There nearly weren’t enough chairs to accommodate all the visitors to the Brashear Association last Tuesday night. Approximately 150 South Siders crammed into the meeting hall to hear what Neighborhood City Planner Ashley Holloway had to say about the letters sent them in the preceding weeks.
Mr. Holloway works for the City of Pittsburgh, and the letters he’d sent contained an invitation to attend Tuesday’s informational meeting about the city’s Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP), held in response to resident requests to expand designated permit parking area DD to include 17th through 22nd streets and to create a new permit parking area from 22nd to 29th streets.
In his opening comments, Mr. Holloway made clear certain things: “This meeting is an informational meeting only… I’m here to talk about the background of the program and the designation process, not to make a personal recommendation or collect opinions on whether or not permit parking is a good idea for certain streets.
“That decision is yours… The city will not make it for you, and will not force permit parking on any street. My job is to give you accurate information so you can make an informed decision.”
Elaborating on these points, Mr. Holloway said the RPPP is a resident-driven program, initiated by residents, petitioned for by residents, and enforced during days and hours chosen by residents.
“By law, residents are given the right to receive a permit parking designation on any city street if certain criteria are met,” stated Mr. Holloway. “Those criteria, however, are very strict.”
After Mr. Holloway receives a request for permit parking and holds an informational meeting for the community, the burden shifts to residents to petition their neighbors for signatures for or against permit parking.
Only one resident per occupied household can sign the petition. Businesses-owners, nonresidential or vacant lot-owners, nonresident landlords and/or multiple tenants sharing a single unit cannot sign.
If at least 70 percent of eligible households are in favor of permit parking, Mr. Holloway’s office verifies the information to ensure against ineligible or multiple signatures, confusing or blank entries, and fraud or any other misrepresentation.
If the petition survives verification, Mr. Holloway and his team conduct a parking survey, where they go to the street, examine off-street parking options, and, once an hour for three hours, write down the license plate numbers of every car parked on the street. The license plate numbers are then sent to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to obtain the registered address for each vehicle.
If, as dictated by the Municipal Code, 15 percent of parking spaces are utilized by nonresidents and/or commuters for at least two hours, the area is deemed to have a “parking problem,” and Mr. Holloway gives his report to the City Planning Commission, which reviews it and makes its recommendation for it to go before City Council.
If approved by council, the recommendation is sent to the mayor for review. If the mayor signs it, the permit parking designation becomes official, enforceable legislation.
That’s a lot of ifs, a lot of numbers to crunch, and, said Mr. Holloway, a lot of thresholds a petition can fail to meet.
And, based on comments and questions voiced at the meeting, “fail” is exactly what most audience members would like to see the petition do.
“What about all the renters down here?” a resident asked. “There are five or six kids living in some of these apartments. Do they all get a spot?”
“The program doesn’t distinguish between renters and homeowners,” replied Mr. Holloway. “The only stipulation for buying permits is that no more than three unrelated persons living in the same household can buy permits, and together they can buy only one visitor’s pass (per household).
“The key word is ‘unrelated,’” Mr. Holloway stressed. “The city does not regulate how many permits a family or individual can buy.
“For instance, if every member in a family of five has a car, the family can buy five permits. Or, if one person owns 12 cars, he can get 12 permits.”
“How can the city allow that?” a resident asked.
To this, Mr. Holloway answered: “You live on a public street. So long as a vehicle does not appear to be abandoned, anyone can park on your street for however long they want… You do not own a parking spot, and the city is not obligated to provide parking near your home.
“The program does not create new parking spaces and honors other existing regulations, such as meters, ‘No Parking’ and ‘Loading Zone’ signs, and handicapped-accessible spots… It doesn’t sell or guarantee you a spot either. It’s only meant to help—and it’s your decision whether or not you want that help… My job is to give you accurate information so you can make an informed decision.”
Another South Sider asked about how visitor’s passes would be used and enforced.
“A visitor’s pass can only be used for up to three consecutive days per vehicle per month, and is only for transient visitors (those who visit a resident in his or her home),” Mr. Holloway replied.
Concerning enforcement, Mr. Holloway said visitor’s passes, just like permits, are enforced by the Parking Authority, an entity separate from city government. Once a permit parking designation is made for a street, the residents get to decide on which days and during which hours parking is enforced, within the hours of the Parking Authority’s operation.
Several hands rose when Mr. Holloway said the authority’s hours of operation are between 7 a.m. and midnight.
“That doesn’t help us much,” a gentleman exclaimed. “We’d need it enforced up ‘til 2 or 3 a.m., to deal with all the people that park here and go to bars.”
“That’s not possible,” Mr. Holloway asserted. “The Parking Authority has to regulate parking in 32 permit parking areas throughout the city… (The RPPP) is a city-wide program and can’t cater to any one community’s needs.
“There must be continuity across the board, with the same designation process and enforcement rules applying to every city neighborhood.”
On this note, Mr. Holloway said the RPPP was originally accepted into code in 1981, to accommodate residential parking near institutional facilities like hospitals and universities.
Acknowledging that a lot has changed since 1981, Mr. Holloway commented the program needs to be updated, “But it’s not updated yet; and until it is, we have to follow it, as is.”
One thing that’s changed since the ‘80s is the prevalence of hospitality regions rich with bars, restaurants and specialty stores. Several persons at the meeting were owners of such South Side haunts.
“What does this mean for my employees and customers?” a business-owner asked.
Mr. Holloway said each business is given one permit and one visitor’s pass, prompting a wave of disapproving grunts throughout the audience.
Grace periods were suggested as a way to accommodate customers. The grace period in a permit parking area is the amount of time a vehicle without a permit or pass can park in the area without being ticketed. It is selected by the residents and is typically one or two hours.
Taking this to a personal level, a young woman inquired, “So if my cousin and I both want to visit my grandmother on the same day, one of us gets to use her pass; and the other will have to obey the grace period, and get a ticket if we stay with Grandma for more than an hour or two?”
“Correct,” Mr. Holloway concluded. “Those without permits or passes park at their own risk… Though, for large parties or events, a variance can be requested in advance.”
“Two visitors isn’t a large party,” the young woman laughed.
“These are the types of things you must consider when asked to sign the petition,” Mr. Holloway instructed. “You have to decide which is greater—your need, as a resident, to park near your home, or other factors, like hosting visitors or generating business in the area.
“And you must also consider the potential for a domino effect… If one area gets permit parking, the nonresident and commuter vehicles that used to park there will need somewhere else to park, and could flood another nearby area, causing that area to request permit parking, and so on.”
This possibility, Mr. Holloway noted, is made more perplexing because permit parking can be granted on a block-by-block basis, meaning one block (defined as an area between two intersections) may qualify for permit parking, while another—only a few yards away—may not.
Reminding the audience, yet again, that the RPPP is a resident-driven program, Mr. Holloway said a designated permit parking area can be “un-designated” if 70 percent of eligible households vote to have the designation removed; and an area that fails to qualify for permit parking now can reapply at a later time.
The turnaround time for a designation is anywhere from four months to two years, depending on the size of an applicant area, the number of other requests in Mr. Holloway’s inbox, and road and weather conditions that could affect the parking survey period.
The clock starts ticking when petitioners hit the streets. The length of the petition period depends on whether residents seek to expand an existing area or create a new designation. For the expansion of area DD, the petition period began on Wed., June 19 and will continue for 30 days.
Petitioning for the new permit area from 22nd to 29th streets has not yet begun, but will be conducted for 90 days once started.
As far as costs, the fee for a parking permit is $20 per year; and a visitor’s pass is an additional $1 per year. Folks who park in violation of the regulations could find a $45 ticket plastered to their windows.
“The city actually loses money on permit parking,” said Councilman Bruce Kraus, who attended the meeting not only as an elected official but also as a South Side resident living in a permit parking area. “The designation process, administrative fees and other costs outweigh whatever money the city gets back from permit fees.”
Speaking of his home neighborhood, the District 3 councilman continued: “South Side is a very unique neighborhood, with very unique needs. Permit parking may not be the solution to every complaint, but it’s not possible for everyone to get everything they want all the time.
“This neighborhood was built in the 1800s… and there just isn’t the infrastructure to support the influx of vehicles moving in and out of the area… Until we can create a business development scheme that isn’t so vehicle-dependent, we need to work with what we have and try to strike a balance between residents’ and businesses’ needs.
“What Mr. Holloway has done here today is give you information on one potential way to strike that balance… As he’s said numerous times, ‘The decision is yours.’ I urge you to make it wisely.”