Park Slope merchants fear meter hike

Pricier parking meters might make it heaven for drivers searching for a parking spot — but if the city raises rates in Park Slope, it will be a living hell for local shopkeepers, merchants said this week.

With that in mind, local businesses are hoping to thwart the Department of Transportation from initiating another increase, which they fear will cripple their bottom line.

“This is really going to hurt business,” said Irene Lo Re, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, and the owner of Aunt Suzie’s Restaurant on Fifth Avenue. “We just don’t want them to be even considering this.”

This week, the BID, along with the Park Slope Chamber of Commerce, began circulating a petition claiming the city is considering raising the rate to $2.50 an hour —a move “that will hurt merchants and discourage people from shopping and dining along our community’s central commercial strips.”

“They said the rates needed to be higher to get the results they needed them to be. And I am trying to head them off at the pass,” Lo Re noted.

In May, the DOT began a six-month pilot program called Park Smart along Fifth Avenue between Sackett Street and Third Street, and Seventh Avenue between Lincoln Place and Sixth Street, raising parking rates to $1.50 an hour, up 50 cents.

The program, also launched with some success in Greenwich Village, seeks to increase the number of parking spots by making it more expensive to park during hours when a spot is most coveted. Peak rates are effective from noon to 4 p.m.

According to the DOT, the pilot study has reduced parking duration on Fifth by five minutes, and on Seventh by nine minutes. Moreover, the agency found that traffic volumes on Fifth and Seventh during the peak period increased by 17 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Lo Re said the recent doubling of rates, along with increased number of spots because of muni-meters, have yielded sufficient enough improvements.

Meanwhile, the DOT insisted that no decision on rates has been made. The agency said it has been working closely with the community board, merchants and stakeholders every step of the way, taking every concern into consideration.

Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6, has been attending the meetings on the matter for the past year, and said the parking meter fee is “one small component to the program.”

Hammerman said he never heard the agency say the rate would be raised an additional dollar during peak times. “I think the $2.50 is a random number and I’m not sure where it came from,” he said.

“The whole idea is to reduce the amount of circling that takes place when people are looking for parking,”he said. “We are grateful we have the attention of the DOT, who is taking congestion issues seriously. I think they have gone out of their way to be sensitive to merchants and residents.”

Mitch Szpicek, the president of the Park Slope Chamber of Commerce, said the increased peak hour meter times have indeed made parking a bit less challenging, at least along Seventh Avenue, as drivers don’t linger like they did in the past. But Seventh has fewer bars and restaurants than Fifth, he said, presenting a different set of concerns. Bar and restaurant owners want their customers to linger— and not be concerned about an expiring, expensive meter, he said. Szpicek continued, “We are opposed to any new increases.”

Petition signer Judi Pheiffer, owner of Bob and Judi’s Coolectibles on Fifth Avenue, said the city is turning a deaf ear to merchants’ concerns. She said merchants have pressed for two hour time spans at the meters instead of one hour, to allow for sufficient shopping and strolling without having to worry about an expired meter, as well as the installation of muni-meters throughout the Fifth Avenue BID, from Bergen Street to 18th Street.

“They are not being reasonable and not listening,” she said. “They are working with non-merchants, not the people facing this disastrous recession.”

Representatives from the Department of Transportation will discuss the pilot program at the next meeting of Community Board 6’s Transportation Committee, March 18, 6:30 p.m. at New York Methodist Hospital 506 6th Street. The public is welcome to attend.

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