Could Albany permit parking include non-resident buy-in?
Published on 1/14/2011 by the Times Union
ALBANY -- The head of the city's parking authority is continuing to prod Albany to think bigger as it drafts its long-awaited residential permit-parking law, and his ideas could mean state workers who long opposed the system might not be kicked completely off the curb.
Michael Klein, the Albany Parking Authority's executive director, ruffled feathers in October when he went so far as to suggest that city consider allowing residents to sell their downtown parking privileges, presumably to a eager pool of state workers, for a profit on a secondary market.
Despite tepid support for that idea on the task force appointed by Mayor Jerry Jennings to hash out how the downtown parking system will work, Klein -- a task force member himself -- has nonetheless continued to promote models that would not freeze out commuters completely.
Klein's latest proposal involves a hybrid system that would allow the city to issue parking permits to residents, business owners and -- in limited numbers and for a higher price -- some non-resident commuters.
Boulder, Colo., uses a similar system, selling non-resident permits on a first-come-first-served basis on blocks where the parking space vacancy rate exceeds 25 percent during the day -- meaning the spots sold to commuters are not depriving residents of places to park but merely using excess capacity.
While the non-resident permits would sell for more than those for residents, they could still be cheaper than the state charges public employees for the most coveted garage and lot spaces close to Empire State Plaza, Klein said, describing how the system might work if the city chose to pursue it.
He stressed, however, that the permit system's primary function should be a low-cost benefit to residents.
The revenue from the non-resident permits could be used to improve the specific neighborhoods where the commuters park, Klein said, adding that giving state workers a measure of buy-in might help preserve the system in the long run.
After more than two decades of haggling, the Legislature approved Albany's permit system last year on the condition that it be limited to a two-year pilot, after which state lawmakers would evaluate its success or failure.
State workers' unions sued to invalidate the city's last permit system in 1988 and have bitterly opposed the creation of a new one ever since on the grounds that it unfairly penalized their members without actually solving the underlying lack of available downtown parking.
The measure finally passed last year laden with compromises, including that no more than 2,750 of the roughly 9,000 spaces within three-quarters of a mile of the Empire State Plaza can be off-limits to those without permits.
If the city wants to see it extended, Klein said, it might do well to give state workers reason not to fight it.
"I think that's the market force that lets this survive the two-year sunset clause," Klein said at the task force's Friday meeting. "It will no longer be an issue if there's something in it for everybody."
It's not clear whether Klein's idea will win the support of the panel's other members, who include city Treasurer Kathy Sheehan and four members of the Common Council that will ultimately have to pass the law.
Councilmen Dominick Calsolaro and Anton Konev, both of whom represent affected neighborhoods, said they would not be opposed to considering the idea once the residential permit system is in place and if studies show there are unused spaces.
The panel received two more parking surveys from the city's Traffic Engineering Division on Friday: One conducted the during the day and one conducted at night.
There was a 20 percent vacancy rate during the date on the 11 blocks surveyed during the day, with just a 10 percent vacancy rate at night -- numbers that seem to confirm that the daytime permit system will solve just half of downtown's parking dilemma and not address the jockeying for spaces among residents that goes on at night.
The city plans to repeat the studies in the coming weeks on a day when the Legislature is in session, which the task force chairman, Councilman Richard Conti, said should give a fuller picture of the parking landscape and whether or not the hybrid system will work.
"It's an element that we have to spend some more time discussing," Conti said. "Part of the purpose of this license plate survey was to get a handle who parts on the streets and at what time of day."
Meanwhile, the panel spent much of its time Friday refining other aspects of the proposed law -- including how to make permits available to businesses and whether to award a finite number to households or any resident within the designated permit zones.
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