Reporting from Planet Princeton this week exposed an extraordinary scam where employees at local businesses bypassed Princeton parking regulations by placing menus, coasters and receipts from their place of employment in their windshields. Apparently, local parking enforcement did not write tickets for cars with these symbols, even when they were parked illegally. In response, the town has suspended the parking enforcement agents without pay. That’s quite right- but big questions remain unanswered.
Most obviously, how many people knew about this scam? Did the town have an illicit scheme for employees to get special treatment with parking? This seems unlikely. If the town wanted to give employees special treatment, they could do it by above-board means. For example, according to one current municipal plan, on-street parking stalls by Skillman Furniture Store on Alexander Road will become permit-only, to enable employees to have guaranteed parking in spots that are increasingly being occupied by commuters going to the relocated temporary Dinky station. Nonetheless an investigation is warranted to uncover how many people were complicit in corrupt parking practices.
Downtown residents are delighted to see official acknowledgement of the problem, after seeing up to 16 cars at a time parked with illegal parking tokens over the space of a couple of blocks. However, shattering the informal parking scam will only result in the same cars being parked on somebody else’s street a few blocks away, where parking is unmetered. It does nothing to help the long-term issue of workers taking up space on Princeton streets with their cars.
What proportion of parking in Princeton is being taken up by employees? The answer is staggering: around 22,000 out-of-town employees enter Princeton each day by car. All of them need to park somewhere, so it’s no surprise that it’s hard to get parked in town. Solutions like subsidizing parking in municipal garages, or expanding transit, will either require extra tax dollars or additional costs for local businesses. Is there any other solution? Actually, yes, there is: we just have to allow more walkable homes to be built for local employees to live in. Just one in four people who live and work in Princeton use cars to get to work. By contrast, people who live outside of Princeton drive 78% of the time. If more of these non-resident employees lived in town, we should expect to see far more walking and cycling to work, and far less pressure for parking spaces.
In Princeton, the phenomenon of the majority of our workforce commuting into town from nearby townships is relatively recent. (This aerial photo from the 1920s shows that there were no townships for them to commute from- just fields and tiny farm villages!) In fact, for 5,000 years of human history, people lived where they worked. Driving a car to work is a late 20th century invention, which has had devastating consequences for traffic and global warming, not to mention the parking situation. Low-paid workers should have a choice about driving to their jobs. They should be able to choose to walk or ride a bike instead. That’s how it worked traditionally, and we can make it work like that again by expanding the supply of reasonably-priced housing units.
What’s your solution to the parking problem? Why do we make local workers live somewhere else and drive into town, when these employees could be living in Princeton, walking to work, and contributing taxes to municipal funds? Leave your answers in the comments box below!