Yes, everyone, parking really is about to get easier in Princeton. This month the municipality is launching the first phase of improvements aimed at simplifying parking regulations, improving signage, and eliminating the need to scour your cars and pockets for loose change just so you can visit for a while.
We’ll be replacing the heads of parking meters along the streets and in smaller parking lots. Digital smart meters will be able to accept coins and also take payment through credit cards or via mobile app. Meters in larger lots will be replaced with pay stations.
The mobile apps aren’t just to make paying for parking easier when you first get out of your car. Paying through your phone makes it easier for visitors to keep enjoying themselves in town without having to run back to extend time for another 20 minutes. Imagine: you can be at dinner, realize your meter is running out, and not have to hurry through the end of your meal so you can make it back to your car in time.
Time limits in metered parking areas will still be enforced, of course. If you’ve paid for a full two hours, you’ll still have to move your car (and not just one space up, but more about that in a moment) at the end of two hours. But if you’ve only paid for an hour and you want more time, you will soon be able to add time to your meter from wherever you are in town on the Park Princeton mobile app.
That’s good for our visitors and for our businesses — if someone can add another 45 minutes onto their meter without having to leave the restaurant, that person might stick around for dessert and coffee.
Time limits will be simplified and made easier to identify, and rates will be more evened out as well. For too long, Princeton has had eight different time limits and a dozen rates on its meters, most blocked off into particular areas. But now there will be just five time limits — 15 minute, 30 minute, two-hour, three-hour, and all-day — downtown. Three-day parking at the Dinky station will be expanded to seven-day.
Rates will also be more uniform. Along with those eight time limits, Princeton has had 12 different rates, depending on where you park — even if you’re parked in the same area. Did you know, for example, that parking on the town side of Nassau Street was a different rate than parking on the university side of Nassau Street? A lot of us didn’t, and that’s the kind of thing we’re trying to fix.
And as for moving your car, the idea is to give visitors time to enjoy visiting, but also to keep spaces opening up. When you pay through your app or credit card, the meters will know where you parked, so if you want to stay in town a little longer, you won’t be able to just roll up to the open space in front of you. You’ll have to move around the corner.
But keep in mind, blocks of time will no longer be a thing. Each area of town will have a mix of parking times, so odds are you’ll be able to park closer to where you need to be. The idea is to make it easier for anyone who might have two small errands to run in two different parts of town — now they won’t have to go from 15-minute parking to three-hour parking (with different rates) just because their second errand happens to be in a longer-parking end of town.
We’ll also be adding about 30 new spaces to our metered inventory, so you will be more likely to find a place to park. They’ll also be easier to see. Part of the revamp will be color-coded meter decals and new signs that will tell you at a glance what time limits are available. We’ve worked with Princeton-based design firm Smith + Manning to make sure the town’s parking signs and meter decals are easy to see and immediately obvious. If you see green, for example, you know you’re looking at a two-hour parking space. Orange? That’s three hours. And yes, we’ll still have yellow meters to let you know you have 30 minutes.
The first phase will also include consideration of special event parking. That’s going to be a lot easier with the digital meters. Rates and parking times can be updated automatically to allow for special events parking. And there will be free parking some days, with a message to enjoy a day of shopping without having to pay to stay on the meter head.
The next phase of our parking revamp will kick off in the first quarter of 2019. Here we’ll be looking to make parking simpler for anyone who works downtown. The municipality is working with Princeton’s business owners and, of course, the Princeton Merchants Association, to investigate opportunities to provide employee on-street parking permits in designated areas.
While the next phase of parking in Princeton still needs council approval, we’re not worried. The municipality and the PMA are working together to make the transition as streamlined as possible so that when it comes time for the council to sign off, there should be no reason not to.
We’ll also be updating our parking maps and our municipal website to make things clearer and more accessible. If all goes well, Phase 2 should be implemented by the time the Princeton Class of 2019 graduates.
Deanna Stockton is the municipal engineer.