Higher fees a strategy to manage parking
Increasing daily parking rates, selling more permits for the Leroy West train parking lot, and simplifying regulations on the town’s parking supply are some changes brought forward by a consultant’s just-completed study on managing existing spots in downtown Darien.
“Nobody wants to be in the paper for creating more expensive parking, but from a management perspective more expensive parking can be the right thing to do,” said Tom Brown, who completed the study for consultant Nelson-Nygaard.
Members of the Board of Selectmen who serve as the town’s Parking Authority heard a broad overview of the 100-plus page study focusing on commuter parking downtown and ways to increase commercial parking downtown for businesses.
“Making sure on a day-to-day basis you are managing your parking in an efficient way (is the goal),” Brown said. “Most people don’t realize how expensive parking is not just construction, it is the surface lots that could be another land use, particularly in Darien where all the land is particularly valuable especially downtown.”
Trying to get employees of local businesses to carpool or use transit such as buses along with making more permits available on Old Kings Highway South could also create more spaces for shoppers near businesses, according to the study.
Further measures to ease parking for downtown visitors could include adding two short-term parking spaces on every downtown block, and reserving at least 10 percent of spots in surface lots for short-term parking. In Darien short-term parking spaces range from 15 minutes to up to three hours.
“You want to make it look like a lot has availability for me and I won’t be chasing down a space at the back,” Brown said.
Darien should also raise all-day parking rates at town-owned lots including lots at the Darien and Noroton Heights lots from $3 a day to $8 a day to winnow demand which fills up the lots early in the morning, according to the study.
“You have to get their extremely early to get a spot,” Brown said. “If availability could remain a little closer to the traditional peak for the morning commute it would give a greater availability and less of everybody trying to squeeze in at the same time.”
To ease parking for visitors and business customers, another possible change could be consolidating different types of short-term parking to make it easier to understand for visitors and adding way-finding signage for local businesses, Brown said.
A downtown parking map on the town’s website showing where the town’s differently regulated parking is located could also help out-of-town visitors find parking easily.
“Your lots don’t always immediately identify the opportunities for visitor parking,” Brown said.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson asked whether Brown thought the town should begin charging fees for downtown non-commuter spaces, which currently don’t carry fees for parking up to three hours.
Brown said given Darien has not charged for visitor parking at downtown lots in the past, adding charges could be a “big leap.” One option would be to create longer-term spaces for visitors who wish to stay for more than four hours.
“At some point pricing can be valid for short-term parking as well,” Brown said. “(Darien) is really becoming more of a destination place so you may see more people looking for more than three hours of parking.”
Republican Selectman Susan Marks said many commuters parking in daily spots at the train stations might not respond to higher pricing because the spots at the Darien and Noroton Heights stations are convenient.
“People have been daily parking for 25 years and they’ve never applied for a yearly permit because they think it is more convenient in the daily lot even though it is considerably more expensive,” Marks said. “Do you have any insight why(raising the price) might make a difference?”
Brown said across the country cities are trying to use pricing to better manage parking to serve all user groups, and that at a certain point price will change behavior, even in Darien.
“You don’t know where the ceiling will be but price will always make a difference at some point,” Brown said. “… It is definitely new territory but eventually it will make a difference in places connected to New York City. Eventually someone will say I will get (a yearly) permit because the cost savings are so much more now.”