Last week, the first in a series of meetings about a proposed parking deck in Millburn was held at the library. I think it is fair to say that most people at the meeting opposed building a parking deck at the Glen Avenue site. There seemed to be a general acceptance, however, of the idea that we are running out of commuter parking space and Mr. Tillotson and Mr. Suell, having already hired a consultant to look into sites for construction, seemed convinced that a deck is the solution. But before we rush off to spend $5-10 million to build a structure or pay more money to a consultant to design it, we need to take a step back and see if we really need one.
When the last parking study was completed in 2008, there seemed to be consensus that we could increase surface parking by reconfiguring the existing spaces to give us an additional 80 parking spots. The question that needs to be answered, therefore, is whether these spots will be sufficient to absorb demand in the next few years, given that the number of commuter requests for parking permits in town has fallen by almost 20 percent in the last two years.
At the meeting, Tim Tracy, the consultant hired by the town to discuss possible sites for the deck, gave us a projection of increased parking demand for the Summit, Short Hills and Millburn stations of 350 people over the next 10 years. He did not break this increase down by station nor do we know the demographic assumptions he used or whether they are realistic. But, using statistics found on the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority website related to historical allocation of ridership between stations and growth in ridership and parking patterns in our town, Mr. Tracy's projection would translate into growth in the town's population of 3,000-4,000 people over the next decade. This doesn't seem very likely to me. Where would all these new people live? And nobody in other areas of our public sector, such as schools or police, seems to be planning for such growth.
In reality, the Transportation Planning Authority reports that from 2000 to 2007 ridership at Millburn station went up an average of 20 riders a year. Since only a third of our commuters park their cars at the station, this would mean seven additional parking permits per year were needed for Millburn riders. Even this estimated increase may not be correct, because, since 2008, parking permit sales in town have decreased by 20 percent. Thus, the next few years of growth in commuter parking demand could be absorbed by the adjustment in surface parking discussed in the last parking study. We should also review our valet parking program to ensure that it is operating efficiently and maximizing space constraints. There is, therefore, no immediate urgency to have shovels in the ground.
One of the issues we have struggled with in Millburn is preserving the character of our community. A parking deck will change the way our town looks. We are a residential community first and foremost. We owe it to our residents to consider the impact a deck will have on their safety, their property values and their quality of life.
The need for a commuter parking deck really depends on whether we have no alternative. That is, the long-term projections of ridership increases need to be examined more carefully and the assumptions on which they are based challenged. We shouldn't meekly accept projections of future growth because they are the only numbers we hear. We must review our current valet program and the feasibility of expanding our surface parking. Instead of holding more hearings on where to construct a deck, we should look at implementing these short-term low cost fixes and then determine whether we really need to build.
Editor's Note: Humphreys is running for Township Committee on the New Democrats ticket.