the Hilton. The hotel made arrangements with OBI allowing them to validate the parking slips dispensed by the automatic machines.

The relationship is an example of Saratoga at its best, where cooperation works. Hotel guests enjoy Sully's fine dining, while OBI guests are assured of safe and reliable off-street parking.

It's tha same in the "Borders" lot... actually owned by the Shoe Depot. Cooperation works to everyone's advantage.

Of course, NOTHING will work when the summer of 2009 arrives. That "supply & demand" thing.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Faulkner said...

People who drive downtown and park are there to either work or go shopping (and often both). Parking meters are basically a minor annoyance, and sometimes a hindrance. You want to get downtown quickly, park your vehicle and get on with what you're doing. If "Main Street" is suffering right now from the recession, why add another road block with meters? Get more creative with fund raising, and don't turn Broadway into a literal Shakedown Street.

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Klopek said...

Mayor Johnson is pissing money away. He was elected by helpful McTygue crooks and now he owes him a favor. So he is trying to pay off DEC to make it disappear. I guess he is hoping for McTygue to help this time around.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

Anon 11:39-

I'll be the first to praise Steve Sullivan and I'll Valet Park for his Patrons if he ever asks!

I was equally as quick to provide advice to 3:40 in the post about The Lot and Who Did What.

For everyone who insists that Parking is a phantom menace, please linger around the City Center for the Dance Flurry. You might even help by suggesting a place to park...

...but I wouldn't recommend the big Hilton lot they share with the busy OBI. Very pricey for non-patrons.

-Kyle York
Sullyvating.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Demroc missed the point.....about Pat Design using the city truck to go home.
PAt needs to account for the use of the city truck on his income tax. I don't care if he takes it home, just pay his taxes like the rest of us.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kyle, good thoughts for a city that isn't surrounded by nearly unlimited mall, and strip mall lots. The only reason to shop downtown now is to eat, drink and buy trinkets. The eating and drinking will decrease as the recession progresses and an additional fiver for a seven dollar bear will become too much. Maybe the new upstaters will buy but real folks won't.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Demroc, the cops need a place to play basketball - all they have now is softball and a shooting arcade. They won't even move out the vending machine to make room for the ladies.

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

ANON 7:36-

Our Broadway is a street you should experience on a nice day. Talk to the folks visiting and spending money. Or read the archived story about Chowderfest in an attempt can get a feel for why people come to Saratoga.

You must know some truly magical "Strip Mall" lots if you're seriously suggesting Saratoga will be abandoned for the meeca of the Greenfield Center Stewart's or the paradise that is the Route 50 Price Chopper.

The allure of Strip Malls must be part of that interesting reality you share with your fellow "real folks," y'all who disparage Broadway's merchandise as "trinkets."

Lost in your Regal shadow is the couple who buys $70 worth of books at Borders and then hit Mrs. London's for lunch. If you think 50 cent/hour parking will send them burning rubber to the Barnes & Noble in Wilton followed by lunch at Friendly's...

...you REALLY need to talk to a visitor or five. They know there's a time for Bustling Malls, and they know the time for Broadway's Magnificence.


-Kyle York
Saratoga Springs
Home of the 7-dollar Bear.

7:38 PM  
Blogger A small "r" republican for fairness said...

FYI, As far as the Hilton/OBI lot goes. The Hilton owns the lot and maintains the gates.

The OBI pays a fee to the Hilton for each car parked and validated. I believe it is between $1.50 and $3.00 per car. The grey matter is foggy on the actual amount, which was confirmed some time ago by a member of the OBI management.

I'm still on the fence regarding the paid parking issue. So I'm watching this thread with great interest. There is merit in both sides of the argument.

Peace,

Small 'r'

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Mayor of Munchkin City said...

If I live close enough to broadway does this mean I can charge people to park on my lawn during the busy season just as they do for the Track?

3:48 AM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

Kyle,

you're hired to valet my car this weekend. please meet me at the hilton lot this friday at midnight after you do the guinness toast..

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mayor of Munchkin City:

Yes, that is exactly what that means. Make sure you charge more
for Travers Week. Best Wishes.

Dorian Gray

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I already have little enough reason to go downtown, with its niche shops and overpriced boutiques. It's a fun stroll from time to time, but if I have to pay for parking? Screw it, it's no longer worth the hassle, not when I can just go to the mall for free and get things I actually need.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

ANON "SCREW IT" 11:08-

'Tis a shame that your "fun" days of worldclass penny-pinching will fall victim to some slovenly tourist eager to spend and support our local profiteers hawking their trinkets. The loss is ours and we'll miss you, noble and quintessential Mall-American!

To my photogenic phriend AG--

I will be there in the Hilton lobby Friday, my feet flyin' to the Fugue that is the Flurry, my bald head gleaming...your car in good hands. The we're off to The Parting Glass for that Guinness. On me.

-Kyle York
Stoopid. Local. Shopper.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Revenue for the enlarged Police Station is behind the current parking fee debate. Gone is the argument that employees park on the street challenging their own employer's merchants for spaces. Parking meters or parking stickers may very well threaten the reality of today’s fragile economic balance of Broadway that shop owners experience and most merely promote.

The uproar over moving ahead with metered parking should have also been directed against the desperate need to find a revenue stream to pay for the demanded replacement of adequate court facilities and building an extravagant PSF instead of proposing a reasonable PS addition. In this time of fiscal restraint, it’s a better use of energy and municipal funds to see what we can reuse, remake and renew. Ultimately there is no guarantee that the proposed parking fees will provide the anticipated revenue for the project that under good times had its problems and that taxes wouldn’t have had to be raised anyway to pay for more bloating of the civil service workforce.

The PS Commissioner started his mission to bankrupt the City three years ago and today he brings us closer by challenging the very economy that is the heartbeat of the downtown. In the last several months, there are at least eight maybe nine visible retail closings with certainly more to follow. New retailers looking for spaces are not exactly lining the wings so expect more vacancies before November.

Maybe we’ll go into a full-blown depression and this argument will be mute.

3:37 AM  
Anonymous Screwy Lewy said...

Who cares about paid parking. This will not stop people from coming. It may even help. Instead of people searching for parking for 15 minutes they will just pay and park. A few bucks for a meter won't matter. They can park in my yard for free. I can walk to broadway. But I prefer to walk down broadway to Caroline St. and turn down there to get drunk. That is the real Saratoga. That's where the real fun is in town. CHEERS!

4:18 AM  
Anonymous glory glory said...

I work on Broadway and I am torn about the paid parking. One question. Will the paid parking eliminate the "Jennifer Wait" syndrome of just park where ever, get the tickets, and then lawyer up to get out of paying the fine? Or is there a way for those who screw the system to screw this paid parking system also?

7:54 AM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

Glory: 'Will the paid parking eliminate the "Jennifer Wait" syndrome of just park where ever, get the tickets, and then lawyer up to get out of paying the fine? Or is there a way for those who screw the system to screw this paid parking system also?'

I believe that your concerns will be taken care of - there is always a loophole for our local VIP's, trust me...it's just a matter of 'how', not 'if'...actually, i offered to be Jen's live-in driver--look for an announcement timed to coincide with Jeanette Jordan's return.

Another reason to look fwd to spring!

10:42 AM  

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