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Op-Ed: Letter to Township on Parking Deck

Resident to Township: Re-think downtown parking solutions.

Editor's Note: The Township Committee meets tomorrow to decide whether to move forward with and if so, which is best for Millburn. This open letter was also sent to the Township Committee.

Dear Members of the Township Committee,

At the recent public hearing regarding the Phase I designs for a parking garage on either Lot 2 (Essex and Lackawanna) or Lot 7 (Glen Avenue, Millburn train station) one of the attendees asked, “What is the best solution to reach our goal?”  I would ask a somewhat different question, “What is our goal?”

As presented to the architects and engineers in the RFP,  it was to assess building a parking garage to address the commuter traffic that is currently handled by the valet parking and, on occasion, by overflow parking in Lot 2.  It seems to me that the goal should be to address the need for parking on the part of multiple groups, namely commuters, downtown business owners and employees, and shoppers.

I understand the parking commission is working on finding temporary parking for those who would be displaced during construction.  Why not do a comprehensive job and turn at least some, if not all, of these temporary solutions into permanent ones?  The solutions include increasing the surface parking at the Short Hills train station, adding more spaces to the recycling yard for business owners, and creating parking where the Rimback building is.  Whether we build a garage or not, it surely makes sense to increase and rationalize the downtown parking.  One suggestion would be to move the business owners and employees to lots at the edges of downtown, leaving the lots in or near the center of town for short-term shopper parking.

If the decision is made to go ahead with a Phase 2 design for one of the parking garage choices, then I note that a parking garage on Lot 2 would be used by all three populations, whereas Lot 7 would be used solely by commuters, as those wishing to shop in Millburn are unlikely to park on the other side of the tracks from downtown.  A garage on Lot 7 addresses only one of the populations.

Finally, a parking garage on Lot 2 will split the commuters, somewhat relieving the rush hour congestion.  The traffic on Glen Avenue is already excessive and sometimes dangerous; it would become more so were a garage to be built at the train station as more parking spaces would mean more cars going in and out of the lot.

I am not convinced that Millburn needs a parking garage, however, if the consensus is that we do, then Lot 2 is clearly the right place for it.

Lucinda Mercer

Millburn

mollyb June 20, 2011 at 11:59 PM
I totally agree with Ms. Mercer. Though I think she's being too generous when she softens her stance just a bit to allow that a deck on Lot 2 might be acceptable. We should exhaust all possibilities in and around town for commuters, shoppers and business permit holders (who more often than not feed meters and don't even fill the recycling yard lot because their employees are too lazy to walk and would rather have fewer customers than walk an extra block or two). Let's not even begin to discuss the deck on Lot 2 that promises more retail space--oh great, more vacancies! And please don't try to explain vacancies downtown because nobody can find a place to park. If someone really wants to shop in downtown Millburn (versus get their nails done or eat a meal), they will surely figure something out.
Charles June 21, 2011 at 12:50 PM
I like the general premise of looking at all populations. Another need is for 24-hour parking. However, the piece falls short in arguing that all relevant populations should just be served, and in not questioning the issue of parking rules and enforcement which creates unintended consequence of higher demand. Anyone walking around the Short Hills reserved spaces and lots can notice 30% business permit vehicles and no -permit vehicles parked in the spaces and lots. Anyone walking around the business permit lots in Millburn can notice vehicles with scotch-taped permits (allowing vehicle to vehicle transfer), notes on the doors, and no permits. Reserved business lots intrude prominently everywhere, but these lots have the most unused spaces. Why? because of silly rules that allow the business parkers to park in commuter lots. They cannot use valet, but would not park in lot 7 anyway. Meanwhile many daily meter spaces sit unused. Only increasing parking for the main constituents, without addressing underlying causes, is bound to fail. The very cheap and easily available business parking permits, which can be used for commuter lots, are the main force in driving unexpected demand. With continued inaction, this demand will increase and the $8 million lot may, soon enough, fail to meet needs.
Lucinda Mercer June 21, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Hi Charles and Molly, I hope you're planning on coming to the meeting tonight.
Charles June 22, 2011 at 01:27 AM
Not there tonight, but please post what happens.
Lucinda Mercer June 22, 2011 at 01:32 AM
In four minutes the committee decided to go ahead with Phase 2 for a proposed parking garage on Lot 2 (Essex and Lackawanna). Phase 2 will cost $290,000. There was no discussion by the committee or the public. In related news they are going ahead with looking into an all-way stop at the intersection of Lackawanna and Glen as strongly recommended by the parking garage architect and engineer.
Seth E Levine June 29, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Several have questioned the need to spend over 8 million dollars on the parking deck and seems to feel that all is well as it is. All is not well. We have too few spaces to handle existing need. That is why we hired the valet. We have no accommodation for our handicapped residents or the temporarily disabled. They have no way of reaching the NY bound train without negotiating stairs. .I would strongly urge the extension of a pedestrian bridge to meet the NY bound platform to provide wheelchair access to all trains. There are NO spaces for the mid-day commuter because the valet blocks them. Our cars risk dings and dents, lack of privacy and risk of damage due to the nature of valet parking. During snow, hail and rain cars and drivers are discommoded, and hail can cause damage. Cyclists can't park their bicycles in protected spots. The deck will conveniently serve commuters and customers of our downtown stores with 220 more spaces (70 new and 150 valet). Will it raise our tax rate? No, it is to be funded by increasing fees for commuter permits by $175 per year. Less than a cup of coffee. Revenue generated is $540 * ~1,000 permit holders. Used to prepay the 20-year note, the parking deck will be paid off in less than 11 years. All this for the price of a cup of coffee. Not bad. The deck is a good value to commuters, to shoppers and to the town as a whole. It will make the downtown more attractive to businesses and will ease parking congestion near the train station.
Charles June 29, 2011 at 11:45 PM
Off the bat -- according to the consultant's presentation, the $8.4 million estimated cost does not include improvements to handicapped access; indeed, that was specifically and carefully excluded. Thus, there will be no pedestrian bridge for the NY bound platform. Moreover, you are assuming permit demand is inelastic. Furthermore, you ignore the point about the business parking permits being used for commuting; the demand is inflated. Nor will there be any protection at all against "hail." The deck will be uncovered; the ground spots under the deck will not be reserved for commuters. Finally (short version), why should commuters pay all the expense for this when they won't benefit? If you park a car and have no problem ever getting a space, how do you benefit at all to the tune of $240 extra per year from a parking garage? You don't. Doesn't sound like a "cup of coffee" to me. You do make a valid point about the parking benefiting the downtown, especially for evening access; however, parking can be provided more cheaply by using Rimbach and the dump and reallocating spaces, including the business reserved spaces.
Seth E Levine June 30, 2011 at 02:14 AM
The estimated cost of the Lot 2 deck is 8.1 million, not 8.4. The pedestrian bridge was excluded in the presentation because NJTransit implied that any improvement that impacted the platform might require Millburn to upgrade the entire platform. This position was not a firm position, and should be explored fully. I did not assume inelastic demand, I actually assumed a 20% drop in demand in my analysis. Business permits are paid for as well, so this is not an impediment to paying the bond. All of the spots on the first and second levels will be (obviously) protected from hail. As there are several hundred this is an obvious benefit. The reservation/allocation of spaces within the deck has not been decided by anyone to my knowledge, so to imply that it has 'not been reserved' is inaccurate. Finally, no one has suggested $240 extra per year. Even so, a cup of 'Joe' at 1.50 *220 working days is actually LESS than a cup of coffee. I agree that business reserved spaces should be relocated to areas in town that are not better used for shoppers and commuters.
Charles June 30, 2011 at 03:14 AM
My points are moot at this point since the TC has decided to jump ahead, but doing so puts the cart before the horse. For example, the following should be tried first. 1. Rimbach, which the town owns but has poorly used, and the dump, and reallocation of business/24 hour parking should be tried first, as all of this is going to be done anyway during construction. 2. Use and provision of business permits should be tightened - no longer should business parkers be allowed to park in commuter lots and they should not be provided based merely on status. 3. Permit fees should be increased for a year to see how inelastic the demand really is. 4. Super-business transferable permits and business permits in general should not be so much cheaper than commuter permits. 5. A tiered rate structure can be used based upon distance (cheaper permits for the outlier lots), allowing people to save money by walking a little farther. 6. The many unused daily parking spots (including the ones blocked by the valet at the library and the ones on Chatham) should be reallocated to commuter parking and additional daily parking spots provided further away. As to your comments, $8.4 has been published. 20% drop in demand - what analysis have you done? As to allocation, I understand that the better spots will definitely be provided for shopper parking, as well they should be, not for commuter parking. That is a foregone conclusion.
frustrated resident June 30, 2011 at 12:44 PM
"Our cars risk dings and dents, lack of privacy and risk of damage due to the nature of valet parking." Really, Mr. Levine? This is a factor in your decision to build an unwanted garage in our town? Dings and dents? lack of privacy? Commuters are subject to the service of NJ Transit - often spotty, late, crowded, dirty, etc. I hardly think parking lot privacy and dings and dents are a cause for commuter concern. They are too busy fighting the crowds and getting pushed and shoved in Penn station during the mad evening rush to worry about the safety of their cars .
Damian June 30, 2011 at 09:26 PM
Hail? A bonus to the parking deck is protection of cars from hail? As a lifelong resident I can't recall a hailstorm here with large enough hail to damage cars. If that's a supporting note for a concrete box then it's a real stretch. Likewise valet damage? Don't they usually park nose to tail when it overflows? No door dings that way.
Charles June 30, 2011 at 10:11 PM
"Finally, no one has suggested $240 extra per year. Even so, a cup of 'Joe' at 1.50 *220 working days is actually LESS than a cup of coffee. " Published figures are $225 extra each permit per year just to start. Another way to look at it is about a 100% fee increase for the basic super-duper business permits and a 60%-70% fee increase for the heavily taxed, already dumped upon, resident heavily restricted commuter permit. Take away a deluxe latte per day, for nothing at all, that's what is being advocated here.
Really People July 01, 2011 at 02:25 AM
"Our cars risk dings and dents, lack of privacy and risk of damage due to the nature of valet parking." Really, Seth?? Did you let the Mall at Short Hills know of this major issue especially the lack of privacy ... due to the nature of valet parking. I'm sure they'll shut down valet immediately. Hurry up and get on that. And protecting cars from hail -- nice!!! Super idea. With this brilliance, you may want to console the little girl whose skull was fractured in the Summit parking garage when some hoodlums threw a pipe at her a few months back.(http://www.nj.com/independentpress/index.ssf/2011/04/safety_of_summits_tier_parking.html) Just let her know that even though she was nearly killed, at least the cars in the lot didn't get scratched from a major hailstorm. Or maybe you want to do some "analysis" on the potential human security issues and not just car dings.
Charles July 07, 2011 at 11:15 PM
In addition to the host of unanswered questions to you Seth, I would add one. Why if you assumed a 20% reduction in parking as a result of the fees increase did you not conclude that no parking garage is necessary? 20% reduction eliminates the need for a garage altogether does it not?
Charles July 07, 2011 at 11:17 PM
Interesting letter in today's Independent. Summit has done analysis/analyses of people who game the system in their parking habits. So, at least someone knows such studies can be done.
Really People July 08, 2011 at 12:32 PM
To Seth, current TC members & TC candidates: the concept of your role is to represent the majority of the community that has elected you into position. While we greatly appreciate your time, work, and dedication to elected office, remember that we're not putting you into your position to be an expert on automotive damages, projected commuting trends, or traffic patterns. That's what we expect you to bring the real experts in for, to do some real analysis like Summit has recently done. And of course, over the past years, our residents have spoken out against the need for the Suell & Tillotson Parking Deck, especially citing the irresponsibility of placing it in Lot 7. When you finally brought in the expert Tim Haas, they essentially refuted all of your claims that it would make sense there because they're the expert. You've also heard from residents about the traffic issues at Lackawana & Glen which you've barely given lip service in ignoring -- and the expert Tim Haas expressed the need to address traffic issues there. So maybe it makes sense to do a real analysis not aided by elected officials' personal agendas on the real need for the Suell & Tillotson Parking Deck & how alternative planning might work better and more cost-effectively. Remember, we elect you to represent the majority of which has not even close to spoken up in favor of the Suell & Tillotson Parking Deck. Please stop turning your supposed analysis into mis-directed rhetoric masked as expert analysis.
Damian July 08, 2011 at 05:27 PM
As Really people alluded to, Summit commissioned a study by an outside firm to analyze downtown parking. Guess what, they found 80 employees of downtown firms illegally using shoppers parking. Hey Township Committee, how many illegal parkers would we find in commuter parking if such a study was taken? Just make commuter lots off limits to business parkers THEN see if we need a concrete box downtown!
mollyb July 09, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Here here! But on second thought, surely we need a concrete box downtown to save our cars from those horrific hailstorms. I'll be laughing at that ridiculous rationalization for MONTHS.
Charles July 09, 2011 at 05:52 PM
But verily, All Is Not Well: bicycles are subject to the hail barrage.
mollyb July 09, 2011 at 08:38 PM
Perhaps we should spend some more money building a special covered alcove for bicycles...at about $115K per spot in the new deck, we wouldn't want bikers to park there. Note: that figure is for the 70 new spaces we gain with a deck...Mr. Levine can keep saying we are gaining 220 spaces but for some odd reason, he keeps including the 150 cars currently parked by the valet into what we are gaining; parking 220 "more" cars would mean 220 more than we currently park...therefore, we are only actually gaining 70 spaces for the low, low price of $8.4 million.
Charles July 09, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Why not distribute car and bicycle covers to all the homes and apartments where owners need to park their cars in the hailstorms? But yes, what Mr. Levine states above is (I suspect unintentionally) misleading in suggesting that we are getting 150 more valet spaces when we are substituting those spaces and gaining a net of only 60-70 new spaces. Interesting disputes BTW are likely regarding the distribution of those new spaces; is there a guarantee that commuters will even be allocated the same number, 150, as currently (allegedly) parked by the valet? What if, for example, the town decides to allocate 100 to commuters, 100 to business permit holders, and 20 to shoppers? Since the low prices and loose requirements for business permits stimulate demand, it might be easier to "fill" those spaces and generate revenue by giving them to the families and friends of business "owners" and "employees." Net result for commuters of course in such a hypothetical is minus 50 spaces (which may be about right given the nose-bleed hikes in fees).
Really People July 21, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Just read about the newly found spaces at recycling center & rimback which is a great find and would seem to nullify the need for a parking deck -- right?? How do we kill the deck? Who do we vote for? Who's not giving us lip service? What's the real status of the deck? Is it just going to phase 2 planning or do these self-servers on the TC really don't give a crap about what the township thinks? Anyone?

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