Update on parking and the garages

Latest in a series of posts on parking

The BPA attended the City Council meeting October 20 to give an update on the pandemic finances and the status of plans for both the Polk Street Garage and the Walnut Street Garage.

  • The BPA revenues are 24% under budget
  • There was a 20% payroll reduction
  • Debt service paid for 2020, not sure about 2021
  • Contract for proposed Polk Street garage has been canceled, and that project will continue to be evaluated
  • Estimated $23.75m needed for major repairs to maintain the Walnut Street garage over the next 20 years
  • So a feasibility study for a new garage has been commissioned

Highlights of subsequent discussion include:

  • Councilman Callahan spoke in favor of moving forward right now on a new Walnut Street Garage
  • Mixed use (retail) still planned for Walnut Street
  • Councilman Callahan questioned the moving of CRIZ off Walnut Street to the Hotel Bethlehem
  • Possibility of accelerated meter increases? — too early to tell
  • Councilwoman Van Wirt asked about costs of the various studies of Walnut Street without getting answers.
  • At least 5-6 contracts with Desman consultant over the last 6-7.
  • PVW “uncomfortable” with Authority having a close relationship with consultant when the consultant stands to make a profit from construction
  • PVW looks for analysis of new garage independent of consultant who stands to make a profit
  • The BPA defended its relationship with Desman consultant as of great value
  • Councilman Reynolds: feasibility study of Walnut Street coming at a good time, wait, make no decisions now — uncertainty ahead in the economy
  • JWR also in favor of retail with Walnut Street — generating some action/energy in that corridor
  • JWR: should have a conversation on the CRIZ
  • Life expectancy of new garage 50-75 years

Pandemic pause for Polk

Latest in a series of posts on parking

Selections from Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem’s Polk Street Garage is on hold, even after steelworkers memorial was moved from the site.” Morning Call, September 12, 2020.

The high-profile corner of Third and Polk streets is seen as the key to unlocking development in a neighborhood dotted with parking lots and former Bethlehem Steel buildings that are now vacant.

The authority received $2.5 million in state grants and last year authorized taking out a loan for the project, which will be built on land the authority purchased for $2.1 million from the Sands casino, now Wind Creek Bethlehem.

The project calls for a five-story building in front of the garage to be constructed by Peron Development and J.G. Petrucci Co. that would include 32 luxury apartments on the top floors and a store on the first floor. Fernstrom said that portion of the project is separate from the garage and still in negotiation.

On Friday, John Callahan, director of business development for Peron, said he was unaware the parking garage had been placed on hold. The retail and residential portions of the project can’t move forward until the garage has been built, he said.

Many parking spaces have already been leased, he said.

The authority has a lease agreement with Northampton Community College for 300 spaces. Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts committed to 45 spaces; Peron committed to 33 spaces and another 35 were set aside for the retail tenant.

“I don’t see where the demand goes away as a result of COVID,” Callahan said. “My understanding is it takes nine to 10 months to build the garage. We are building for the future and allowing further development. This will have a major impact on businesses, more specifically the community college.”

Gadfly slapped upside the head

logo 138th in a series of posts on parking logo

That casual reference in the last post about slapping Gadfly upside the head reminded him.

Gadfly did get slapped upside the head.

Not pleasant. He thinks he will stop saying that. More people will take him up on it.

Public comment. Bethlehem Parking Authority meeting February 26.

Gadfly was winging it as usual. (“Winging,” get it?)

Three things on his mental agenda to talk about as he remembers it.

1) The BPA website: giving a pat on the fanny for changes in an already terrific website for changes that moved the Board meeting link to the more visible top menu and thus easier to find but a reminder that the Gadfly had been asking for months that the agendas for meetings be posted, bringing BPA in line with most of the other ABC’s (Authorities, Boards, and Commissions) in the City as a courtesy for residents.

2) ‘Fessing up: At the February 18 City Council meeting, Gadfly was riding his hobbyhorse again (he had done so as well at the February 4 meeting and other times in the past) about a more rigorous reappointment process for ABC members — a reappointment based on evidence of performance. In doing so he referenced the Parking Authority, as he has done in the past, since a member of the Board was up for reappointment. That generated an interesting discussion on Council that even raised the topic of term limits for certain ABC’s, a conversation Council president Waldron said that he would entertain. (Gadfly audio below, if you want video City Council video 2 18 20 begin min. 4:20)

In those Council discussions both Gadfly and Council members were clear and careful to say that they were not casting aspersions on any specific person but that the focus was on the system, the procedures. Gadfly wanted to be honest with the BPA — though he was not sure that they would have even been aware of the Council comments and discussion — that he had raised this issue with specific reference to the BPA. So he told them, prefacing his remarks with the admission that he knew little of finance and nothing of the nitty-gritty of Parking management but that as a resident his interest was in procedures and policies and rules and transparency and visibility.

February 26 was a BPA reorganization meeting. New year. New beginning. In a sense, a “new” Board (though only the exec director was new). So that it was a good time for Gadfly to repeat what he had said before to them on at least two occasions about being active and creating a record of performance on the minutes for reappointment purposes if they were interested in reappointment.

3) In the same vein, Gadfly said that he was often unclear how decisions were made since in his experience over almost two years there was little substantive discussion of issues at the public meetings. As an example, he used the issue of variable rate parking, which the Mayor had asked the BPA to consider when he approved the parking meter rate increase in late fall 2018 when there was the big controversy over the rates. This idea was raised by members of the public in public meetings, and the BPA was cool about it, yet the Mayor did suggest consideration, and Gadfly was looking forward to BPA discussion and reporting back to the “public” that their words were heard.

Gadfly, as the BPA minutes will show, started asking about such discussion at BPA meetings in March 2019. But there was no sign of talk of variable rate parking during the ensuing months. Then Gadfly was surprised to hear in a Parking Authority presentation to City Council in, he thinks, August or September or October 2019 that there were two consultant reports on the issue, both in the negative. In a later Board meeting, the studies were referred to casually in regard to another issues as costing more than $25,000. That perked Gadfly’s curiosity. That was a lot of money. Should it have been discussed and voted on at a public meeting?

Gadfly knew (or thought he knew) that the Sunshine law required “creation of liability by contract” to be approved by the Board, and he didn’t remember that happening.  So he filed a “right to know” request for the contracts on the consultant reports and other associated material. The requests were filled the day before the Board meeting. The answer on the contract was that “Records that you are requesting do not exist.” Gadfly believes he said how perplexing that was and that he must be missing something in his understanding and that he would consult with the exec director for clarification.

Here’s where it gets interesting. As Gadfly returned to his seat, the BPA chair, rather heatedly in Gadfly’s recollection, said, paraphrasing, “I do not usually answer such questions, but I will here.” And went on to say that by BPA policy, disbursements under (I’m not sure, but I think he said) $25,000 don’t need to be approved by the Board. Now that sounds reasonable to Gadfly. It would not make sense for every small bill to wait for Board approval.

So it was not the content of his reply that surprised Gadfly. But his agitated tone. As if Gadfly had hit a nerve. Agitated enough, in fact, to arouse the Gadfly’s “Irish.” And the extension to which he took the topic. As Gadfly remembers it, the chair said something about not discussing policy here, that that was the role of Council. I remember feeling that was an odd thing to say. And other things.

Gadfly frankly does not remember the transition but the subject of that mention of variable rate parking at a meeting with Council came up, and Gadfly must have been asking about the involvement of the Board when he said something like “but they weren’t there.” And the chair replied something like “it doesn’t matter, I was there.”

Now Gadfly really wanted to hear the audio record of the meeting (the BPA does not meet in Town Hall where they can be video’d, and thus they do their own audio for public record purposes) for two reasons:

1) to find out his tone: was he snarky, angry, gretzy, irritable, irascible? He knows he can be. He wonders if he set the chair off.

2) Gadfly took mental note as it all was happening of two comments by the chair: a) that he was making an exception by answering the Gadfly question and b) the “I was there” phrase.

Gadflies by nature are pests. Gadfly may well have been out of bounds.

Those two comments by the chair — if Gadfly remembered them correctly — fit into the topic of term limits for members of certain ABC’s raised at Council. Gadfly remembers that months and months ago, the Board solicitor, first appointed in 1998, addressed him, rather stentorianly (good SAT word), with “No one questions the Board.” The chair’s preamble about not usually answering questions — if Gadfly remembered it correctly — fits the same pattern of the sense of untouchable power. And if Gadfly also remembers correctly that the chair said all that mattered was that he was present at a meeting might indicate a kind of identification of himself as the Board.  Not good. Perhaps marks of a person who’s been in a position too long. The chair’s first term was 2008 according to newspaper records.

So, lots to be resolved, Gadfly was really interested in hearing the tape of the February 26 BPA meeting to try to figure some things out. He’s old, and his memory ain’t what it used to be. But, golly, guess what?

BPA 1

Drat!

Call me Ahab! (in-joke between me and faithful follower)

The Bethlehem Parking Authority asks for detailed proposal from Council on a free parking pilot program

logo 137th in a series of posts on parking logo

The Parking Authority Board meets today: 4PM at their headquarters.

See the memo below: the exec dir did move immediately after the October 23 Board meeting to contact City Council about the free parking pilot program suggested by Councilwoman Van Wirt.

Gadfly — certainly skeptical of BPA’s intention, for the Board has shown noooo interest in such a program — sees the memo as an attempt to stifle the idea with a daunting homework assignment.

He’d have hoped for a meeting of the Board with interested Council members out of which a cooperative plan for a pilot might have emerged.

Of related interest is the provision for free parking in the Northside downtown for the holidays: see https://bethpark.org/news.

BPA pilot

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

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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

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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

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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

“It’s contentious out there”

(129th in a series of posts on parking)

Here’s something to think about over your morning Dunkin’.

What jobs would you not like to have?

On that list might well be PEO –Parking Enforcement Officer.

Parking violation tickets have risen 300% in the last 5 years.

It’s not that there are more PEO’s on patrol — more people are breaking the law.

“It’s contentious out there,” said the Bethlehem Parking Authority exec director at Tuesday’s meeting with the Public Safety Committee when he was proposing an increase in the fine structure as a stronger deterrent, a proposal that was tabled.

“It’s contentious out there.”

Gadfly said yesterday that he found this meeting very interesting on several fronts and suggested that you listen in.

The topic of human behavior and how to change human behavior and maybe — ha! — if you can change human behavior especially got him thinking.

What makes getting a parking ticket so horrendous? And often so out of proportion to the money involved.

What makes the interaction with a PEO in the act of giving you a ticket so volatile?

“It’s contentious out there.”

So listen to a minute or two of Councilman Reynolds here:

“The biggest complaint that we hear is the interaction of getting a parking ticket . . . We need to do something that limits those interactions . . . We need to do something that reduces how parking tickets are written?”

Agree?

What would you suggest?

—————————-

Sara Satullo, “240% jump in parking tickets shows drivers are rolling the dice in Bethlehem, parking authority says.” lehighvalleylive.com, October 1, 2019.

The Bethlehem Parking Authority’s leader first asked to raise its parking violation fines in 2014. The authority issued about 22,940 tickets that same year. Five years later, forgetting to feed your meter still only lands you a $10 parking ticket in Bethlehem. But the authority wrote 78,000 tickets in 2018 and is on track to write about 82,000 this year.

[“The current fine schedule is not penal enough to encourage motorists to simply pay for parking instead of breaking the law [because] the number of parking violation tickets issued over the past five years has increased by more than 300%
by the end of 2018.” BPA report]

That’s why authority Executive Director Kevin Livingston is appearing before Bethlehem City Council’s public safety committee at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday night to again ask council to raise fines $5 to $15 per violation.

In 2018, the authority again asked for a fine hike in concert with Mayor Bob Donchez’s decision to raise meter rates 50-cents an hour to $1.50.Raising meter rates in concert with fines is meant to get more people to feed the meters, drive long-term visitors to park in garages and fund repairs and new parking garages.

Council refused to act on the request without more information on the new Polk Street garage and the potential for variable rate parking in the city. Livingston recently updated council on the authority’s plans for a new parking deck at Third and Polk streets.

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

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?

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

A good meeting with the Parking Authority

(127th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly found yesterday’s meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee with the Bethlehem Parking Authority to be very interesting and informative.

The designated topic was the BPA proposal to raise the fine/violation structure, which got tabled.

But the discussion went well beyond that to the goals for parking, ways to change behavior, design of the Polk Street Garage, what to do when the Walnut St. Garage gets worked on, leases and contracts, etc.

The reason for the wide-ranging discussion, as Councilwoman Van Wirt said, was that “there isn’t opportunity often to interface” with the BPA.

Gadfly’s ears perked up at this similar comment by President Waldron, that “we don’t really have an opportunity to weigh in and talk about parking from Council’s point of view”:

Now, you know that if Council is a bit starved for information, we, the public, aren’t getting any.

(Gadfly would like to remind you and any Council members listening of his modest proposal — “A modest proposal: the more the merrier”  — to improve the information flow by inviting BPA to Council twice a year for a friendly discussion.)

Thus, here is an audio of the entire discussion, and Gadfly invites you to listen in, learn some things, and maybe have some questions.

One of Gadfly’s goals in providing audio and video is to help you get to know your elected officials better.

See what they are thinking about, see how their minds work.

So here are time marks for the Councilmember sections of the discussion if you want to use that for navigating through the meeting: Van Wirt (mins 7:00, 55:05), Negron (mins. 18:30, 46:29), Waldron (min. 21), Reynolds (min. 29), Crampsie Smith (min. 45:45), Colon (min. 59:21).

But if you have time just sit back and follow the flow.

Gadfly will come back and highlight the main sections of the meeting shortly — there was an interesting and important action item concluding the meeting.

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

More and more parking tickets issued

(126th in a series of posts on parking)

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly:

Sara Satullo, “240% jump in parking tickets shows drivers are rolling the dice in Bethlehem, parking authority says.” leheighvalleylive.com, October 1, 2019.

Instead we awaken to media coverage in which the BPA complains about having to do more enforcement. Cry me a river! What the heck is their purpose if they aren’t doing rigorous enforcement. Also, how does anyone know why those who receive tickets overstay their time. Are they surveying every ticket recipient to find out that they’ve thumbed their nose at the meter time limits because fines aren’t high enough? This parking authority is all over the place with their actions and comments.They don’t charge what they should on monthly rates in their garages, yet want higher meter rates and higher fines, which penalizes Bethlehem residents. And, I’m at least happy to see a second consultant , instead of the usual one, weighing in on variable rates, plus it appears that there is overall plenty of public parking in Bethlehem, except at certain times and in a very few areas. We want to be considered walkable in Bethlehem, yet everybody wants to park directly in front of the destination. Very little rhyme or reason at all!

Dana

Gadfly will be posting on the BPA’s appearance at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting later today.

What’s this “variable rate pricing” all about?

(125th in a series of posts on parking)

So we said Council is going to consider two topics from the Bethlehem Parking Authority tonight at the Public Safety meeting:

1) increasing the parking fine structure

2) adopting variable rate pricing

We discussed the fines, now variable rate pricing.

Here’s the report on variable rate pricing prepared by the BPA consultant Kimley-Horn:

BPA Variable Rate Memorandum 8-28-19

Right now, Gadfly believes, the meter parking rate of $1.50/hr. is universal — all places, all times — throughout the City whether you are out on West Broad, in front of the Moravian Book Shop, or tasting a dainty at Lit.

Variable rate pricing —also known as demand-responsive pricing, or performance pricing—means setting curbside parking meter rates based on demand in a block or zone at a particular time of day. The goal is to make sure there are always a few open spaces per block and encourage people to park only as long as they need. Theoretically, this arrangement should enable more customers to shop or eat in a business district.

In other words, parking could be cheaper on West Broad than at the Moravian Book Shop or cheaper Tuesday morning at Lit than Friday night.

In other words, a parking space might be worth more on the 500 block of Main St. on a summer Friday evening than it would on a Tuesday morning.

In other words, the same parking space might even cost different prices at different times of the same day.

Get it?

The question is, should the Bethlehem Parking Authority adopt variable rate pricing?

This concept of variable rate parking entered Gadfly’s wordhouse before he was Gadfly, in the middle of 2018 when there was public discussion of the major parking study done by DESMAN for the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

As part of his approval of the increase of parking meter rates that went into effect January 1, 2019, the Mayor requested that the BPA “consider” variable rate pricing. The Mayor was responding to urging by some members of the public and of City Council in doing so.

The corollary and more basic question is, what current problem would variable rate pricing address?

Gadfly is not sure what that problem is.

Gadfly wishes that problem were identified, isolated, and presented for the consultant to specifically address in the report.

As is, we have a general report on variable rate pricing that is not specifically focused on any reason for the inquiry in the first place.

So Gadfly finds it hard to judge the consultant’s report, which does not recommend the City adopt VRP.

Gadfly remembers these things relevant to VRP from that 2018 public discussion:

  • criticism that the DESMAN report did not investigate or include the potential application of innovative policies and strategies like VRP when we already had the technology to implement it
  • possible usefulness in the Northside downtown
  • laments from Westsiders

That said, these sections of the consultant report stood out to Gadfly:

  • “While system-wide on-street parking occupancy levels never exceeded 60% and 48% in the Northside and Southside, respectively, occupancy on certain streets and block faces did reach or exceed 85% which is a general measure of parking stress. In Northside, the three blocks bound by East Broad Street, E. Market Street, Main Street, and North New Street had peak weekday occupancy percentages between 75% and 100%. Interestingly, the Walnut Street Garage, which exists within that block and has 777 spaces, only achieved a 69% occupancy rate and had 240 available spaces.”
  • “The pattern of peak on-street parking utilization in Southside was erratic with one side of the street exhibiting low occupancy percentages while the other side of the street exhibits high occupancy. The only consistent pattern of parking occupancy was along East Packer Avenue between Vine Street and Ryan Street/Fillmore Street, an area that is clearly influenced by Lehigh University. According to DESMAN’s report (see Lot T and Table 10 from that document), the 602-space parking garage in that location was only 10% utilized during this same period.”
  • “Curbside parking is best when managed to serve short duration, high-turnover activity and uses such as retail, restaurant, and theater are particularly dependent on that supply of spaces. In turn, the management and pricing of those spaces is quite relevant.”
  • “Regarding meter performance data, the IPS meters do not have the sensor (occupancy/vacancy) feature which further encourages parking compliance, short-duration of stay, and higher turnover through effective enforcement, and the BPA’s sensor puck pilot program did not prove worthwhile. As such, the BPA cannot collect real time data on parking utilization and turnover.”
  • “Parking utilization as reported in the 2018 study did identify fourteen (14) of the seventy-two (72) block faces in Southside and five (5) of the forty-one (41) block faces in Northside had occupancy percentages at or above 85% [indicating stress]. But as a system, the two areas achieved only 49% (Southside) and 64% (Northside) occupancy during the peak hour.”

Without a specific problem to address, Gadfly is not sure how to judge the consultant’s conclusion that VRP is not recommended for us:

Based on our review of the Desman report and on our own research conducted as part of this project, Kimley-Horn does not believe that performance-based, dynamic, or progressive on-street parking rates should be implemented at this time. This opinion is based on the fact that curbside utilization is relatively low, there are no large concentrations of intense demand, current monthly and hourly rates are low and offer no variability between on-street and off-street transient rates, and the level of effort and cost required to collect the necessary performance data is prohibitive given the size of the BPA and its budget. The City and BPA could pilot test variable rates based on location and/or time of day for specific streets or blocks but significant surpluses on adjacent streets/blocks and within nearby off-street lots and garage would suggest that the increased rates would simply drive parkers to these other areas of lesser utilization.

Perhaps a pilot program?

Gadfly is just not sure where discussion of this issue will go with Council or if there is an issue here that we should be concerned about.

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

Gadfly’s voodoo economics

(124th in a series of posts on parking)

Fine Recommendation Memo 8.20.19

The July 2 pro forma

Gadfly was expecting disappointment.

So he was not disappointed.

It would have been nice to have awoken this morning to a mailbag full of solutions to the math homework problem he posed yesterday afternoon.

Is there a way to re-vision the mix of meter rates and fines to put the onus on the violators through even heavier fines, while easing the recent meter increase on the law-abiding residents?

Put more simply, the goal was to see if it were feasible to roll the parking meter rates back to $1.00/hr. while voting on a new fine structure:

penalizing the law-breakers,
giving a break to the law-abiders,
and providing the Bethlehem Parking Authority a fair financial shake.

In its proposal linked above, the BPA estimates that their fine recommendations will produce a meter revenue increase of $75,000‐$100,000 annually.

In the “pro forma” the BPA presented at Council July 2, also linked above, that figure for meter revenue increase is $292,378.

Gadfly doesn’t understand the difference (and wonders if he is misunderstanding the chart), but let’s use the higher figure for our mathematizing here.

Now listen up everybody. Let’s see if Gadfly is thinking straight.

Here’s how he states the proposition.

The goal is to keep the meter rate at $1.00/hr. How much would the fine revenue have to be increased to enable that to happen and still produce $292,378 in income for the BPA?

Whew!

Now for some voodoo economics.

Here is an image from the pro forma linked above showing columns from 2018 (when the meter rates were $1.00/hr.) and 2019 (when the meter rates are $1.50/hr.). The 2019 column also shows the proposed fine increase, though it actually hasn’t gone into effect.

The bottom circled section shows the increased meter revenue of $292,378.

BPA fines 2

The top circled section shows an assumed number of violations as 62,942.

According to Voodoo Gadfly’s thinking, if you divide 62,942 into $292,378, you get the amount you would have to raise the fines on each violation to break even.

$4.645197165644562

(If we used BPA’s lower figure of, say, $100,000 as a target figure instead of almost $300,000 in the pro forma, then presumably the fine increase on each violation would only have to be 1/3 of $4.645197165644562.)

Now Gadfly pauses to see if he gets slapped upside the head for faulty thinking here.

If this thinking passes muster, then the question is would rolling the meter rate back to $1.00/hr. and raising the fine for a meter violation to at most $20 be ok?

BPA is now proposing raising the fine for a meter violation to $15. Would at most $20 be ok or seen as excessive?

Maybe worth a conversation. Gadfly can see arguments on both sides.

Remember this from Desman, the BPA consultant: “Parking industry standards suggest that the fine for non‐payment of a parking meter or other parking meter violations be priced at least 10‐15 times the hourly parking rate.”

The BPA proposal before Council raises the violation rate (from the base of $1.00/hr.) to 15 times the hourly parking rate.

But “at least 10‐15 times” would seem to indicate that at most 20 times wouldn’t cause apoplexy.

Gadfly, of course, may be way, way, way off in his mathematizing here. But his purpose is simply to stir thought about options to the BPA proposal.

The prime reason, says BPA, for raising the rate is that the present fine structure is not a deterrence to bad behavior. A good reason. So let’s punish the bad behaviorers.

To Gadfly, raising the rate because we will not look bad in comparison to our peers is not so good a reason.

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

Wanted: people with math skills to think about the BPA proposal to increase parking fines

(123rd in a series of posts on parking)

So Council is going to consider two topics from the Bethlehem Parking Authority tomorrow:

1) increasing the parking fine structure

2) adopting variable rate pricing

Let’s take them one at a time, the fine issue first.

Here’s the proposal cum rationale prepared by the Desman BPA consultant for increasing the fines:

Fine Recommendation Memo 8.20.19

To keep it simple, let’s use this one specific example. Meter parking is now $1.50/hr. The fine for a violation is now $10. If you work an 8hr. day in downtown Northside and want to “squat” in a valuable space, instead of feeding the meter $12, you can not feed the meter and pay a fine of only $10. The new proposal would raise the fine to $15. And if you want just to park for a short time to do some quick shopping but let the meter run out, then you would pay $15 instead of the current $10, a 50% increase.

Here are the main points of the Desman/BPA proposal for the increases.

Background:

  • “Parking citations and fines are a method to make parking as equitable as possible for those that following the parking regulations and those that do not.”
  • “The purpose of this memo is to review and evaluate the City of Bethlehem’s parking violation fines in comparison to peer cities.”
  • “Parking industry standards suggest that the fine for non‐payment of a parking meter or other parking meter violations be priced at least 10‐15 times the hourly parking rate.”

Rationale:

  • “The current fine schedule is not penal enough to encourage motorists to simply pay for parking instead of breaking the law [because] the number of parking violation tickets issued over the past five years has increased by more than 300%
    by the end of 2018.”  [Breaking the rules is now not being deterred.]
  • “In Bethlehem, the fine for parking at an expired meter and the fine for parking in
    excess of the posted time limit in non‐metered spaces (such as in residential permit parking areas) is less than half of the average of the cities examined.”  [Raising our fines would not be excessive.]
  • “These increases will bring the fine amounts for parking meter violations in Bethlehem closer to those of the peer cities examined.”  [We would no longer be an outlier on the lower end.]
  • “The Authority is responsible to provide reliable services to the general public on a continuous basis and shall be financed by costs recovered primarily through user charges. As such, the Authority has the fiduciary responsibility to ensure its properties are properly maintained to generate necessary user fees to cover operational costs and debt service.”  [The BPA has a responsibility to raise its operating expenses.]

Financial impact:

  • “This could result in $75,000‐$100,000 annually, roughly a 2‐3% increase, in additional parking meter revenue.”

Things to consider:

  • The goal in all this should be to help the resident as much as possible (cost-wise as well as quality-of-service-wise) while, of course, maintaining the fiscal stability of the BPA.
  • Does BPA need the $75,000‐$100,000 annual revenue increase? In the draft “pro forma” presented to Council on July 2, the BPA says it doesn’t need the increase in fines to finance the Polk Street Garage. It has enough revenue just with the meter increase.
  • Does BPA need the $75,000‐$100,000 annual revenue increase? The BPA just gained $200,000 by choosing what some (many?) people thought was a less desirable bid for the retail/residential aspect of Polk Street.
  • In fact, no, BPA does not make its case in its own proposal on the need for money: the purpose of the Desman study is focused on comparison with peer cities, with whom we are out of step.
  • So, if BPA doesn’t need the money, why should we care that our rates are low — since low rates are a good thing for our residents?
  • In fact, no, the point BPA prioritizes is the lack of penal power in the fine structure, which may be fostering an injustice against those who follow the law and which may be adversely affecting the circulation of available parking spaces.
  • So, as has been suggested here in these pages by Dana Grubb, is there a way to re-vision the mix of meter rates and fines to put the onus on the violators through even heavier fines, while easing the recent meter increase on the law-abiding residents?
  • Or is that a bridge too far?

What would it take to reduce meter rates?

Gadfly — whose claim to specialized knowledge ends at the fact that he knows 9 uses of the comma — is way out over his ski’s here.

But here goes . . . humbly.

Desman says that raising the fines “could result in $75,000‐$100,000 annually, roughly a 2‐3% increase, in additional parking meter revenue.”

The “pro forma” BPA presented at the July 2 Council meeting — IF GADFLY IS READING IT CORRECTLY — has a different figure: $292,378.

See line 30, page 3:

$2,268,925: 2019 projected meter revenue @ $1.50/hr.
$1,976,547: 2018 (presumably) actual meter revenue @ $1.00/hr.
—————
$292,378: increase as a result of raise in meter rate from $1.00 to $1.50

So, if in the pro forma financial scenario the meter rate is roll-backed to $1.00/hr., how much would the fines have to be increased to bring in $292,378 and break even?

Of course, if we take Desman’s figure of a $75,000‐$100,000 annual increase, the amount of the fine increase would be even less.

So, in the Desman financial scenario, if the meter rate is roll-backed to $1.00/hr., how much would the fines have to be increased to bring in $75,000-100,000 and break even?

Is Gadfly making sense? Is he thinking logically? Math people, speak up! EEL, are you out there?

Is anybody still awake?

Herewith find Gadfly trying, trying to open up some options to the BPA proposal that might help residents . . . trying valiantly.

Gadfly just cannot see raising the rate just to get in step with our peers, which seems a kind of never-ending cycle, nor can he see why if the main reason for the increase is violators, others are swept in.

But he admits budgets and statistics and math mystify him, and he waits for a well-deserved slap upside the head.

And this took more time than the lunch hour, dammit, and he just missed yoga.

Namaste

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

Council to consider both increasing parking violation fines and variable rate parking

(122nd in a series of posts on parking)

So 5:30pm tomorrow the City Council Public Safety Committee (Colon, Negron, Van Wirt) will entertain not only the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s proposal for an increased fine structure but also consideration — suggested by the Mayor as a result of public and Council interest — of variable rate meter pricing.

And it looks like there will be discussion and voting on them in the Council meeting that immediately follows the Committee meeting.

As always in Gadville, we go to the primary sources with (as best we can) an open mind.

So here are the two pertinent documents from the BPA:

Fine Recommendation Memo 8.20.19

BPA Variable Rate Memorandum 8-28-19

As best Gadfly can tell from his own so far only quick perusal of the fine document, the increases are the same as proposed in 2018.

Gadfly will only note at this point that he has heard no outcry in the 3/4’s of a year that the fines have been out of line with the meters about public disgruntlement at and/or loss of revenue by the BPA.

Doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any, just that same has not reached his ears.

Now variable rate pricing might be unfamiliar to many followers.

Here’s a definition by the BPA consultant:

Variable rate pricing —also known as demand-responsive pricing, or performance pricing—means setting curbside parking meter rates based on demand in a block or zone at a particular time of day. The goal is to make sure there are always a few open spaces per block and encourage people to park only as long as they need. Theoretically, this arrangement should enable more customers to shop or eat in a business district.

I understand it to mean that the BPA has the technological ability to vary the meter rates at different locations and different times of the day. Pretty cool.

Here is the consultant’s conclusion:

Based on our review of the Desman report and on our own research conducted as part of this project, Kimley-Horn does not believe that performance-based, dynamic, or progressive on-street parking rates should be implemented at this time. This opinion is based on the fact that curbside utilization is relatively low, there are no large concentrations of intense demand, current monthly and hourly rates are low and offer no variability between on-street and off-street transient rates, and the level of effort and cost required to collect the necessary performance data is prohibitive given the size of the BPA and its budget. The City and BPA could pilot test variable rates based on location and/or time of day for specific streets or blocks but significant surpluses on adjacent streets/blocks and within nearby off-street lots and garage would suggest that the increased rates would simply drive parkers to these other areas of lesser utilization.

So, let’s chew on these two good topics over lunch!

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

The “fine” situation comes to a head

(121st in a series of posts on parking)

It may not be the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

But it’s important.

And it should be interesting.

Tomorrow Tuesday October 1, 5:30pm, Town Hall, the Council Public Safety Committee (Colon, Negron, Van Wirt) will consider the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s proposal to increase their fine/violation $$$ structure.

Followers will remember the conflict between Council and the BPA during the last half of 2018.

We live under the strange, arbitrary, and probably changeable situation in which the Mayor governs meter rates, Council the fines.

The Mayor approved BPA’s request to increase meter rates as of January 1, 2019, but Council did not approve their proposal to raise the fines on that date, a contentious process well covered here on Gadfly. Take a look at the archives. (What will future city historians do without the Gadfly archives?)

So, since January 1 the meter rates and the violation rates are severely out of balance.

Tomorrow is the time to straighten things out.

Looks like the issue will come up to full Council immediately after the committee meeting tomorrow because it is an agenda item.

We should think about this.

Prepare by taking a few minutes to review previous Gadfly posts on this specific fine issue.

These posts are in reverse chronological order.

Another idea relating to the Parking Authority proposal to increase the fine structure

Why not reward Bethlehem residents with a meter-rate rollback?

The proposed increase in parking fines

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

The Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) follows up with the Parking Authority and gets good news

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

Lynn Rothman chairs the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC).

9/25/19 Bethlehem Parking Authority

Good afternoon. My name is Lynn Rothman, speaking on behalf of the Bethlehem EAC.

I’m here today so that we can both put faces to the names in the EAC’s July letter to you. As you may know, the City of Bethlehem is embarking on a Climate Action Plan with the goal of reducing our ghg emissions for the health, well-being and sustainability of ourselves and future generations.

To help our City achieve this goal, we entreat the BPA to put solar panels on the proposed
Polk Street Garage, as well as existing and future garages. As shown in the photographs of other garages that were included in our letter, solar panels do not appear to inhibit the
available parking area.

The Authority could purchase solar panels, and through energy savings, recoup the initial investment over a period of years, thereafter reducing or eliminating the cost of electricity.

The EAC also wants to be sure you are aware of financing options for solar systems that
require no upfront costs.

A Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA, requires no upfront costs and entails having a solar provider own and maintain your solar system. The PPA provider may qualify for tax credits and accelerated depreciation. Under this scenario the Authority would agree to purchase electricity from the provider for 20 yrs. During that time the provider is responsible for all maintenance. After 20 yrs. the Parking Authority would have the option to continue or to purchase the solar system. Depending upon the size of the system, the price the PA would pay should be close to the going rate for electricity.

Even better, you could apply any excess power generated at the Polk Street garage to other garages within 2 miles. This is called virtual net metering.

Detailed information is available from solar providers that work with financial institutions.

Another possible option would be Commercially Assessed Clean Energy or C-PACE. No
upfront cost is required, rather a loan for the solar system would be tied to the property.
It’s unclear whether the Parking Authority would qualify for C-PACE, but you can find out by speaking with a representative from the Sustainable Energy Fund. SEF will be
overseeing the C-PACE program and is currently working with Northampton County on a
cooperative agreement.

As stated in our letter, we also recommend that new structures use a sustainable design
and LED lighting. We advise that trees be planted as densely as possible on the property to sequester carbon, help clean the air, provide cooling and aesthetically enhance the entire development.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Lynn hadn’t heard anything after the July letter to the BPA. She found that the letter had somehow gone astray, but the BPA exec director told her, “The BPA is working towards sustainability. 100% of the BPA facilities should have LED lighting by next yr. At least 90%  of facilities are currently equipped with LED lighting. BPA has a consultant looking at solar comprehensively for all garages as opposed to a singular garage. EV charging stations are also prominent.”

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

Need independent thinkers on the authorities, boards, and commissions (the ABC’s)

(120th in a series of posts on parking)

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly:

First, thank you for going and presenting these thoughts. To coin a familiar phrase, “You’re a better man than I, Mr. Gallagher” (Gunga Din).

Second, the fact that nobody on that board would move and second that your thoughts as a resident be included in the meeting minutes speaks volumes about the rubber stamping that appears to be the norm with this and other authorities, boards and commissions in Bethlehem.

What we need to happen is for Mayors with City Council’s approval to begin appointing independent thinkers to the ABCs, so that thoughtful and considerate decision-making takes place within the periphery of city government. Only then will the community be placed first instead of special and personal interests.

Dana

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

Gadfly at the BPA

(120th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly just had to get this off his chest.

Deliver’d the following prepared statement during public comment at the Parking Authority Board meeting yesterday. (The audio of the meeting will eventually be available on the BPA web site.)

Asked that a member of the Board make a motion to include it in the minutes or to attach it to the minutes. No one did.

By the way, the BPA still did not publish the agenda for the meeting beforehand.

Cranky ol’ Gadfly.

Still pursuing the white whale. (in joke)

———-

Ed Gallagher
BPA Board meeting
9/25/2019

I am puzzled by the Board chair’s immediate response to the “technical review” of the Nova and Peron proposals at the August 28 Board meeting: “Basically two 5-story buildings, retail on first floor, apartments above.” That response — without any appreciation of subtlety, without any appreciation of nuance in the City evaluation — flattens the two proposals into undifferentiated clones, thereby justifying the higher purchase price as the determinative factor. If the proposals are the same, yes, certainly, by all means, take the higher offer by Peron. Makes perfect sense.

But in my judgment, a judgment based on the City evaluation that the Board requested, the proposals are clearly not the same. The proposals, in fact, are significantly different. Here, according to the City evaluation, is what we lose by favoring Peron:

  • possibly 45 apartments instead of 32 (whether Nova proposed 5 floors of residential as indicated in the City report or 4 was, strangely, not resolved)
  • “a mixture of market rate residential apartment sizes, presenting a potentially more resilient residential product”
  • “a rooftop restaurant concept, providing greater use of the building by the public and potentially driving more transient parkers to the Polk Street Parking Garage”
  • a design “emulating elements found on the former Bethlehem Steel site”
  • a design that “not only encourages the pedestrian interest in the Third Street corridor, but also draws interest down Polk Street”
  • a design adding “a variety of building styles to the corridor and . . . inclusive of more desirable design elements”
  • “overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, [that] provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in which the building is located”
  • “proposed use of the building [that] is more comprehensive, providing commercial opportunities beyond first floor retail and greater opportunity for use by the general public”

To me, this positive mix in Nova of the practical, financial, historical, aesthetic, and architectural — this mix of novelty and beauty — this appeal to City goals of a walkable city and the link to our heritage — was surely worthy of discussion.

But the BPA sped to approval of Peron in one minute, fifty seconds.

Was there not one point in the City analysis worthy of discussion?

But as the motion-maker said, “I looked at both of those projects closely, and they’re similar, but there are differences, but I can’t get past the difference in price.”

The BPA Board saw its chief purpose in this decision getting the greatest amount of money for itself. At the end of the day, “It’s dollars and cents,” said a third Board member.

A decision based on money without evaluation of the financial aspects of the proposals because of “significant variances in contract parking spaces and some uncertainty around the potential for CRIZ increment generation.”

It would have taken great courage for one of the Board members to say even, “Whoa, hold on a minute. We owe it to common decency to hear from the City Committee we asked to take a look at this and who are here at the meeting. And we owe it to the public to make sure we have thoroughly considered all perspectives in making our decision.”

It would have taken even greater courage for one of the Board members to say, “Let’s put the money aside for a few minutes, we can always come back to it, but our purpose here is not simply to make money for the Parking Authority, and the question we should be front-loading is how do these proposals align with City goals — which proposal is best for the City at large.”

I was looking for someone on the BPA Board to say, “At the end of the day we have the opportunity to advance City goals of a walkable City, to have a building that speaks of our Bethlehem history, the opportunity to do something special, exciting, unique. Let’s see if we can take advantage of this opportunity and still be fiscally responsible to the Parking Authority.”

adapted from a post on the Bethlehem Gadfly blog September 9, 2019.

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

Thanks a lot Parking Authority!

(119th in a series of posts on parking)

ssinsider is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous.

Gadfly:

To amend your last comment, perhaps Gadfly is impossibly optimistic about the BPA having any interest in doing something better for the rest of the community.

Nope: just a parking garage. And some cash. The End.

No sense of the greater good (ie: the potential effect of increasing foot traffic and bringing diverse folks to that area), the long-term (particularly the aesthetics on that main drag into/out of Bethlehem), and what the residents of Bethlehem will have to live with for a LONG time. Thanks a lot Parking Authority. I’ll admit I am not familiar with either Peron or Nova, but at least have the courtesy to PRETEND to consider the greater good, appealing aesthetics, and future of our community. Just act interested, rather than letting us believe you are biased or making secret back room deals. Surely you wouldn’t be doing that . . . would you?

ssinsider

The BPA needs to face the public

(118th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly has kidded seriously that the Bethlehem Parking Authority needs a public relations officer.

He has nagged them about making sure meeting times are correctly published. Well, we’ve both given up on the Bethlehem Press. They never get it right!

He has nagged them about using the web site for publishing meeting times and announcing meeting cancellations. They have finally started to do that.

He has nagged them about publishing their meeting agendas on their web site. They have yet to do that.

What’s the use of publishing meeting times without agendas? How can the general public know whether they want to or should attend a meeting without knowing what’s up?

Nag. Nag. Nag.

Gadfly thinks the BPA needs to improve its connection with the public, with the outer world. Hence the PR person suggestion.

Gadfly was thinking about this as he wrote the last post on the August 28 meeting.

In effect, Gadfly was criticizing the BPA for, in effect, being insular (good SAT word).

They meet in the BPA headquarters, what Gadfly humorously refers to as their “bunker.”

They sit around a table. They face themselves. They talk to themselves. Their eyes on each other. Their backs to the outside world.

Gadfly is a literature person. Big on symbolism.

Think of the symbolic difference if the BPA complied with the Mayor’s suggestion and moved their meetings to Town Hall — the “People’s House” — and literally faced the public instead of each other.

A symbolic reminder of the public presence even if no one was there.

So a decision has been made about the “liner” building on the 3rd Street side of the Polker without much public discussion or input, without much regard to wider City perspectives.

The design of the garage itself is next.

What kind of public discussion will occur on it?

The City Climate Action Plan is not in literal operation yet, but it should be in figurative operation.

On July 29, the City Environmental Advisory Council sent the BPA suggestions for the garage design in line with the birthing Climate Action plans.

To date, as far as Gadfly knows, the BPA has not responded to the EAC.

Will they?

Gadfly is not optimistic.

The BPA needs to face the public.