What’s going on with parking in Mamaroneck?

by Leon Potok, Village Trustee

For at least the past five years, the Village of Mamaroneck has been working to address parking congestion on Mamaroneck Avenue and to replace our obsolete, often broken parking meters in the Central Business District. For four of those years, I have been a member of the Board of Trustees. Prior to that, I was Chairman of the Budget Committee, which reviewed various parking-related matters from a fiscal standpoint.

A good problem to have

Some residents can remember a time decades ago when there were no parking meters on Mamaroneck Avenue. Our village was a quiet place then. But businesses suffered when cars parked for long stretches on the Avenue, so that parking for a quick errand was difficult. To encourage turnover, the Village introduced parking meters. For several decades that was enough.

Mamaroneck today has become a destination. Our restaurants and nightlife attract many visitors. Today, we have the challenge of making our community welcoming to visitors while maintaining the special quality of life for our residents.

Once again, parking in the downtown business district has become an issue. Our streets teem with diners, shoppers, employees, visitors, and commuters. Balancing all the needs and interests is a challenge. Popularity is a good problem to have, but solving it will take our best efforts, collaboration, and civility. Change can be hard.

How did the Village come up with the current plan? Is it “just politics”?

Three years ago, the Board of Trustees began to focus on the issue of parking on Mamaroneck Avenue. At some times of the day, many spots were available, and at other times, there were no free spots. We had old, obsolete meters that were constantly breaking. The Mayor advocated building a large, $5-million parking garage in the Central Business District. Others wanted to strictly enforce the two-hour limits on the Avenue. No one was happy with the status quo or with any of the solutions being offered.

The Board hired a nationally recognized parking consultant to study our situation and see what could be done. The Democratic Trustees hoped that an objective analysis would take politics out of the solution.

The consultants advised the Board to take steps that would to free up spots  on the Avenue for people running quick errands during the day and visiting our Village restaurants in the evening. The best, most cost-effective solution, they said, would be to shift longer-term parking, especially by employees and business owners, from Mamaroneck Avenue to nearby parking lots. They advised us that this could be accomplished by raising the price of parking on the Avenue compared to the lots, and extending meter hours on the Avenue.

The consultants also recommended installing new electronic multi-space meters to replace the old coin meters. The multi-space meters allow credit card as well as coin payment. They can be programmed to vary rates by time of day, allow for more secure cash storage, and provide detailed information on utilization of our parking spaces.

The Village Manager issued a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) to solicit proposals from qualified vendors of multi-space meters. Several proposals met the Village’s specifications. The Village Administration recommended accepting the proposal from the “lowest responsible bidder,” as required by New York State Law.

The Board sought to install the new multi-space meters on Mamaroneck Avenue and use the consultants’ recommended “pay-by-plate” system (as is now used in New Rochelle and soon to be rolled out in Yonkers.)  However, at a public meeting about these changes, many residents opposed tight enforcement of the two-hour limit on the Avenue, which would have been possible only with the pay-by-plate system.

A Non-partisan approach

In May 2015, the Board appointed a nine-member volunteer Parking Advisory Committee (PAC) to review the consultants’ suggestions. The PAC is non-partisan. Mayor Rosenblum supported the appointment of Maria DeRose, now a Republican candidate for Trustee, and she volunteered to chair the Committee.

In December 2015, the PAC came back to the Board and recommended installing multi-space meters in the parking lots. The Board accepted this recommendation. The new multi-space meters have provided the Village more secure cash collection and useful data on space usage. Compared to the old coin meters, they fail much less often, are nearly impossible to vandalize, and offer credit card convenience. However, some people find them hard to use. The PAC has been asked to advise on whether to replace these meters with more user-friendly ones.

The Board will be looking to amend local law to allow for purchases under a “best value” exception to the State requirement of awarding contracts to the lowest cost bidder, thereby enabling the Village to purchase more expensive but more user-friendly multi-space meters. In the meantime, the Board has asked the Village Manager to improve signage and directions on the existing multi-space meters.

Where do we stand now?

Under Ms. DeRose’s chairmanship, the PAC recommended extending meter hours to 8 PM on the Avenue and raising Avenue parking rates to $1 per hour.  Parking in the lots is cheaper—still 50 cents an hour— and free after 6 PM.

The Board of Trustees accepted these recommendations, which were implemented in August 2016. Unfortunately, the new meter hours were not well publicized by the Village administration. I asked the Village police to observe a two-week moratorium on parking tickets during extended hours. However, nearly three months later, Village residents are still waiting for improved notification regarding parking hours and rates on Mamaroneck Avenue.

The PAC also favored launching a pilot installation of different electronic meters on Mamaroneck Avenue, but split evenly on whether the pilot should include multi-space meters. The Board decided to move ahead with a pilot installation on Mamaroneck Avenue to test various meter models, including multi-space meters, for function, user-friendliness and cost-effectiveness.

Next steps

The pilot installation on the Avenue has now ended. A Village staff analysis determined that installing the least expensive single-space meter on Mamaroneck Avenue would cost the Village more than $300,000 per year compared to the multi-space meter tested. However, the single-space meters are more convenient and familiar.

The chair of the Parking Advisory Committee has announced her intention to recommend single-space meters for Mamaroneck Avenue. It is not clear whether the Committee has reviewed the Village analysis and determined that convenience outweighs cost. From the perspective of transparency and fiscal responsibility, this is a necessary step.

If normal procedure is followed, the Committee will make its recommendations and a presentation to the Board at a public meeting, allowing for consideration of all relevant facts and public comment, before the Board of Trustees makes any further decisions. It would be premature and inappropriate to endorse one meter model over another before this process is complete.

I shared my views about the process in letters to the editor in the October 7 and October 21 issues of the Mamaroneck Review.

I hope that this community issue can be resolved in a way that is civil and collaborative.

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