Pittsburgh City Council ponders enforcing nighttime parking


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Pittsburgh officials must decide by Dec. 31 whether to resume nighttime enforcement of on-street parking meters in seven neighborhoods -- a practice implemented in summer 2011 and then quickly suspended amid a public outcry.

Street meters across the city currently are enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Under an existing law, that will change Jan. 2, when enforcement is extended four hours, until 10 p.m. six days a week, Downtown; on the North Shore and South Side; and in Oakland, Shadyside, the Strip District and Squirrel Hill.

In December 2010, city council passed a five-year schedule of meter rate increases -- and approved nighttime enforcement in the selected neighborhoods -- as an indirect part of a pension bailout. The first rate increases and the nighttime enforcement provisions took effect in June 2011.

Amid motorists' complaints and council's squabbling with the parking authority over the pace of a meter modernization program, council quickly suspended nighttime enforcement until 2013.

Now, the authority has nearly completed the replacement of thousands of single-space meters, which accepted only quarters, with multi-space machines that take quarters and credit cards.

Also, noting the need to generate additional revenue, council President Darlene Harris said she wants to return nighttime enforcement to the seven neighborhoods. At a budget hearing last week, Mrs. Harris told David Onorato, the authority's executive director, to prepare for the additional hours.

However, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Bill Peduto, neither of whom attended the hearing, later said they would prefer to keep the citywide enforcement cutoff at 6 p.m.

"My inclination is to show support for small business and keep it at 6," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

Mr. Peduto said he will introduce legislation Tuesday to keep the current hours but does not know whether a majority of his colleagues will support him.

"Our local business districts were hurt by nighttime enforcement," he said in an email. "We should find more ways to encourage people to shop in our neighborhoods. My legislation will help our mom-and-pop stores compete against suburban shopping malls and national big-box retailers."

The 7,000 on-street parking spaces citywide are a joint responsibility of the city and the parking authority. The city owns the spaces, but the parking authority operates the meters. The authority keeps more than 90 percent of meter revenue, while the city keeps more than 90 percent of fine revenue.

The authority already has nighttime enforcement at metered lots throughout the city. The current debate involves only on-street meters, and business leaders had mixed opinions on the issue.

Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said he is certain that business people would like customers to continue to have free nighttime parking at meters. However, he said on-street meters represent a relatively small segment of Downtown parking and noted that the parking authority already offers a $5 flat rate at Downtown garages on nights and weekends.

Richard Rattner, president of Shadyside Chamber of Commerce, said nighttime enforcement would be another factor pushing shoppers to suburban malls. Noting that business people complained about the previous attempt to impose nighttime meter enforcement, he said the change will reopen a wound.

Nathan Hart, president of Oakland Planning and Development Corp. and vice president of Oakland Community Council, said "there's logic" to nighttime enforcement.

"On one hand, Oakland is a 24-hour community," Mr. Hart said. "We have universities that have evening classes. We have hospitals running all shifts of the day and night ... Certainly parking demand in the evening in Oakland isn't that much less than it is during the day."

But if enforcement of meters is extended, he said, enforcement of the residential permit parking program should be extended also to keep commuters and visitors from hogging free spaces on residential streets.

In addition to the possibility of nighttime enforcement, part of Oakland is one of nine areas slated for a bump in on-street meter rates Jan. 2.

In the area of Oakland roughly bounded by Baum and Bigelow boulevards, Forbes Avenue and South Millvale Avenue, the hourly rate will go to $2, an increase of $1.

Mr. Hart said officials should monitor use of the spaces to ensure that the increase does not kill demand. He noted that city officials and Carnegie Mellon University are undertaking similar monitoring around the university campus. The hourly rate at CMU and in most of Oakland already is $2.

On the North Shore, the hourly rate will increase to $2.50, up 50 cents. The rate will go to $1, up 25 cents, in Allentown, Beechview, Bloomfield-Garfield, East Liberty, Lawrenceville, Mellon Park and the West End.

Mark Fatla, executive director of Northside Leadership Conference, said he believes the neighborhood can withstand the increase. Because of public investment in parking garages on the North Shore, he said, it would be wise to encourage more motorists to use those facilities.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published December 3, 2012 5:00 AM


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