PATERSON, NJ – At rush hour, the streets of downtown Paterson grind to a halt. Cars, trucks and buses line up like multicolored dominoes. The sound of their honking horns fills the air and their brake lights glow red as the day settles into dusk. Drivers wait impatiently for the traffic light to turn green, and then they wait some more for the vehicles in front of them to crawl ahead.
City officials are trying to change that. On October 25, the City Council voted to create “no parking zones’’ on sections of Broadway, Market and Streets during weekday evenings. Officials also are considering a rush hour parking ban on Grand Street.
But the plan has come under fire from the city’s business community, which fears the restrictions will make downtown a “no stop” zone that will prompt customers to take their business to Clifton, Paramus and other towns.
“I welcome congestion,” said Ekaterina Valiotis, director of property management at Alma Realty Corporation on Main Street. “We need to encourage an in-flow of traffic to bring in customers.”
Alex Delossantos, owner of Alex’s Photo Studio and Video Center on Market Street, worries about the impact of the no parking zones.
“Right now customers complain about parking, if they can’t park at all it will be a problem for sure,” said Delossantos.
But city officials say shoppers still have plenty of places to park in downtown. Public parking garages with empty spaces stand within a quarter mile of the three areas where parking is being banned, said Christopher Coke, the city’s public works director.
The no parking zones, he said, will make down Paterson easier to navigate for motorists as well as pedestrians.
Under the ordinances approved by the city council, parking will be banned between 4 pm and 6 pm on weekdays on Broadway between Main Street and Memorial Drive, Market Street between Main and Mill streets and Main Street between Grand and Ward streets. The restriction will effect in the one direction, the way heading out of Paterson
Before the law takes effect, Coke said, some planning needs to get done : getting the signal timing right, educating the merchants and residents on the law and planning for implantation.
Merchants worry that restricting parking late in the afternoon will cut into crucial hours of business. They say most customers tend to leave before dark falls.
“We’re closing businesses earlier and pushing people out,” Valiotis said. “We’re limiting the city’s growth for no reason.” She said that the Council should create parking laws that will bring in revenue, not take away the customers.
Some business owners also feel the law will be ineffective. John Waryas Jr., who has a family business called Main Army-Navy located on Main Street, says he doesn’t think the traffic is that bad in downtown. Waryas, a council member in Totowa, says a better solution would be to adjust the timing on the traffic lights.
Warytas takes the parking issue seriously. He keeps faded newspaper clippings about previous parking proposals.
“It’s ridiculous,’’ he said of the impending changes. “I plan on trying to fight the law.”
The Paterson Parking Authority has two parking lots near Market and Main Streets that can be used, officials said. But Councilman Rigo Rodriguez said that the parking lot approach is faulty, calling it a “concept of inconvenience.” Making customers park in a lot and forcing them to walk long distances to stores will render the city’s shopping experience uncomfortable, Rodriguez said.
“We’re falling into the trap of making people shop elsewhere,” Rodriguez said. “Instead, we need to synchronize the lights and conduct a traffic study to manage the traffic flow.”
Although many employees that work on the affected streets are locals and are able to walk or take public transportation, some employees, like Amal Gaber have to drive and park near the store. Gaber, a sales associate at Golden Electronic on Main Street, said that the law is “pointless for people who have to drive to work.”
“I give it a two thumbs down,” Gaber said.
While the streets are filled with vehicles during rush hour, there are still spots available. Resident Keisha Towns said the traffic during rush hour wasn’t that bad and that it would only take 10 to 15 minutes maximum to find a spot.
“It would be inconvenient if you just have to run into a store for a brief period of time and you don’t want to pay for a parking lot,” Towns said, while sitting in her car. “If you’re parked on the side, that’s not traffic.”
It remains to be seen whether the new law will fix the congestion issues, but Coke said the ordinance is in line with what most cities do. Newark and Jersey City, for example, have similar restrictions on certain streets.
“People are just afraid of change and it would be a change,” Coke said.