Permit parking begins and ends with city neighborhood residents
Prompted by a request from a Mount Washington resident to explore expanding permit parking in their neighborhood, City Planner Ashley Holloway called a community meeting to give background on the program and discuss next steps.
As part of his job, Mr. Holloway coordinates the Residential Permit Parking Program (RPPP) for the city of Pittsburgh.
“The program is resident based, so you all will choose whether you want the program or not,” he began. “It’s never forced on any street by the city.”
The city began its Residential Permit Parking Program in 1981 in Lawrenceville around the old St. Francis Hospital. Currently there are 32 designated permit parking zones in the city.
Originally zones were geared toward neighborhoods with large employers, such as hospitals or universities. The program was then expanded in response to a large number of people, often suburbanites, coming into neighborhoods and using the on-street parking as “park and rides.”
Mr. Holloway said the nighttime economy is increasing in the city so there are neighborhoods experiencing evening and after dark parking problems. He noted there are a large number of bars in some neighborhoods, not just downtown, causing parking problems.
The city planner said he is looking at the city code to help with all parking issues including metered spaces and permit parking.
The main purpose of the RPPP is to help keep commuters and non-residents from parking on the street for a long period of time so residents have a greater chance of finding a parking space, he explained. The program doesn’t guarantee a parking space for anyone, nor does it guarantee a spot in front of anyone’s home.
“That is illegal in the city of Pittsburgh. You can’t assign a parking space in the middle of the street,” he added.
He noted some people may have a handicapped parking space in front of their home, but it doesn’t guarantee they will be able to park there. Anyone with a handicapped placard is permitted to park in the space.
Permit parking doesn’t create more parking, Mr. Holloway told the crowd of about 30 people at the meeting. The program also isn’t designed to help people in a large apartment building find parking for multiple cars.
“There’s nothing in city law that says that space belongs to you,” he continued, adding it’s technically illegal to put something out (such as a chair) to save a parking space and a police office could issue a citation to anyone putting something on the street to save the space.
What the program may do is keep non-residents from parking on the street during enforcement hours.
The RPPP area in Mount Washington, area “N” has enforcement hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday with a one-hour grace period. The grace period is the time a non-permit holder can park in the area without fear of receiving a ticket.
“If you all would choose to have the program, those would be your enforcement hours,” Mr. Holloway said. “That’s something you would have to live with for another few months.”
RPPP areas come up for recertification every four years and area “N” will be up for recertification this year.
The administrative cost for a parking permit is $20 per vehicle. Residents are allowed one permit per vehicle for as many vehicles as they own, provided they can show proof of ownership.
Residents are also allowed to purchase one visitor’s pass for a dollar. The pass is only good for the visitor while they are visiting inside the home.
Mr. Holloway said it’s also necessary for residents to prove they live in the house to be able to purchase permits or visitors’ passes. If there are more than three unrelated people living in a house, only the first three will be able to get permits for their vehicles.
According to city code, it’s illegal for more than three unrelated persons to live in a dwelling unit. A dwelling unit is an individual home with its own kitchen and bathroom.
Among the qualifying factors for a street to be designated for permit parking only are:
• At least 70 percent of the households on the block must be in favor of permit parking. Petitions are circulated for 30 days and one legal resident of the home must sign and indicate they want permit parking. Only one signature per household is needed.
All occupied units in an apartment building are considered as separate households and each get a vote. Vacant properties are not considered.
The legal definition of a block, according to Mr. Holloway, is a portion of the street between two intersections. A block equals both sides of the street and a block face is only on one side.
All signatures on the petitions are then verified not only to make sure they are residents, but also to confirm they are for or against permit parking on their street. Both options are on the petitions and people sometimes change their mind after checking their option, Mr. Holloway said.
• At least 75 percent of legal on-street parking spaces are utilized during peak periods.
• At least 15 percent of the current spaces are utilized by non-residents for more than two hours.
Mr. Holloway and city planning interns determine the number of legal parking spaces in a proposed area. They also will survey the proposed parking zone, taking down all the license plate numbers which are then sent to Harrisburg to determine whether the owner of the vehicle is a resident of the area. Vehicles with out-of-town license plates are automatically considered to be non-residents.
One resident was concerned about where neighborhood businesses’ employees were going to park.
Mr. Holloway said businesses are only allowed to purchase one parking permit. However, the city has on occasion refrained from posting permit parking signs around a particular business or building.
He said it allows anyone to park there, not just customers or employees of the business.
Another Mount Washington resident was concerned about how the permit areas are enforced.
Often people will call the Parking Authority, the agency in charge of the enforcement, and report illegal parkers the city planner said. He noted parking enforcement officers carry hand-held computers they can input the license plate numbers of vehicles without permits. If the vehicle is still there when they return after the grace period it’s a $45 fine.
“It’s not enforced,” the resident replied. “I have people getting out of their cars and getting on the bus.”
Mr. Holloway reiterated once the permit parking area is established the Parking Authority takes over enforcement. He stressed the Parking Authority and the city are separate entities and utilize separate staff members.
“What motivates them to patrol our neighborhood,” another gentleman asked.
“Just constant complaining,” Mr. Holloway recommended. He also suggested calling 311 and their City Council representative and repeating the details of the complaint.
He said companies can request a variance to allow them to temporarily park in the area while they are working in the area. Residents may also request a variance if they are holding a party or event during enforcement hours.
Once the petitions are verified and it’s determined the streets actually have a parking problem, the city’s Planning Commission is briefed on the permit only area. The legislation creating the area is then presented to City Council for a vote. If approved, the mayor must then sign off to create the new or expanded district.
If the neighborhood decides not to pursue the permit parking district after taking the preliminary steps and later elects to try again, they are put at the bottom of the waiting list and must start the process from scratch.
Once an area is designated a permit parking area and decides to withdraw the designation during the recertification process, residents would have to wait two years before reapplying to reinstate the district.