You’ll get many more residents to testify at hearings, participate in commissions, attend public meetings, and in general enhance our city’s democracy, if they’re not afraid of getting parking tickets, which many cannot afford.
That’s what Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison argued as she appealed to the Traffic Commission Tuesday night to modify parking meters on several blocks around city hall.
The blocks in question — Church Street between Chapel and Elm along with Elm between Temple and Orange — add up to about 30 to 40 meters, said Morrison.
On these, the alder and seven of her colleagues appealed on behalf of their constituents to the commissioners (who double as the Police Commission) to change the metered parking. At present the meters run from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Saturday. She requested they be modified so that on Monday through Thursday, the meters would be free after 6 p.m.
City Hall convenes most of its public meetings between 6 and 9 p.m. — and that’s when people are dissuaded from participation because of fear of getting tickets or the need to run out during meetings to avoid the $20 violation, said Morrison.
The signs indicate there is currently no time limit to parking from 5 to 9 p.m. But often the meters malfunction to allow only two hours, Morrison added.
After several minutes of exchanging personal stories of city parking adventures, the traffic commissioners expressed general sympathy for Morrison’s ideas.
However, there was a rub.
“We recognize that participatory democracy is important, [but] there’s also a revenue issue,” said Deputy Director of Traffic and Parking Michael Pinto.
Pinto said the department has not yet responded to Morrison’s letter, which was presented Tuesday not as an agenda item but as a letter communication, because the potential revenue loss had not yet been calculated.
Morrison estimated that the potential decline in revenue for three hours during four days a week at 40 to 60 meters would be approximately $30,000 to $40,000. She said that as an alder who sits on the board’s Finance Committee, she is aware of the importance of every dollar of that revenue.
However, “it’s about priorities. We have a $534 million budget; if it’s $30,000, that’s not a lot. Sometimes we have to put people over money. We need to get people involved,” she said.
The aldermanic letter also made the point that users of the Ives main branch of the public library on Elm Street, where public meetings are often also held, would benefit. The library, the letter’s text says, is one of the “critically important cornerstone institutions of democracy in our great city. Eliminating the fee for this small number of on street parking spaces would reduce a significant obstacle to public participation in our local government, and being able to access the wonderful resources of the Ives Library after working hours.”
Several of the commissioners cautioned that when the public gets wind of the free parking during what is also dinner hour, patrons of restaurants nearby on Chapel Street could grab the spaces, eliminating the benefit to potential meeting-goers.
Morrison acknowledged the possibility.
Pinto also said that his department is in conversation with Yale University about the availability, after 4 p.m., of free parking in the Yale lot on the west side of Temple, between Elm and Wall.
For all these reasons, the matter’s resolution was put off until next month’s meeting.
Traffic Commission Chair Anthony Dawson asked Morrison if she will participate in a public campaign about potentially freed up parking spaces.
Morrison pronounced that an excellent idea and said she was pleased at the results of the discussion.
The others alders signing on to the proposal include (Ward 7) Alberta Witherspoon; (Ward14) Kenneth Reveiz; (Ward 28) Jill Marks; (Ward 3) Latrice James; (Ward 22) Barbara Constantinople; (Ward 20) Delphine Clyburn; and (Ward 30) Carlton Staggers.