Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morison has been leading a charge for the city to free up on Monday through Thursday evenings 90 metered parking spots on Church and Elm streets near City Hall so more constituents — relieved of the anxiety that they might be hit with parking tickets — would attend government meetings.
Morrison didn’t get her free on-street parking. But her advocacy led to a pilot program approved Monday night, and she still declared herself pleased with a compromise outcome that removes parking as an obstacle to participation in the city’s democratic process.
If it works.
The approval came at Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting of the Traffic Authority at 1 Union Avenue. The commissioners voted to approve a compromise worked out last week between city traffic chief Doug Hausladen and the Board of Alders Parking & Transportation Working Group committee.
The compromise presented to the traffic commissioners includes free parking to be made available in two lots near City Hall, one owned by the city and one by Yale University.
By terms of the compromise, beginning Sept. 1 the pilot program will feature free parking for attendance at public meetings of the Board of Alders. It will be offered at the New Haven Parking Authority’s Lot 32 on Elm Street on the south side between Orange and State and at Yale’s Lot 51 on the west side of Temple Street between Elm and Wall.
Yale’s lot will be available after 5:30 p.m. for both attendees at Board of Alder meetings as well as patrons of the New Haven Free Public Library. Morrison had heard from library patrons that parking anxiety had also been undermining their attendance at the main branch’s evening programs, as well, leading to more late returns of books.
Parkers will receive free parking vouchers to be validated by security staff at both 200 Orange, where many meetings are held, and by the security staff at City Hall.
Lot 32 has room for about 30 cars. Yale’s Lot 51 has capacity for about 100. However, it is a well-known mecca for parkers, both Yale-connected and not, and is often filled early in the evening.
Morrison declared herself “pleased” with the outcome, even though it includes no on-street parking because the parking for meeting attendees is now free. “Free, that’s the obstacle,” she said.
The matter, however, was not quite settled.
In addition to negotiating with the two lots for free parking and making the technical arrangements for the vouchers, Hausladen also offered to provide “wayfinding” signs — on A-frame sandwich boards — so people will know how to find the free parking lots.
“The signage is very important,” Morrison said.
Morrison has been telling her constituents that the parking will be available by Sept. 1. She asked if the lots, and vouchers, and signs will all be available by that date.
Aware that he has yet to bid out the creation of the wayfinding signs, Hausladen asked if he could have everything in place by Sept. 12, the date of the next traffic commissioners’ meeting.
She asked the commissioners to include in their approval a Plan B, so that if the plan and the signs are not ready on Sept 1, could she have some interim free on-street parking until the plan is fully operational.
“If Doug is not ready, the goal is to eliminate the fear of tickets, so can we have on-street” free parking for that interim period? she asked.
“Are you OK with that?” asked Commissioner Evelise Ribeiro.
“I’m going to get it done,” Hausladen replied.
Hausladen said he was copasetic about everything but meeting the deadline for the creation of the signs. He noted that Mayor Toni Harp has imposed a “slow walk” contracting freeze until the state passes a budget.
Hausladen said he can have the signs done by Sept. 1 if he moves the project to the top of his busy to-do list. “You’re signaling that this is a priority?” he asked the commissioners.
“Yes,” replied commission Chairman Anthony Dawson. “We’re optimistic it’s going to be done by Sept. 1.”
Optimistic wasn’t quite certain enough for Commissioner Greg Smith. “Doug, let’s be realistic,” he said.
“Only the signage is left,” replied Hausladen. He said the signage should not be a deal-breaker. “I’m very comfortable providing these signs. They might be a version one. But we’ll get something out by Sept. 1.”
The pilot program will run through June 2018, with a review by the commissioners and Morrison to take place in May.
Hausladen also committed to getting the word out about the new free parking to advance democracy through the city’s management teams.