“The BPA has given Council the assignment to do what it should be doing”

logo136th in a series of posts on parkinglogo

Gadfly:

It sounds to me like the BPA has given Council the assignment to do what it should be doing all along, which is to look at innovative parking programs so that the parking burdens are lessened for residents — in particular, small businesses and visitors to Bethlehem. Asking the City to “put money into the program” is double-dipping by the BPA in my estimation. It’s their responsibility to fund the parking system, not ask the taxpayers to fund it on top of increased meter rates, increased fines, and increased garage rental rates. Sometimes I can’t believe what I’m reading and hearing from that authority.

Dana Grubb

Parking Authority to Council: identify what you want

logo135th in a series of posts on parkinglogo

Nicole Radzievich, “Parking meter rates went up this year in Bethlehem. Look what’s going up next year.” Morning Call, October 23, 2019.

So as detailed in the last several posts in this parking thread, moderate voices prevailed at the last Council meeting on the subject of raising the long-locked parking fines.

Council decided to approve raising the fines per the Parking Authority request, but at the same time what Gadfly would take to be a majority of Council favored as well exploring some new ideas for the parking system — such as those proposed by Councilwoman Van Wirt — with the BPA.

PVW’s idea was to do a pilot program on selected areas of the Northside and Southside where parking would be free for a limited amount of time (2 hrs? 3 hrs?) but where the fines would be significantly increased ($30? $40?).

These recent interactions with City Council were discussed by the BPA at yesterday’s BPA Board meeting.

Here is the short audio of that discussion:

Rough summary below, but you know Gadfly always says go to the primary source, don’t depend on him!

The Board chair tells the BPA Board that he told Council he would be willing to discuss Council ideas, and he proposes sending a memo next week to Council asking for their specific ideas, asking whether they would put money into the pilot program, asking for documentation of studies of other cities. If Council would put their ideas together, he says, the Board would be more than happy to listen to them. To which the BPA Exec dir says that when we get their return memo, he will put the item on the Board meeting agenda as New Business. One participant in the meeting then suggested a modification, that the Board wait on sending the memo to Council till they hear if there is any discussion of specific ideas by Council members along with the two votes. The following group conversation goes like this. After the votes, we’ll have more of an idea what they want. It isn’t clear they [Council] are all swimming together right now. We need to know what the majority of Council wants. We don’t want to go down a road and then they say that’s not what we were talking about. We want the majority of the Council to tell us what they’re looking for. There’s a dangerous or slippery slope if we have to chase one idea, then another, then another  — it gets expensive. We will be asking Council to give us a letter back from Council identifying what they want.

So, as Gadfly understands it, the BPA will not contact Council now. The BPA will listen for whatever further ideas are put forth in discussion of the votes on the fine increases during the next two Council meetings, then ask for one specific proposal backed by Council for the BPA to consider.

See if that’s what you got out of the audio.

Now Gadfly will take BPA willingness to consider Council ideas as a good thing.

He wonders, though, if this process is what PVW envisioned. Gadfly thinks she envisioned herself going to BPA with whomever Council members wanted to join her (JWR used the term “on board”) to discuss her idea(s) with the BPA.

What Gadfly heard — he could be way off, of course — was that the BPA will be looking for presentation of a formal Council position/plan. So that means PVW would need to negotiate a Council consensus before going to BPA.

Now that might be a good thing. The request for a pilot would have more force coming from full Council. And if Council were going to kick in some money as the BPA would be looking for, then some formal agreement on appropriation would be necessary anyway (does Council have discretionary funds? or would this come from the City budget?).

But Gadfly — ever the idealist — wishes that Council members and the BPA Board could work together from the beginning on the very formation of a pilot, that the specific plan would grow out of cooperative ideas from both sides, that BPA would feel part ownership of the plan itself rather than just the managers of a laboratory setting up an expensive experiment to test someone else’s idea.

For instance, take the proposal by the Mayor but coming from the public and Council members to consider variable rate parking. It had no discussion at BPA. Gadfly is not sure some BPA Board members even know what variable rate parking is, much less that the BPA was asked to study it. Somebody authorized a consultant study for (it sounds like from an off-hand comment at yesterday’s meeting) $25,000. Gadfly sees nothing of that in BPA minutes. It’s pretty obvious to Gadfly that BPA saw the process of studying variable rate parking as wasted time and money — just something that they went through the motions about because forced to.

Gadfly fears that would be the way that a free-parking pilot would be handled.

The basic problem that PVW and other innovators have, Gadfly thinks, is that the BPA doesn’t see there is a problem needing to be addressed.

Joint recognition of a problem seems to Gadfly to be the problem.

“City Council should have some ways to influence the conversation” with the Parking Authority

logo134th in a series of posts on parkinglogo

So here we are again.

Councilwoman Van Wirt, as we have detailed in earlier posts in this thread, has a new idea about how the City does parking that she feels will be beneficial to the residents and the merchants.

Whether you like her idea or not is not the point here.

Whether you think the idea a good one or not is not the point here.

The point here is that City Council and the Bethlehem Parking Authority don’t seem to have a way to talk to each other.

Authorities are “independent.”

Council does not have control, especially budget control.

He or she who controls the purse strings, they say, calls the shots.

But here the Mayor controls the meters, Council the fines, and the BPA the garages.

Awkwardly divided power and responsibility in what should be unified and seamless.

One Council member seems to accept this awkward structure: Callahan.

Three others either accept it or at least have not offered an opinion one way or the other: Waldron, Crampsie Smith, Colon.

(Gadfly has a memory that he can’t document right now of President Waldron perceptively explaining that the “push back” from some members of Council over the fine structure stems partly from lack of occasions for Council to “weigh in” on parking policies. Gadfly hopes he is remembering correctly, for that is the point he is making here. Apologies if he is mistaken about President Waldron.)

Three members, such as at the last Council meeting, have seen a problem in the structure: Van Wirt, Reynolds, Negron.

Gadfly has amateurishly cobbled several clips together to highlight this last group.

  • Councilman Callahan outlines the structure: the Mayor controls meters, Council fines, and the Bethlehem Parking Authority the garages.
  • Councilwoman Van Wirt speaks of having a “dialogue” now between Council and the BPA consonant with Council’s “role” in doing what’s best for the City, rather than “hoping” the BPA would take up her issue at some future time.
  • Councilman Reynolds notes the awkward way “the system is designed” and agrees with PVW that “City Council should have some ways to influence the conversation.”
  • Councilwoman Negron wishes “that we could reconsider the structure that we have” that’s “causing a stretch that shouldn’t be.”

Councilwoman Van Wirt is left to wait for an invitation from the BPA to bring her ideas to a Board meeting. She has not been invited to tomorrow’s meeting, and, as far as Gadfly knows, she has heard nothing from BPA.

Gadfly wonders three things:

1) why Councilman Callahan, who is Council “liaison” to the BPA, doesn’t see it as his role to engage the kind of meeting in which PVW and other interested Council members could trade ideas.

2) why Council doesn’t invite the BPA to City Council meetings twice a year for an open dialogue and discussion as Gadfly outlined in a “modest proposal.”

3) most radical of all, why doesn’t Council “reconsider the structure,” as Councilwoman Negron suggested, for according to Gadfly’s researches, Council delegation of meter power to the Mayor under the “Calvo Plan” in 1988-1989 was not on some sacred principle of checks and balances and in that act of delegation not including the fines seems an oversight.

The Strange Separation

The Timeline of the Strange Separation

In other words to correct the problem here, Council should rescind its delegation of meter responsibility. Gadfly, speaking from a basis of absolutely no legal knowledge (Ha!), assumes what Council has done, it can undo.

The goal of this most radical proposal would be to return ultimate power over an area so crucial to the quality of urban life life as parking to the highest body in the City and, perhaps most importantly, an elected body directly answerable to the residents.

Right now the BPA is not directly responsible to residents.

Right now the BPA is not even directly responsible to Council.

Gadfly is certain there are downsides to the radical proposal even if legally possible, but it’s a conversation that he would like to see.

Gadfly sees good people struggling with a broken system that they know is broken and would like to see them try to fix it — for the good of us all.

Good Council interplay in the parking fine deliberation

logo133rd in a series of posts on parkinglogo

Always remember that part of Gadfly’s mission is to help us know our Council members better so that we are better informed when we vote. (Some members will run again; one or two might run for mayor.)

The discussion over the proposal to increase the parking fines at the October 15 Council meeting went well — though it might not have had the outcome you wanted — and provided a good portrait of three Council members.

Council rejected the Public Safety Committee’s rejection — led by Councilwoman Van Wirt — of the Parking Authority proposal to raise the rates, putting that BPA proposal back on the agenda for consideration at the next Council meeting.  (See “Parking” on the sidebar for the history of this issue.)

Council vote was 5-2 for the motion to reject the committee report — Van Wirt and Negron as the “nay” votes.

Some of you might remember the dialectical method from somewhere in your schooling: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

Thesis: Councilman Callahan argued for moving forward (he is not on the Public Safety Committee and thus was a new voice in the discussion) on the BPA proposal.

Antithesis: Councilwoman Van Wirt restated her case for holding up the proposal till the BPA conducted a pilot study that included free parking but a much harsher fine structure.

Synthesis: Council senior citizen Reynolds made the case for doing both, approving the fines now but engaging as well in discussions about a pilot study.

Textbook.

There has been contention between the right and left sides of the Head Table. Not tonight. Good conversation. BC made a good case. Even PVW seemed calmly resigned to losing the vote though inviting her colleagues to join in exploring her idea further with the BPA.

And even Gadfly — who finds new ideas and pilot programs aphrodisiac — thought Council action as the best outcome and looks forward to hearing some good discussion on PVW’s ideas at BPA board meetings. He hopes she is not alone in attending.

Listen to some reasonable discourse at Council, your tax dollars at work.

Councilman Callahan

  • “We’ve been discussing this . . . for almost a year now.”
  • “I think at some point we need to let the Parking Authority know where we stand.”
  • “You can hardly ever find a parking space on Main St.”
  • “We don’t want people parking at a meter all day long.”
  • “The goal is to make it cheaper for people to park in the garages.”
  • “We are actually rewarding people breaking the law.”
  • “You are saving two dollars by breaking the law.”
  • “The downtown’s not struggling.”
  • “‘We have one of the most vibrant and booming downtowns in the state of Pennsylvania.”
  • “We need to let the Parking Authority know so that they can move ahead with Plan B.”
  • “Right now it’s out of control down there.”
  • “It’s cheaper to just take a fine.”
  • “It’s time to move it forward.”

Councilwoman Van Wirt:

  • “I wanted to make sure that when the Parking Authority was taking into consideration making structural changes . . . that the Parking Authority was considering what’s best for the people of Bethlehem, the parkers of Bethlehem, the small businesses of Bethlehem, and not just the bottom line of the Parking Authority.”
  • “I requested that the Parking Authority consider instituting free parking in a pilot area . . .  “
  • “Any proposal that the Parking Authority would put forward that would entail free parking and helping our downtowns be more lively . . . something that shows that we can use the power of parking to help our downtowns and not just continue to add fees.”
  • “Hoping to accomplish is having that dialog now rather than hoping the Parking Authority will do this at some future junction.”
  • “I would still like to go before the Parking Authority, and I hope that my colleagues on Council . . . would come with me.”

Councilman Reynolds:

  • “The one thing we all agree on is that the parking system is complicated.”
  • “And I also thinks that everybody hates the Parking Authority so much, it’s hard to have a rational conversation about some of these things.”
  • “I think going forward there’s not a reason we can’t do both of these things.”
  • “I agree . . . City Council should have some ways to influence that conversation.”
  • “I think both of these ideas have merit.”
  • “We should have a vote on this in three weeks, but I also think that as a City Council, we should take a look at some of the different ideas such as creating a pilot program.”
  • “I think both of these ideas are worthwhile.”

Council decides to move forward now on the Parking Authority proposal to increase fines

(132nd in a series of posts on parking)

For the past half-dozen or so posts in the parking thread (see “parking” under Topics on the sidebar), we have focused on the Bethlehem Parking Authority proposal to raise the penalties in the fine structure. Meter rates increased January 1 by authority of the Mayor but the fines, which are under the authority of Council, were not raised, rendering the fines an ineffective deterrent in controlling curbside turnover. Council withheld its permission to get more information on BPA funding of the Polk Street Garage and to encourage the BPA study of variable rate parking.

The Council Public Safety Committee recently voted 2-1 to hold off on the proposed fine increases pending consultation with BPA on a Councilwoman Van Wirt idea to do a pilot study of a plan to provide free parking for a limited period but to substantially increase the fine structure, well over what the BPA has proposed.

Last Tuesday committee action was before the full Council, and it was not accepted by a 5-2 vote. The original BPA proposal will now be before Council at its next meeting.

Gadfly thought the discussion a good one and will provide video and commentary in the next post in this series.

Sara Satullo, “It looks like Bethlehem’s parking fines are going up.” lehighvalleylive.com., October 16, 2019.

Nearly a year after the city parking authority first requested an increase, it appears Bethlehem City Council is poised to back hiking the city’s parking fines to $15. A majority of city council voted Tuesday night to override its public safety committee’s recommendation to hold off on the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s pitch to increase fines by $5. The two councilwoman who voted Oct. 1 to wait on hiking the fines — Olga Negron and Dr. Paige Van Wirt — opposed the motion.

On Oct. 1, the authority was back before council’s public safety committee to again hash out why the authority needs to hike fines to deter parking violations. Currently, it costs $10 a day to park in a city garage, so people are willing to roll the dice, not feed the meters and risk a $10 ticket, Livingston has said. “You are saving $2 by breaking the law,” said Bryan Callahan, who is the parking authority liaison.

Callahan made a motion Tuesday night to release the public safety committee from considering the fine increases. That motion passed 5-2 and then council voted along the same lines to bring the fine hike up for first reading at the council meeting Nov. 6. Negron and Van Wirt also opposed that measure.

A majority of council members expressed broad support for Van Wirt’s suggestion that the authority pilot offering free parking in concert with more expensive parking fines — like $40 or $50 for overstaying time limits — in hopes of putting more shoppers on the streets of the Historic District and Southside. But they didn’t wish to link approving the higher fines with the enactment of a pilot, which some noted could take time to develop.” I don’t think there’s a reason we can’t do both of these things,” Councilman J. William Reynolds said.

The unique structure of the city’s parking authority — the mayor approves meter rates, council approves parking fines and the authority’s board sets the garage rates — creates a power struggle each time council is asked to hike the cost of violations. It is one of the only times council gets to weigh in on the authority’s finances and parking policies.

On Tuesday night, Van Wirt said when she didn’t support the fine increase when it was before the committee she wanted the authority to consider what is best for the people of Bethlehem, the folks that park in the city and the businesses of Bethlehem when it makes structural changes. She wants to have that conversation now with the authority’s board in hopes of the pilot occurring soon.

Callahan argued the authority needs clarity on the fine increases and that there’s a major problem with parking turnover on Main Street where he said it is hard to find a spot. Businesses don’t want meters tied up with the same parkers all day, they want constant turn over, he said. “It is hurting downtown businesses with the meter fee the way it is,” Callahan said.

Van Wirt emphasized that the pilot she is proposing would keep meters turning over and perhaps convince some, who avoid the area after a bad experience with the parking authority, to come back downtown. “It is a model,” she said. “It is well studied. It is effective.”

Nicole Radzievich, “Will parking fines go up in Bethlehem? The hike has been stalled for a year, but is now making some headway.” Morning Call, October 16, 2019.

A proposed parking fine hike, which has been stalled in committee for a year, is making some headway on Bethlehem City Council. Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to take the proposal out of committee and vote on it next month, bypassing the recommendation of its public safety committee. Earlier this month, the committee decided to postpone the issue until there could be a pilot study on whether to offer free parking in the downtowns for a limited amount of time.

While council members still appeared open to the pilot program, a majority indicated that it doesn’t change the fact that fines, now at $10 for a meter violation, are too low to deter people from parking illegally. The current meter fine is the same cost as all-day parking in the garage. The goal is to encourage long-term visitors to park in the garage, freeing up the $1.50-an-hour meters for visitors on shorter trips. “It’s been on the table and discussed for almost a year now,” City Councilman Bryan Callahan said. “At some point, we have to let the parking authority know where we stand on this.”

Van Wirt said she still hopes that the parking authority will give the pilot program serious consideration. The idea would be to offer free parking on selected downtown areas — such as Main and Broad streets on the North Side and Third Street on the South Side — for two or three hours. Violators would be ticketed at a much higher rate — perhaps $30 or $40. She said other communities offered similar programs. She said she wants the authority to consider the impact of its financial decisions on visitors to the downtown and businesses, not just its bottom line.

Comparing the first six months of last year and this year, the number of meter violations jumped by 27% to 15,700 tickets. Overall tickets during that time rose by 7% to 41,642. From 2014-2018, the parking tickets increased from 22,940 to 78,000 — a 240% increase.

A sampling of responses to PVW’s parking rate proposal

(131st in a series of posts on parking)

Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt’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.

Fiddlin’ with the parking rates to help our downtowns

Parking is such a hot potater, but PVW has her safety gloves on.

What do you think?

Here’s a random sampling of responses out there.

PVW’s Facebook page:

Time limits will lead to people leaving businesses earlier than they want to, which keeps taking away local spending! Increase the fines! Bethlehem’s fines are not a deterrent!

Not looking for “free” but a more reasonable rate would be nice!!!

This would be so great. It would be fantastic to enjoy a meal without it costing $3 extra and keeping an eye on the meter the whole time. Plus I’ve gotten parking tickets for meters that were out of order and wouldn’t accept payment, which is absurd. Free short term parking is normal in small urban centers like Bethlehem. I was shocked to discover how much this town charges for parking and for tickets.

The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald C. Shoup

The parking meters have no impact on whether I drive in to town or not.. it’s the lack of parking spaces that does.

The parking authority is out of control. The rates are among the highest in the valley. Im in agreement that done correctly it would be great  Look At Hellertown. No meters. Plenty of parking and plenty of business ‘s.

If the parking authority is “troubled“ by writing 82,000 tickets this year perhaps they could give me a five minute window instead of writing me a ticket the moment the meter expired Monday night! 

Free parking will clog the spots even more than they are now. It will backfire because people won’t be paying attention and just leave them there for longer than they need. Maybe a first 15 mins free would be good to help keep spots turning over. But more than that and it’s a problem

I think there should always be free parking keeps people away from town.

Free parking won’t suddenly drive people downtown to shop. First, parking generally is a pain downtown–free or not. Second, what stores attract people to come downtown? None. Bethlehem needs to attract better stores and attractions downtown first.

lehighvalleylive.com:

Nah who wants free parking? What kind of question is that? How much money is the study going to cost?

All city council members should oppose any increase to anything related to parking considering the BPA does not need the money to maintain budget. Parking increases should be seen as a tax and only legitimate if needed for operating expenses.

looks like the ladies on council have more………….. then the men

Who knows… I don’t think it’s a barrier to shopping on Main St. The establishments located there are expensive as is; not charging $2 to park isn’t suddenly going to result in a flood of new people. The barrier for me is that there is nothing I need down there on the regular. Plus half the restaurants are ‘meh’ at best.

There is never any open spaces down there as is. Just park in the garage its cheaper!

‘Downtown’ is like two blocks. Garage is half a block away. Even I can walk that.

I won’t shop or eat at places where they charge for parking. I don’t purchase from the internet if shipping is not free. The Bethlehem Parking Authority leaves no time for anyone being late. I have had people tell me they had returned to car 2 min after expired and received a fine. It’s unacceptable. If vendors want business they need to work with city to eliminate fees not increase them. This is why main streets disappeared and malls become the new thing.

Council President Adam Waldron said he supports a fine increase because $10 is too low. “The whole purpose of the parking ticket is not punishment, it is future compliance,” he said. No, the purpose of the parking ticket, and meters, is revenue. The city now relies on the parking revenue. “…It is estimated to bring in $75,000 to $100,000 in additional revenue.”

If there wasn’t anyone parking down there or going down there I would agree to give out free parking. But that is not the case! Main St. is thriving more than any other down town in the Lehigh Valley and there is never any on street parking now. So other than political pandering by these Council members, I’m not sure what the purpose is to provide free parking!

Dizzying, isn’t it?

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

From one of those “I’ll take my chances” kind of folks

(130th in a series of posts on parking)

The writer is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous for some strange reason.

Gadfly:

I’ll verify that I am one of those “I’ll take my chances” kind of folks. Mostly because I don’t think it’s a good idea to charge for parking (impacts businesses), and I sure don’t want to be paying for a new parking garage we don’t need (and surely will need even less in 15-20 years as technology changes). I am downtown about once a week and have not had a ticket in a couple of years. Do “that” math!

Let’s take a cue from Europe, which has much less room than we do. For one, excellent public transit/walkable cities/friendly to disabled folks. But the one thing I saw there that I don’t see here: underground parking.

When a new building is put up (say 3rd and New), the parking goes underneath. Not taking up valuable real estate next door. Just a thought!

Anon.

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13