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Shopping Locally—And Getting Fined Locally

Former Councilor Cary Africk writes about the problems with trying to park in Montclair.


One of the annoying things a town can do is ticket cars, like yours, in the shopping district. It drives people crazy, sends a negative message to the shopper, who vows to "never shop in that town again."

During my four years in office in Montclair I got many parking tickets. My usual places for morning business meetings invariably were in "1 hour parking" zones and, well, it's difficult to finish up a meeting in one hour, what with the walking to and fro.

Yesterday on my way home from one of my favorite plant places -- The Farm -- I stopped off in Madison, NJ. I've written about Madison before. It's one of my "ideal" downtowns. And one of the things about Madison is that there are no meters. There are "1 hour parking signs," which make one aware of the time constraint, but no meters.

The streets and shops are also lovely, with wide sidewalks (totally litter free), "historic" benches, recycling receptacles, flower baskets, and such. The town clearly welcomes shoppers!

I've also been to other towns, such as Ithaca, NY, that although they do have meters, the meters are totally automated so they can give you a "warning," rather than a fine.

I pursued an elaborate study of the Montclair Parking Authority with the help of Glenn Rogers, an experienced, in-town consultant who produced a wonderful report. It was probably completed a year ago. One of his points was that parking should support the economic development of the town. Parking should support the town's goals. Parking shouldn't exist for the goal of raising revenue.

Right now, the parking enforcement officers are directed to ticket cars. Being sensible, they ticket the easiest ones first. Cars that are over time a few minutes. Or cars parked around the High School ("like ducks in a barrel"). Or cars parked at broken, or inoperative meters.

Hopefully the attitude will change some day. Perhaps if the parking authority had increased revenue, and increased efficiency, management could direct parking enforcement to "give a little" with over time. But as things stand now, I doubt it. Last Holiday Season saw endless hours of discussion of whether or not the town should have free parking around Christmas. It was a hard sell.

Crafty Spiker September 09, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Is there a point? The last council (and Cary) did little to improve the parking situation and failed to put the parking authority out of its misery. This council (with one exception) cannot be bothered to respond to citizen communications. What was missing then and what is missing now is leadership coupled with real vision.
profwilliams September 09, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Cary, I understand. However, when I go to the movies or out to eat, and I know I'll be longer than an hour-- I park where I'm allowed. I believe most 1 hour spots are where they are, so folks can run quick errands. But dinner, movies, drinks, requires more time. And thus, more forethought of where one might park. For me, much like all the folks who speed and break driving laws in town, I think ticketing folks-- for a lot of money-- is a good idea. No better way to get behavior modification than to ticket folks. Imagine if cops gave out $250 tickets for failing to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Give out a BUNCH of those and folks will learn. (Surely you, like me, had Towns near where you grew up that were known to ticket. I knew not to speed in those towns.)
Cary Africk September 09, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Prof, Can't argue with you there, more planning would certainly be a plus for those driving for a breakfast meeting. Unfortunately, I'm the type that's always rushing to make meetings. Problem with "hefty" fines is that there are so many people who often ignore "stop for pedestrian" signs, etc. A town has to have the reputation, as you say, that if you fail to stop for pedestrians, you WILL be ticketed. And that requires more than one or two "stings" a year. I got ticked for "speeding" on Route 23 in Verona, right before the Kings. Police officer said I shouldn't feel too bad because if they wanted they could stop every car because the limit on that section of road was so low (I think 30). So, yes, I will certainly watch my speed on that road!
Susan van Inwegen September 09, 2012 at 04:19 PM
The town of Skaneateles NY issues an envelope with a thank you to customer for doing business in their town, for overstaying in a metered spot. After thanking you for their business they request that you make a donation to their town. I do wonder how that is working out for them?
John Lee September 09, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Many of the employees of the businesses and restaurants in Montclair, particularly Upper Montclair, have to park at meters to work. Parking a distance from the store makes no sense since there is a time limit on meters - what employer is really going to allow someone 10 minutes to walk several blocks to a longer meter. Prof really needs to rethink the blanket statements he makes about people, or in the very least leave them over at Baristanet where the shut-ins who thrive on that sort of mocking are encouraged by its editors.
profwilliams September 09, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Mr. Lee, I'm confused. If, say, I work at The Gap (years ago I did, at Willowbrook- upstairs and down), there is plenty of free street parking blocks away (though some might be of the free 2 hr kind). So I'm confused why you say, "[p]arking a distance from the store makes no sense since there is a time limit on meters..." Again, simple planning can eliminate most of these problems. (And if suggesting advanced planning or walking a few blocks is such a "mocking" "blanket" statement, is so outrageous-- I'm happy to be considered with the "shut-ins.")
profwilliams September 09, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Oh, and Mr. Lee, While you craft another witty response... Please offer a suggestion. Simply saying, we have a parking "problem," and employees need close spaces is not enough. From what you wrote, it seems as if you believe Montclair should offer long term meter, close to business for employees. Excuse me, but that's odd-- Any business or business district that thinks of its employees FIRST, over customers won't be in business long. But I suspect you already knew that.
Crafty Spiker September 09, 2012 at 08:18 PM
prof - this is simply a case of perception being reality. Nothing you can say will alter the perception of real people that parking is a nuisance. And if they feel that way they'll likely find somewhere else that they perceive as friendlier and spend their money there - just NOT in Montclair. Simple enough?
profwilliams September 09, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Crafty, Funny. I've lived and shopped in town for over 20 years. In that time, I've gotten tickets, but never thought parking was as big a "problem" as you seem to. Sure it's always listed as one, because like you I guess, and Mr. Lee, your "perception" is that you should be able to find a spot in front of wherever you to be. But in a town that regularly has to remind folks not to keep their engines running outside starbucks, dunkin', and the like; where walking near the Farmer's Market is almost impossible with all the folks parked illegally and in crosswalks; where thinking "yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk" means a car will stop will get you killed--- I'm not surprised that some here are hostile to the idea of planning (as if having a few quarters requires THAT much forethought), or walking a block or two. And are you suggesting that business is down because of parking? Is there evidence of this, or just conjecture?
Roy Oser September 09, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Prof. - I like to obey the rules. I keep a pile of quarters in my car. I don't park in one hour spaces if I may need more than an hour. But the fact remains, the tougher it is to park in our business districts, the less patronage our businesses will get. Speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians are entirely different issues. We do need to crack down on those.
profwilliams September 10, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Mr. Oser, there is no argument here- but while it may seem true that the harder to park/less patronage, I'd like some proof- are business suffering because of the 1 hour parking? Or that customers have to park a few blocks away? Regardless, my question remains: is walking a block or two "tougher"? And what is "tougher"? I bring up other traffic violations to show the type of folks in town: folks who are more concerned with themselves, folks who will happily break a law to get their coffee, or run an errand. THESE are the folks who argue and say that forethought or walking a few blocks is a hardship. Or "tough." And then tell the world "BLAH-BLAH Town does it sooo much better..."
John Lee September 10, 2012 at 12:45 AM
um, Prof, I was not making the point that employees are more important than customers, just throwing some reality back your way since you referred to people who are annoyed by the parking situation as "lazy." But then again, what would a professor know of people who work for a living, those who can do, those who cannot teach :) (yup - I'm throwing some mud your way on behalf of every working person on Montclair who has received a ticket)
Vincent Laomia September 10, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Hey Prof Maybe you should move to NYC where I get $ 3000 worth of parking tickets per year. It's where all other punitive people like you live. Get your hands out of my pockets and get rid of the meters, Period. And get rid of all the unecessary signage We might get back to the small town feel I moved here for.
CMFAS55 September 10, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Parking stinks downtown in the Bloomfield Ave area. I lived in upper montclair and found it much easier. I now live south of Bloomfield Ave and most errands or trips that I don't expect to last more than 2 hours are spent at Essex Green or elsewhere (even upper Montclair) where I can park w/o a hassle. Paking in these areas should be somehow made easier. I also 100% agree with the poster above on overnight parking - Montclair is not NYC, we should not be looking to treat our residents like criminals simply because they don't have a driveway or live on a quiet street and would like to leave a car out overnight w/o buying a permit or (the old way) asking for police permission. Or maybe they simply forgot to move their car and put it in the driveway. What does the town say - tough luck, ticket, fine. I don't really understand the rule since it only punishes residents, if they wanted to do something beneficial for residents they would limit parking on streets near train stops during the day which is when people from outside Montclair leave their car on your street all day and take the train. I do however like the parking app system for smartphones and think it was a step in the right direction. The prior council did at least one thing that made being a Mtc resident better.
mtc parent September 10, 2012 at 12:18 PM
I agree with all of the complaints about parking. (Although if Mr. Africk knows he's the type who's always rushing for his appointments, necessitating his parking at the closer 1-hr. meters rather than walking farther to the 2- or 3-hr. meters or a parking deck, he might want to work on his time management rather than complain about meters.) BUT the reason for my post is a plea for the town to either fix the many broken meters or stop ticketing people who use them. It is ridiculous how many dysfunctional meters there are, often in prime spots right outside popular destinations. I don't mind feeding meters or walking a distance if street spots are full, but I really resent not being able to use a legitimate spot because the parking authority/town can't be bothered to fix the meter so that it can accept my money!
Cary Africk September 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Here's my problem with the parking app: 1. The Town did not evaluate other, "arguably better" vendors. 2. The Town did not even bother to ask for a cut of the "fee." 3. The Town signed a contract giving the vendor the right to send something like 5 SMS texts to the user of the system each time they parked. Number 3 is especially important, as we enter the days of "mobile advertising." Imagine, you park on Watchung using the app. The system knows that's where you are. It sends you either ads, or coupons. In return for your response the VENDOR gets a cut. The Town COULD HAVE gotten a cut.
Thomas Houser September 10, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Mr Africk, is that why one recent day I saw you park in the no parking zone in front of the Post Office and Starbuck's on Valley Rd???
Mom of boys September 10, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I had a meter nazi ticketing my car while there was still 2 min left on the meter! I approaches her telling her that was not right as I has my keys in hand going to my car (I knew how long I had been gone). She not so politely said "I've started writing and I can't stop now". 2 hours waiting in traffic court to fight the ticket and win. Waste of tax money.
Cary Africk September 10, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Gee Thom, that was like, what, a year ago? And you did write me, and I did write you back and say you were absolutely right! Perhaps you also saw the days when I sat out in front of Starbucks helping people cross the street when cars failed to stop by the crosswalk (I was legally parked in back)? Or perhaps you saw any of the perhaps two dozen meetings a year I had in front of Starbucks discussing town issues with residents? Or perhaps the days I spent with merchants in the rear discussing their difficulties with the parking lot upgrade that took forever?
John Lee September 10, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Time management for Cary Africk? While I run 50-50 on agreeing with Mr Africk's positions I don't think there is a person in the community who is more dedicated to problem solving for the community. Cary runs late because he not only has a lot on his plate, but if a person with a concern needs more of his time he give it to them. I'd much rather have that trait in our leaders than someone who say "oh, sorry for your loss but I have to leave you mid-sentence so I can be punctual."
John Lee September 10, 2012 at 12:53 PM
gee, someone doesn't know how to let go of a grudge
Cary Africk September 10, 2012 at 12:53 PM
One of the issues the new Council is going to have to face is the absence, for years, of capital spending at the parking authority. The decks have not been properly maintained, and many of the meters need replacement. The PROPER thing to do is to get away from individual parking meters and go to the machines that cover an entire block. This is what the rest of the country (and many other countries) do. Regardless, money is necessary.
Sanford September 10, 2012 at 02:06 PM
As bad a deal as it may be, can't people use it to deal with short meter times and broken meters?
Melinda September 10, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Cary, the machines are not great either. I used to work in Upper Montclair Plaza and my clients were constantly coming up complaining that the machine would not take their money. What bugs me is the broken meters everywhere that you get ticketed for parking at, and the fact that the meter women hover to grab you if you're 2 minutes late.
Cary Africk September 10, 2012 at 03:14 PM
You're absolutely right, Melinda! When I visited the now gone Cheese Shop the owner told me about, and I witnessed, long lines of people who couldn't get the machines to work! They don't make change, won't take credit cards, etc. The credit card bit, of course, is all around town. While the rest of the country is just about through with credit cards, moving to NFC (waving your smartphone near a sensor), Montclair still INSISTS that credit card technology is impossible. At the Crescent garage, for example, MPA complained that any credit card solution for the machines would involve a surcharge of perhaps twenty five cents, and that along with other reasons made credit card acceptance "unworkable." So, they installed an ATM twenty feet away. A PRIVATE ATM that charges something like a $3.50 surcharge. And then your bank gives you another surcharge. So it's OK with the MPA to charge the parker $5.00 to get some money for the machines but it's not OK to have the machine charge you twenty five cents. Technology works. It just doesn't work in Montclair where our ability to make good decisions is, well, absent.
Crafty Spiker September 10, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Again, a management, leadership and accountability problem. Perhaps this township employee needs additional training and supervision. Or a different job.
Vincent Laomia September 10, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Cary How much money do the meters make for the town and who ever said that the business model for a town requires meters. New York employees thousands of meter agents. Their tickets pay for their employment, unemploment, holiday pay, sick pay, health care, retirement, disability, fed, state and city taxes, MTA surcharges and social security. In addition to that the city takes its cut of 22,000 tickets a day. And that is not including the meters which are fed to the tune of $ 4.00 per hour. is that where we're going. Keep it simple. Get rid of the meters. Use credit cards and issue oparking cards for the garage. What a outrageous idea.
Bob Mellman September 11, 2012 at 12:34 AM
I really dislike the meters. I dutifully insert my quarters and dimes, but the notion of remembering that a clock is running down is so counter-intuitive. I've gotten a few tickets in my day. Thankfully, not too many. Generally, when I let the meter time lapse, it's because I've run into friends unexpectedly, and have gotten into a conversation with them. I love running into friends and neighbors, but I hate that Montclair charges me $30 for the privilege of doing so. Talk may be cheap, but not in Montclair! I've used the Upper Montclair parking machines once or twice. Thankfully, they worked each time. I do like the idea of getting a receipt that tells you the actual clock time when your parking privileges expire. It's a lot easier to remember that I have get to a spot by 1:42 p.m., rather than remember that I've got 6.5 minutes before my time expires. If the town is in the business of renting space for parking, should keep up-to-date with technology. The smart-phone parking app is a nice convenience when I find myself short of quarters. The Crescent parking deck should be able to accommodate plastic as well as cash. That's a no-brainer. And ticketing people who park at broken meters is really unconscionable. It's such a pain in the ass, particularly at the Y lot. I'll pull into a spot, grab my gym bag and a handful of quarters, walk up to the meter, and find, to my dismay, that I'll have to get back in the car and locate another spot. Ugh!
Thomas Houser September 11, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Then move out of Montclair!!!
Kate Lubenesky September 17, 2012 at 05:24 PM
To Susan's point about Skaneateles, it sounds like a great idea and seems to be working for them! http://www.skaneatelesjournal.com/news/village/common-courtesy/article_538cb2b4-51e8-11e1-96c9-0019bb2963f4.html

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