Jim O’Halloran, 80, was walking along midtown Broadway. “If I pull out of my parking space at home, you can’t get back in,” he said. “You can’t get out of your house.”
Ask people on the street what problems they want addressed in Bayonne, and tops on their lists is consistently is parking.
O’Halloran said that parking is the biggest issue for him in the mayor’s race. Most agree. Finding parking spaces is one of the few challenges that most people experience every day. It’s why a recent city council proposal to issue permits to residents to park in front of their driveways elicited controversy.
Since the mayoral campaigns started in the fall, political messaging has mainly centered around the fiscal efficacy of redevelopment plans that include tax abatements and payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. Now, mayoral candidates are addressing parking issues. Like most cities, Bayonne has experienced a rise in the number of cars with no increase in the amount of street space on which to park them. Meanwhile, residential apartment buildings are sprouting up around the city that will bring more residents, and drivers.
Mayoral candidate Jason O’Donnell, former Bayonne Public Safety Director under Mayor Mark Smith and an Assemblyman has proposed a ten-point parking plan that poses solutions to long-standing parking problems, and new ones anticipated in an increasingly dense community.
“We all agree, and I don’t think my opponents would disagree, that we have shortages of parking during many times throughout the day,” O’Donnell said. “If we have more people moving in, that will intensify the problem. All I am saying is that we need to plan for this and attack it on day one. It’s the only way we’re going to start moving the needle in the other direction.”
Dr. Mitchell Brown, who is also running for mayor and never worked for the city, criticized both O’Donnell and Davis for not doing enough to address parking issues.
“Parking is always highlighted as a hot-button issue, then [politicians] never really do anything,” said Brown, who recognizes a need to curb commercial vehicles parked overnight and drivers with handicap placards occupying too much space on Broadway.
O’Donnell has been a vocal opponent of driveway permits, supporting the current informal system in which residents trust neighbors to park only in front of their own driveways.
“We will repeal any and all restrictions, and or fees, for parking across residents’ own driveways,” reads O’Donnell’s parking plan.
Said Brown, “I don’t see the advantage to having permits or having another bureaucratic process at city government.”
O’Donnell’s plan includes proposals for off-street parking structures through “public-private partnerships,” hiring an engineer to conduct a study to “maximize every available inch of parking space,” painting more spaces, “eliminating outdated prohibited [parking] areas,” adding more designated areas for commercial vehicle parking, and a stricter enforcement of rules that prohibit commercial vehicles from parking overnight.
To create additional parking, O’Donnell also proposes that developers who cannot or do not meet parking standards pay a “per-space fee into a fund that will be used exclusively to pay for the acquisition of property.”
Brown said that he agrees with parking structures and park-and-ride lots, “where land is available along light rail routes.”
“These are all ideas that have all been thrown out over the years but never implemented,” he said. “I would support viable solutions to these problems.”
Ask people on the street what problems they want addressed in Bayonne, and tops on their lists consistently is parking.
The mayor weighs in
Mayor James Davis has encouraged developers to construct off-street covered parking like parking decks. He also proposed issuing permits for residents to park in front of their driveways, which could potentially free up hundreds of spaces across the city—a point of contention with O’Donnell and Brown. The city council originally proposed a $50 annual fee for the permit, which was met with public opposition and quickly scrapped thereafter. The council is expected to vote on the matter on April 18.
“Team Davis’ plan to improve parking in Bayonne is based on implementing new parking management tools as well as increasing parking inventory,” said Davis campaign spokesperson, Phil Swibinski.
Davis’s ideas for ways to improve parking include introducing a mobile payment option for municipal parking and putting up more signage on the streets for drivers to find parking and improving communications between government and residents about parking issues.
“Improving parking in Bayonne will enhance our quality of life and support our team’s goal of building a brighter future for our city,” said Davis.
We are working to bring new technology to parking in Bayonne including a mobile app that will allow drivers to pay for metered parking by credit card, as well as using more way-finding signage to direct drivers to municipal lots and improving communication with residents about parking availability. At the same time, we are working to increase the parking inventory by mandating that new developments provide parking for their residents and not allowing residents of new buildings to obtain resident permits to park on the street. We’re also continuing to build more parking decks when appropriate like at the RWJBarnabas site on Broadway, and finding more shared parking opportunities. I
Several parking solutions were outlined in the re-examined Master Plan, which the Davis Administration approved in August of 2017. It included special zoning considerations for “catalyst zones” that surround a quarter mile of each transit station (effectively accounting for areas east of Avenue C and north of 5th Street.)
Recommendations for large residential buildings in the catalyst zones include reducing the parking space ratio for new buildings to 1.25 spaces per unit and creating public parking structures to preserve on-street parking. In the long term, the Master Plan recommends reducing parking ratios for new developments citywide.
On Broadway, the Master Plan recommended no parking structures between buildings and the street so that pedestrians would not have to cross a parking lot or garage to reach a storefront. The development plan for Barnabas Health at Bayonne adhered to this rule by creating a large public parking garage behind the building which also serves to alleviate parking pressure in midtown Broadway.
Light rail parking
During working hours, areas surrounding light rail stations experience parking gluts when there are more commuters in need of parking than there are readily available spaces. Residents from the west side of town and commuters from Staten Island who drive over the Bayonne Bridge all are vying for the same public parking spots in those areas during rush hour, often frustrating residents in need of street parking at the end of their return commutes.
More parking lots is not easy in Bayonne, where available land is sparse. With a ferry possibly coming to the area near the 34th Street Light Rail Station, more parking demand could be on the horizon.
To alleviate station area parking issues, O’Donnell proposes parking lots situated blocks from the light rail stations from which a shuttle bus can frequently transport commuters. Free shuttle buses would also operate across town to bring west side residents to the light rail stations on the east side.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.