By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – It’s been 26 years since the borough commissioned a survey of the parking situation in town.
Plenty has changed in town since then but the stubborn shortage of downtown parking spaces still persists.
On May 30, the Borough Council announced it was revisiting the issue, commissioning a fresh study and hiring Walker Consultants of New York City to conduct it. The 18-week study of the borough’s commercial district parking inventory will cost $52,350. Jim Scavone, Red Bank RiverCenter’s executive director, said its board of trustees agreed to pay $25,000, and the borough will pay the remainder.
Red Bank wants a plan on how to reduce the parking problem, if not to solve it, said Democratic Councilman Erik Yngstrom, who chairs the borough’s parking committee. “Solving it is going to be very difficult but we want a plan to move forward and implement,” he said.
“We recognize that solving the parking problem in Red Bank ultimately is most beneficial to the downtown business district,” Scavone said. “Therefore, we very much recognize our responsibility in taking the steps we need to take.”
The four-to-five-month study will primarily cover Red Bank’s Special Improvement District (SID), which RiverCenter operates through a tax on business owners. It will stretch from Red Bank’s NJ Transit train station to Riverview Medical Center, located along East Front Street. It will also incorporate roadways that feed motorists into the downtown – Wallace Street, Mechanic Street, Washington Street, Waverly Place – and other areas surrounding the Molly Pitcher Inn and the Galleria commercial building.
And the man they hired is no stranger to Red Bank.
Brian J. Bartholomew, a senior parking consultant for Walker Consultants, said he lives in East Brunswick and has frequented Red Bank’s downtown for years. He even met with former borough administrator Stanley Sickels in 1998 to discuss parking.
“I’ve experienced some of the same pressures that everyone in the general public feels when they try to park in Red Bank,” Bartholomew told The Two River Times.
Bartholomew said over the next few weeks residents will see his staff graphing Red Bank’s existing public and private parking lots with geographic information system (GIS) devices. When the maps are finalized, they’ll conduct “occupancy surveys” at different times of the day and week to see where the deficient areas, or “hot zones,” are located, he said.
He’ll then compile a report for the borough as well as a list of recommendations and solutions it can implement. Looking at private-public parking lot partnerships, parking policy, valet parking, angled parking and bicycle accommodations are all on the table.
Though the same can’t be said for a brand-new parking garage.
“There’s not one single answer but we are looking to take advantage of what assets we have right now before we look at developing a new parking inventory, whether it be a surface lot or a structured facility,” Bartholomew said.
Not everyone on the borough council supports the parking study. Republican Councilman Mark Taylor cast the single “nay” vote Wednesday evening. He told The Two River Times afterward the study doesn’t take in the whole picture.
“To spend taxpayer money on a ‘comprehensive study’ only on the downtown is not addressing the rest of the town,” said Taylor. “What about the rest of Red Bank? What about the West Side? We make all these improvements on Shrewsbury Avenue, Bridge Avenue, the transit village area, but that’s not being addressed.”
Red Bank’s parking discussion was revived last year when the borough council began accepting proposals for a parking garage at the municipal-owned White Street lot. The issue quickly turned partisan – Republicans were pro-garage while the Democrats feared a multi-level garage would be “Jersey City-style” development, according to a statement at the time.
Mayor Pasquale Menna, a Democrat, has long said he would support a parking facility project as long as “it made sense,” stressing it should be done through a public-private development, as opposed to having borough taxpayers shoulder the financial burden. The business community, including RiverCenter, has traditionally voiced its preference for a municipal built and operated garage in the downtown, as long as it had at least 500 new spaces to address the chronic downtown parking shortfall.
Taylor believes the parking study is unnecessary because a parking deficiency “is obvious at its face.”
“I think we should be building instead of waiting another year to get data,” he added. “Go open your eyes, go walk downtown.”
But some, like RiverCenter, say any data is good data and will help plan for the future.
“Ultimately, we believe that we have a serious shortage of inventory,” said Scavone. “We are very anxious to see the results and specifically about the inventory.”
This article was first published in the June 7-June 14, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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