Fiddlin’ with the parking rates to help our downtowns: a freebie but . . .

(128th in a series of posts on parking)

In Gadfly’s opinion, Councilwoman Van Wirt was the focal point of the Public Safety Committee meeting with the Bethlehem Parking Authority on October 1.

Gadfly sees PVW challenging BPA decisions and trying to push them into thinking about their work in wider terms than they are used to, ending in engaging them in discussion for a pilot project.

PVW is aggressive, incisive, data-driven, and progressive here.

“How is this affecting our downtown businesses?”

PVW accepted the BPA consultant’s recommendation that variable rate parking not be implemented, but she pushed the BPA on thinking about other ways to manage curb parking. “Where is your parking the softest?” Why can’t we “do something much simpler . . . [like] lower the rates over in the Southside where the parking is supersoft and raise them in the Northside where parking is tight?” I don’t understand why this “pretty simple thing” wasn’t implemented, she said.  And “did any of your consideration include the fact that a lot of the parking meter rate has affected our downtown businesses in terms of the public’s perspective that this is a more expensive place to shop?”

“It’s my job to compare apples and oranges.”

PVW beats an old dog here:  “I do not believe the data supports the building of another garage.”Exactly how Gadfly felt reading the BPA consultant’s report. “What we’re reading here supports my contention that there’s not a huge need for this garage? . . .Why are we building a $17m garage on the Southside?”  “Without a full understanding of why we are increasing our parking meter rates,” says PVW, “I don’t understand why we would put that stress on the system if we have such vast parking ability on the Southside?” Showing herself once again a budget-hawk, PVW says the “bigger question” is that we have taxpayer-backed bonds buried in the BPA debt with no security that they will be paid if trouble hits. “Taxpayer backed debt is at risk with your financial decision making.” “We are looking at a study that says that demand is too soft everywhere in Bethlehem, but particularly on the Southside, to merit any change in the way we set our meter rates, and yet at the same time you are telling me that we need to build a $17m parking garage on the Southside right where the demand is so soft.”

“I’m talking about helping our downtowns.”

PVW says she “would be willing to support a ticket/fine increase with either a commensurate general parking meter decrease back to $1.00/hr. or to turn our central business district parking over either to free or hourly-limited parking.” It’s the latter that she pushes: “A reasonable suggestion would be to create free parking downtown with a limited time frame to help our downtown businesses to encourage shopping and visiting downtown.”

“I want to help make the system better”: a pilot study

PVW repeats her concern over the amount of debt that BPA is amassing with “unclear pathways” to pay for it. But she moves quickly to her big new idea: “I would love to see a pilot study done on Main St. and the first block of Broad St., as well as 3rd St. on the Southside, a pilot study  for free parking there, and instead of doubling the tickets, you triple the ticket there.” “Let’s get some data and see how human behavior changes . . . so that we can both make the system work and we can help the businesses in downtown Bethlehem be as strong as they possibly can be.” “I can’t think of anything,” PVW says, “that would encourage shoppers more in downtown Bethlehem than knowing that they have a free spot to come and park.”

“Would you be open to a pilot program to see how we can benefit our downtowns?”

So, PVW’s idea is a pilot study to provide free parking in a select area of the downtowns but triple the cost of a ticket to $30.

Gadfly, he tells you, was pretty excited.

Now, the BPA made a commitment only for PVW to discuss her ideas before the Board. But that is a positive step.

And Gadfly had to chuckle because he has not yet seen a serious discussion of any substantive issue at a BPA Board meeting.

This should be a first and should engage all the members in the trading of ideas.

Gadfly loves the beginning stages of new ideas and projects and can’t wait to be a gadfly on the wall at such a meeting.

But what do you think? You didn’t think I was going to forget to invite your response, did you?

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One thought on “Fiddlin’ with the parking rates to help our downtowns: a freebie but . . .

  1. Paige certainly isn’t alone in her thinking, Ed. And, based on your reported experiences, and I trust your accuracy implicitly, I have my doubts about the BPA and their board to entertain thinking out of the box. This is why I believe the BPA operations should be brought into City Hall as an independent department, with the Authority left only to handle borrowing for that operation, much like the Bethlehem Authority handles the financial aspect of the City’s water system. They would still hold regular meetings to keep the public informed of the operational side of parking, perhaps in conjunction with a Parking Authorities meeting concerning finances. Dana


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