Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Parking Experiment, With the Village as the Lab

Annie Tritt for The New York Times

Justyna Marriott feeds a meter in Greenwich Village, where the city has raised rates in hopes of discouraging long-term parking.

Published: October 17, 2008

Justyna Marriott, a sales manager for Fiji Water, drives all day from one Manhattan hotel or restaurant to the next, pulling quarters from a shiny, gold-colored coin purse at least five or six times a day to feed the meters.  The purse felt a little lighter on Wednesday afternoon after she drove into an area of Greenwich Village where the city is trying out a form ofcongestion pricing for parking. “This is no joke, huh?” Ms. Marriott said. “One dollar for 30 minutes — it’s still cheaper than the parking lot, where it’s $10 for half an hour. But it’s annoying, absolutely.”

Ms. Marriott was not the only driver bemoaning the pilot program, which began Oct. 6 and doubled the meter rate in part of the Village to $2 an hour from noon to 4 p.m.

The hope is that the added expense will discourage people from using curbside spaces for long-term parking. That, in turn, could increase turnover in metered spots while reducing the time drivers spend cruising for a place to park, as well as the tendency to double-park, transportation officials said.

The area chosen for the six-month trial stretches from Houston Street to Charles Street and includes portions of Seventh Avenue South and Avenue of the Americas. Within the test area are a number of residential streets with unmetered alternate-side parking, where rules remain unchanged.

On Wednesday, shortly before noon, Sal Rincione sent one of his employees to feed the meter where his 2008 Acura sedan was parked on Seventh Avenue South.

Mr. Rincione, who runs Five Guys Burgers and Fries on the corner of Bleecker and Barrow Streets, lives in West New York, N.J. The increase, Mr. Rincione said, is not likely to change his parking habits.

“Even at $2 an hour, it’s still cheaper than putting your car in a garage,” he said.

Phil Mortillaro, the owner of Greenwich Locksmiths on Seventh Avenue South, said he did not think the trial program would meet its goals. Standing in front of a wall of keys in his small shop, Mr. Mortillaro said there was little traffic congestion in Greenwich Village during the hours the meter rate is higher.

“It would have been better to run the trial at night when this place is full of tourists, not just during the day,” he said. “It’s like Disneyland out here.”

Like several others interviewed, Mr. Mortillaro questioned the city’s motive for the pilot program, saying it was probably a way to generate more revenue.

Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation, said that neither the rate increase nor the structure of the pilot program was designed to increase revenue. The goal, he said, is to encourage people to use metered parking for only as long as is absolutely necessary.

He said transportation officials would collect data next month, measuring traffic volume, parking space occupancy rates and the frequency of double-parking, and compare it with parking patterns before the program began. He said that at the end of the trial period, the department would conduct a survey of merchants and drivers to get their opinions.

Mr. Solomonow said that although the program had just started, “we’re really encouraged by what we’re seeing on the streets itself, and we are seeing available spots on the street.”

Ian Dutton, vice chairman of the transportation committee for Community Board 2, which includes Greenwich Village, said that his group supported the experiment and that results might not be evident so quickly.

Mr. Dutton, however, said he thought the $1-an-hour increase might not be enough to stop people from continually feeding meters. Although most spots have a one- or two-hour limit, the city acknowledged that it rarely tickets cars for staying longer, so long as the meter has not run out.

“That extra $1 an hour is still nowhere near what a commercial lot will charge,” Mr. Dutton said. “Far too many people use cars when there are better ways to meet their needs.”

At Bedford Street and Avenue of the Americas on Wednesday, a white van sat double-parked behind a larger gray delivery truck, also double-parked, in front of a corner deli. The van scrambled as soon as the driver heard sirens down the street.

A few yards up the avenue, a man sat in his car, double-parked just behind a car that looked as if it was about to pull out of its parking space. Instead, the two women who had been sitting in the parked car got out and walked away.

“I thought they were leaving,” said the man in the double-parked car. Asked if he thought the meter rate increase would free up more parking spaces, the man, just before pulling away, said, “Tell you the truth, I don’t think so.”

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