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Town Hall Meeting Addresses Downtown Parking, Pedestrian, and Wayfinding Enhancements

Greg Elliott

Friday, October 18, 2013 • 9:18am

SUMMIT, NJ - Mayor Ellen Dickson hosted a second Town Hall Meeting, focusing on the parking and wayfinding elements of the Downtown Planning Study Initiative currently in development. The forums, feedback mechanisms and public engagement opportunities are part of the city's ongoing effort to integrate Summit residents' input as the process moves forward.

Beginning his presentation by saying, "Someone once said that if a town has enough parking, there is something wrong with the town," Edward Snieckus, Jr., a principal at Burgis Associates -- contracted by the city to develop the strategy and produce the report -- led the audience through a detailed assessment of the current parking and wayfinding environment, the elements that are working, and the ones that can be improved.

Snieckus detailed the goals for the eventual parking strategy recommendations, specifically that district vitality, economic vitality, a healthy environment, and equitable implementation all are essential to the outcome. District vitality maintains the infrastructure necessary to achieve stated parking goals, with economic vitality incorporating the needs that are crucial for downtown businesses to entice and serve their customer base.  Promoting a healthy environment via enhanced resident use of walking, biking and transit options is part of the strategy, with Snieckus offering statistics that detailed how the cost of parking directly influences consumers chosen mode of transportation.
 
In assessing the state of downtown parking, the presentation pointed out that many elements are working, pointing the use of shared parking, performance-based (variable) pricing, walkability and convenience. Relative to short- and long-term parking, several recommendations were noted that could improve the efficiency, productivity and the user experience.  Among those:
 
- Enhanced lighting
 
- Standardizing payment systems
 
- Increased communication / consumer understanding of the "Park Now / Pay Later" concept
 
- Better signage, including status signs indicating whether or not lots were full
 
- Improvements to common areas connected to parking lots, including alleyways, both functionally and aesthetically
 
- Review of maximum parking meter time allotment in select areas
 
- Potential of adding angled parking, where possible
 
In reviewing usage of the DeForest lots (1,2 and 3), Snieckus illustrated how 49 percent of consumers using the lots in the first six months of the pay format stayed one hour or less. Since pricing changes have been made and communicated, 46 percent stay up to two hours.
 
As public comments were solicited after the presentation, Robert Steelman, a commercial real estate broker, said of the presentation, "I believe this is good information, and now it needs to be tied to the business reality."  He added, "Summit is a unique downtown, we can be a leader in how we handle parking.  We want people to walk, and when they do we need to make them safe."  
 
Snieckus outlined several potential pedestrian improvements, among them traffic calming elements, lighted crosswalks that illuminate when activated, and the use of different paving materials to more starkly define the crosswalks themselves.  He also showed best examples of wayfinding signage that can serve both informational and commercial needs, and noted that Summit's wayfinding system should be upgraded as part of overall scope of the plan.
 
The city continues to solicit resident input, either through the comment bulletin board located in City Hall or by visiting downtownstudy@cityofsummit.org.
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