Overnight on-street parking to be tested in Washington Park

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Tuesday, April 4, 2006

For the first time in over 70 years, some Providence residents will soon have the chance to park legally on the street at night.

Currently, cars may not be parked on city streets between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m., an offense that is punishable by a $15 fine. But a pilot program announced last week will allow residents of the Washington Park neighborhood in southern Providence to park cars on the street overnight. The program is scheduled to begin May 1 and run through the end of June 2007.

“We have houses over there that do not have parking, do not have driveways, and some people have paved their front yards” for parking space, said Ward 9 City Councilman Miguel Luna, who represents part of Washington Park and has supported the program.

Overnight parking, he added, “made a lot of sense.”

Participating residents will need special permits for their cars, which will be limited to two per household at a price of $25 each. Cars must be parked in spots that would be legal during the day.

Luna said Providence has banned overnight on-street parking since 1935, and supporters of the ban say it keeps roads clear for public safety vehicles and snow clearance.

But Ward 1 City Councilman David Segal, an advocate of overnight parking who campaigned on the issue in 2002, said the new program is a common sense solution to the city’s parking problems.

“Fundamentally, we have asphalt on the sides of our roads, and rather than using that, we make additional asphalt” in other parking lots, he said.

The pilot program is the product of a three-year effort that began in early 2003 when the City Council’s ordinance commission appointed a sub-commission to study the issue.

That commission, according to Segal, held three public hearings, including one at Hope High School on the East Side.

“The majority of people were supportive of doing some kind of experimentation with overnight parking,” he said, but “there was, among commission members, substantial opposition to the idea.”

After the commission rejected the idea of overnight parking, supporters of the idea decided to take a different approach. Last year, Segal, Luna, Ward 10 City Councilman Luis Aponte and Ward 7 City Councilman John Igliozzi each put up $5,000 in bond money to hire a consultant to study the issue.

Two consulting firms – Edward and Kelsey and Traffic Solutions – looked at four neighborhoods: Washington Park in Wards 9 and 10, Federal Hill in Ward 13, Elmwood in Ward 9 and Hartford in Ward 7, according to Dave Everett, a planner in the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

“The primary role of the consultant was to look at the areas, tell us whether it was good idea (to try overnight parking there) and narrow them down to a digestible area for the experiment,” Everett said. Together with the city, the firms developed plans for pilot programs and eventual legislation, he said.

The pilot program is currently limited to Washington Park but will expand to “several pilot areas” in the near future, according to Yvonne Graf, a spokeswoman for the City Council. Graf said those areas have not yet been selected.

Luna said he has received mostly positive feedback from residents.

“The reaction actually has been really good,” he said.

Everett agreed that most residents seem excited for the program.

“I would say that most of the people … have been positive,” he said. “I hate to be too optimistic, but we think it will be a success in some way.”

“But, I’m sure we will need to make some adjustments,” he added

If overnight parking is a success in Washington Park, it will potentially be extended to the entire city. Residents will be able to create a petition defining an area – anything from an entire neighborhood to just a few blocks – and collect signatures in favor of overnight parking. If two-thirds of the residents in that area support the petition, the city will then allow overnight on-street parking for residents there.

“That way, we will avoid imposing something on the neighborhood,” Luna said. “There are neighborhoods that don’t want this, and that’s fine, because some don’t need it,” Luna said, adding that heavily residential areas with plenty of parking might not be appropriate for the program.

It remains unclear if the program will garner support from College Hill residents.

“I actually don’t see how it would benefit the neighborhood here,” said Antoinette Breed, treasurer of the College Hill Neighborhood Association. “The residents aren’t clamoring for this.”

Breed added, “I’m not sure that blanketing the streets with cars is the solution for the neighborhood.”

Segal, though, said the idea that the program will lead to more traffic and congestion is something of a myth.

“There’s a notion out there that somehow this pilot program is going to increase the number of people who own or operate cars in the city, and I think that’s patently ridiculous,” he said. “There are very few people who are going to decide to buy a car who don’t own a car because they will save 30 bucks a month on parking,” he added.

Segal noted that Fox Point residents seem supportive of overnight parking.

“In Fox Point, I think there’s much more support for it than there was when I ran (in 2002),” he said. “I’ve had many people who opposed it then come up to me and tell me, ‘I think you were right.'”

Michael McCormick, Brown’s director of planning, said even if the program comes to College Hill, it will not solve the University’s parking woes.

“I don’t think it addresses our parking issues either way,” he said. “The residents are really going to have to decide on this one.”

McCormick said the University plans to lease off-campus parking spaces as needed and “shift students who live on campus to those off-campus spots” to free up space on campus for faculty and staff.

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