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New Parking Rules

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It's parking convenience with a cost in Providence

After a delay of several months, Providence is due to roll out electronic meters, and higher rates, on Dec. 27.

BY GREGORY SMITH

Journal Staff Writer | December 10, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- For the holidays, the capital city has adopted a relaxed attitude about overtime parking in certain commercial districts. It's a tradition.

But come the new year, drivers will have to cope with a decidedly nontraditional approach to curbside parking.

There will be a new kind of parking meter, higher meter charges, many more metered spaces than ever before, and a crackdown on parking too close to corners.

Installation of long-awaited electronic parking meters is scheduled to begin Dec. 27, and some will be in service as soon as Jan. 3, according to Thomas E. Deller, city director of planning and development. The old-fashioned, mechanical meters are out.

The electronic meters are meant to be more user-friendly than the mechanicals; they will accept specially issued smart cards with an embedded value akin to phone cards, as well as the quarters that have always been welcome. Eventually, officials say, the meters will be programmed to take payment by charge card, too.

Coupled with that convenience, however, will be higher charges. Hourly charges, which now vary from 50 cents to 75 cents, depending on location, will go up to $1.

For the time being, Mayor David N. Cicilline has relaxed enforcement of the overtime parking law downtown, at Wayland Square and other locations. It's a hi-how-are-you gesture to holiday shoppers and visitors.

Through New Year's Day, between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, tickets are not being doled out for overtime parking at meters and legal, curbside spots.

After that, the new meters will begin sprouting curbside.

An initial 550 meters will be installed at various points around Providence. The eventual total will be 2,000 to 2,500 citywide, Deller told a meeting of the Downtown Merchants Association yesterday.

Because the city has neglected its meters and many are broken or missing, some parkers will find that they will have to pay for cherished curbside spots for the first time in many years. And many spots will be metered for the first time, period.

At last word, Providence had about 600 working meters.

Electronic meters are being introduced and meter charges are being increased to boost municipal revenues and encourage turnover in parking spots. The city budgeted $2.5 million in revenue, assuming 1,200 meters would be operating for eight months of the current fiscal year.

Last year, the city boosted illegal-parking and traffic fines.

"As a parking operator, I can tell you that I look forward to those parking meters," businessman Charles Meyers said at the merchants meeting. He said that is not because he will make more money, but because a well-enforced meter program will prod all-day parkers to yield their spots to short-term parkers.

The historic rationale for meters is to stimulate a flow of vehicles into and out of parking spaces, to make it easier for people to patronize stores and other businesses nearby.

Most of the electronic meters will look familiar, with a single or double head on a post, depending on whether a particular unit covers one or two parking spaces. The difference will be the slot to insert a smart card.

Also to be deployed are colorful, kiosk-style meters -- four initially -- that will cover six or seven spaces each.

The kiosk-style meters dispense paper receipts that must be left visible in a vehicle window or on a dashboard as proof of payment. If a kiosk-style meter is out of order, a parker will be obliged to find the next closest such meter on the block and pay there.

The Cicilline administration only this month proposed to the City Council an ordinance change that would authorize the use of the multi-space kiosks. Given the council's schedule, the change likely won't be approved for a month and a half.

In a related development, Deller warned that for safety's sake, the police soon will begin enforcing a law against parking within 20 feet of an intersection.

Traffic has a tendency to clog because vehicles are parked too close to corners, making it difficult for large vehicles to pass and for vehicles emerging from side streets to see other vehicles and pedestrians, police Lt. Timothy Lee told the gathering.

Owners of parked vehicles sometimes find their side mirrors missing, torn off by other vehicles making tight turns, he said.

Prospective enforcement of the 20-foot rule drew quick objections from some of the merchants, who are concerned that the change might reduce the scarce supply of on-street parking spaces downtown.

"That's completely unrealistic in the kind of cityscape that we have," said Ruth Ferrazzano, owner of Murphy's delicatessen and bar on Union Street.

Deller said that if merchants don't like it, they will have to get a statute changed.

Earlier this year, city officials said installation of the electronic meters would begin in July. But the task, including a time-consuming effort to re-measure street curbs and determine precise meter locations, proved to be more complicated than expected.

In conjunction with the new meters, meter checkers will be issuing restyled parking tickets with new, handheld electronic ticketing devices.

Ten of the positions in the meter checker corps, however, are vacant due to resignations, or long-term injuries or illnesses, Deller said. Although the police also issue parking tickets, the vacancies call into question how aggressive the city's enforcement can be in the near future.

Deller told the merchants association that most of the new meters would allow two-hour parking, but some would be limited to 15 minutes. He met with them at Commerce Center downtown, where the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce keeps its offices.

Meters are in operation 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Sundays and holidays.

Regardless of the posted hours, day-shift meter checkers generally leave their patrols to return to the Public Safety Complex at about 3:15 p.m. each day. It was unclear yesterday how soon the city would replenish the checker corps and whether their work shifts would be reconfigured to coincide with the meter operating hours.

From The Providence Journal

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Parking sanity

Monday, December 20, 2004

The first wave of 550 new parking meters will be installed in Providence starting Dec. 27 and be operational downtown and in smaller commercial areas on Jan. 3. By the end of next year, some 2,500 new meters will have been installed, replacing the 600 or so in service now.

Along with new parking signs throughout the city, the new meters should finally bring some coherence to a parking environment that has long resembled a lottery. People who need to do business downtown should no longer be pre-empted by workers parking all day on the street. The latter will soon find it easier to park off of the street -- or to take the bus.

Spaces at curbs should turn over, not be hogged. The Providence Off Street Parking Authority has hired a consultant to help the city build more garages. (We wish him godspeed!)

Five times the number of spaces, at higher rates -- up from 75 to $1 for an hour -- should mean at least five times the amount of parking revenue for the city. Perhaps, however, this windfall will be reduced by the impact that a clear and sensible parking environment might have on the number of parking tickets issued. On the other hand, people will still park beyond the time they have left on the meter, so . . .

Drivers will have to get used to these changes, and the city should make sure they are well publicized. Visitors should be warned, for example, that a longstanding state law creating a no-parking zone of 20 feet at every corner will now be strictly enforced, for safety reasons.

It would not be necessary were it not for the prevalence of SUVs and minivans, which, unlike cars, block views around corners.

Another parking travesty has transformed 9/11 into private on-site parking lots for federal workers just east of Kennedy Plaza. Unattractive Jersey barriers (whose use in deflecting potential car-bomb blasts is dubious) have been placed just far enough from curbs to allow cars to park. The barriers should be removed, if possible.

Parking in Providence, and especially downtown, has been a frustrating game of luck and patience, a sort of urban hide-and-seek, for far too long. The new meters are a welcome harbinger of a better parking world.

From The Providence Journal

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ProvPass.jpg

High-tech meters hit the roads this month

BY GREGORY SMITH Journal Staff Writer | January 13, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- Time has expired for the city's mechanical parking meters.

They are being replaced by electronic meters that allow motorists to pay with a specially issued plastic smart card, called a ProvPass, as well as quarters.

Eventually, motorists will be able to pay with credit cards, too.

After a year and a half of preparation by city officials, Mayor David N. Cicilline showed off the new meters yesterday at a City Hall news conference. He called it an "incredibly exciting day" and said the ProvPass could become a new Christmas gift.

Over the next week, weather permitting, officials said 500 battery-powered electronic meters will be placed on existing or new meter poles downtown, in most cases replacing meters.

Of those 500, 10 are expected to be multispace kiosks topped with solar panels that a motorist would use differently from electronic meters configured in the familiar single- and double-head style. Solar energy gathered by the panels would repower the batteries.

After years of attrition, there are only 380 operable meters left downtown, according to John C. Simmons, city director of administration. At last word, there were only about 600 citywide.

Cicilline said the electronic meters provide at least four benefits:

They are more convenient because they allow three forms of payment, counting the eventual credit-card capacity.

Motorists will be able to save money if they use the smart card because they won't have to leave unused time on a meter.

With greater turnover in parking spaces, parking availability would improve. He did not make it clear how turnover would increase, but city officials have said previously that a higher meter charge and diligent enforcement would tend to discourage all-day parkers.

Sidewalk clutter would be reduced to the extent that the colorful kiosks supplant traditionally configured, charcoal-gray, single- and double-head meters.

Unmentioned by the mayor is the fact that the city has increased the hourly charge to park in a metered space, to $1. The current charge is 50 cents or 75 cents, depending on location.

He did acknowledge, however, that even as the new meters will make parking more convenient, the city expects to raise more money. An estimate of the increased meter revenues was not immediately available.

The kiosks would work this way: A motorist would park and find the kiosk. An illuminated screen would say: "Welcome to City of Providence. Park card and coin payment available."

There will be an option for Spanish-language instructions.

The ProvPass functions like a phone card, carrying an embedded value that is drawn down.

After payment is inserted, a motorist would push a button on the kiosk for each 15-minute increment that the motorist intends to stay. The meter would feed out a paper receipt that the motorist would place on the dashboard of their vehicle so it is visible to a meter checker.

The single- and double-head meters would work similarly but without the paper receipt.

In both kinds of meters, when a ProvPass is inserted, the remaining value on the card is displayed. Upon returning to the vehicle, the motorist must reinsert the card. The meter calculates the charge for the time used and restores to the card any unused value.

It was unclear yesterday how the kiosks can be put into service without authorization by the City Council. Municipal parking ordinances currently have no provision for multispace meters, so the administration recently submitted a corrective amendment.

The council has not acted on the amendment.

"This is just the first step toward making downtown more accessible and convenient to the thousands of people who visit and work here every day," Cicilline said in a statement. "As we move forward with this program, we will focus on adding . . . meters throughout the city. . ."

Administration officials have said that as many as 2,500 electronic meters would be installed citywide -- many more meters than currently exist.

The installation of new meters outside downtown will await discussion with political leaders and community groups regarding meter locations and other issues, the mayor said.

Electronic meters are the most visible part of an Internet-age parking management system being instituted by the Cicilline administration that includes the use of new software for recording meter collections, issuing and tracking parking tickets and collecting payments on delinquent tickets.

ACS State & Local Solutions Inc., of Philadelphia, is providing the Canadian-made meters and the system management under a contract with the city.

ACS would be paid for the meters and its services with a share of the revenue from the estimated 250,000 parking tickets that meter checkers and police officers issue each year. Fines for illegal parking and certain traffic violations were boosted last year in anticipation of the new arrangement.

Officials did not have an immediate projection of how much ACS would be paid over time.

The meters also represent a preliminary stage in the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive parking strategy that would include, among other aspects, the development of more parking garages, longer hours for meter operation, and a broad-based parking-validation system for people visiting downtown stores and offices.

Meters are in operation Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Cicilline also raised the possibility that private lots and garages ultimately would agree to accept ProvPass.

The use of ProvPass is scheduled to begin next Wednesday. Of the 10 kiosks downtown, four will be on Dorrance Street, but the location of the other six has not been determined, said Michele McCarthy of ACS.

She said flyers will be distributed explaining the new meters and that the kiosk spaces will be identified by signs and pavement or curb markings.

A ProvPass will be available for purchase in $1, $10 and $20 increments at the AAA motor club offices in Rhode Island, at Providence Municipal Court in the Public Safety Complex and at the Board of Licenses or tax collector's offices in City Hall. But according to McCarthy, they won't be fully available for sale until about Jan. 25.

By mid-February, officials expect the public will be able to order ProvPasses by phone or online for delivery by mail.

ProvPass bears a photograph of Waterplace Park and downtown by retired Providence Journal staff photographer Richard Benjamin, who donated the use of the photo.

The new meters are endorsed by the Downtown Merchants Association.

From The Providence Journal

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Here's a thread that I'll bet you all never thought would get bumped. I saw this interesting item on the docket for the September 18 City Council Public Works Committee Meeting:

Resolution Requesting the Traffic Engineer to amend their Rules and Regulations from

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extreme as in too far or extreme as in too close?

it's my opinion that anything shorter than 1 car length (which is about 13 feet upon looking it up) is too short. i actually think the 25 foot rule is just about right. in philly, it's 30. i think that's a bit extreme. if they do go any shorter than 25, it shouldn't go shorter than 20. it's really not safe pulling out of a street if there are cars parked close to the corner.

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One of our staff recently got a ticket for being within 25 feet of the corner on a quiet side street. We paced it off. She was 12 feet from the corner (about a car length) which seemed perfectly reasonable. 25 feet, when we looked at it after she moved her car, was a ridiculous amount of space. It looked like a bus stop between the car and the corner. There is no turning radius/visibility argument that needs 25 feet.

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