Parking in Downtown Summit has been the subject of political and public debate since cars used leaded gas. This talk is not cheap since parking studies come with a luxury price tag. 

Some general conditions are worth noting. Summit presently has close to 3,000 public parking spaces most within walking distance of downtown. Private property owners in the same area add nearly 1,000 parking spaces.  Many similar NJ communities have far fewer parking resources and no structured parking facilities; Summit has 2 parking decks with almost 1,000 spaces. Summit has: A high downtown daytime employment, a busy NJ Transit hub and a vibrant pedestrian oriented shopping district; these uses put demand on parking resources. Parking spaces are both abundant and scarce depending on when and where you want to park. 

Shoppers and Visitors- weekdays after 6 pm and all day Sunday there are more than 2,000 completely free parking spaces within walking distance of downtown.  Weekdays & Saturday from 8a to 6p you pay at street meters and designated lots. The commuter and employee parking spaces located in the garages & lots, more than 1,000 spaces are free all day Saturday.  (Parking over-night needs a permit)  Plenty of hourly parking spaces can be found at-meters and on designated lots Monday through Friday, except during peak demand hours between 11 and 2.  Commuters and Employees- These groups suffer the most from poorly allocated and poorly marked resources. This is a Monday –Friday day rate and permit holder problem.

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The public debate today is focused on adding more parking spaces in the form of a new parking deck.  The questions are:  Where? How many spaces?  What cost?   I’m not opposed to more parking. However, a more immediate discussion should deal with whether the City of Summit is making the most of existing parking resources.  I don’t believe the City administration is doing an adequate job of managing the nearly 3,000 spaces for commuters, employees and shoppers/visitors. 

Ball park math for a new parking deck is around $30,000 per space and a public structure worth building is 300 to 400 + spaces.  So this is a $10 million project to add around 10 percent capacity. Financing a new deck with only the current $4 per day rate from weekday commuters or employees will be tough.  

How do you get more out of parking spaces you have? 

The last real parking study-Desman, completed in 2009 has some ideas to improve parking use in Summit and I have some observations.

Ideas & observations

  • Renew commuter and employee permits once a year. Today, these permits never expire. -Desman
  • Concentrate commuter parking at Broad St Garage and East lot- Desman (the present system makes commuter and employee spaces hard to find)
  • Adjust employee inventory to accommodate day rates and 3 to 5 hour parking demand (not all employees are tethered to a desk for a full day)
  • Seek professional advice (an independent analyst) to balance hourly and day rate parking demand with inventory
  • Change 90 minute street meters to a maximum time of 2 hours with an end time of 8 PM-Desman, and limit time a vehicle (by license number) can park in the downtown meter zone each day. This will reduce the abuses of meter feeding and space shifting.
  • Eliminate the 15 minute free button on meters and any spaces that limit parking to less than 30 minutes.  (This is a ticket trap)
  • Review the operational problems and customer satisfaction issues with the new Deforest lots’ parking control system
  • Design a lot designation and way finding signage program-Desman (so someone new to town can find a parking space)
  • Change parking enforcement policy to target repeat offenders and graciously educate uninformed violators.  A flawed parking system out of step with users produces excessive ticketing.  Parking enforcement used to better manage resources is different than enforcement for revenue.

These are operational changes and small capital projects that can be done now to make the existing parking resources work better for everyone; then consider more spaces. 

Robert Steelman