To Make Downtown Friendlier To Motorists, It's Ticketing More Of Them
January 8, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
For years, Hartford's downtown has suffered from a kind of traffic cardiac arrest - its central arteries clogged by cars parked long-term, leaving no space for customers to patronize the likes of restaurants, clothing shops or banks.
So when the city's parking authority took over Hartford's on-street parking enforcement last year, the authority's chief prescribed its most potent medicine to alleviate the problem - parking tickets, and lots of them.
Between March and October of 2006, the city issued nearly twice as many tickets as in the same period in 2005. On average, tickets jumped from 5,459 a month to 10,204 - an 87 percent leap.
Of those tickets, 95 percent are issued in Hartford's downtown, James Kopencey, the authority's executive director, said.
As Kopencey puts it, his agency offered "an economic incentive to move along."
"That is our primary reason for issuing parking tickets," Kopencey said. "To create turnover parking."
The underlying reason for the rise in tickets, Kopencey said, is an increase in the number of new "parking violation officers" hired by his agency. Hartford had three agents, all employed by the police department, before adding eight new parking officers last February when it hired a private contractor, Central Parking Services, to help bolster its ranks.
As the parking authority issued more tickets, it has also seen its income grow.
In the first eight months after the new parking agents hit Hartford's streets, the city has collected more than $2.2 million from parking citations - up from $1.7 million the previous year. That's an increase of nearly 30 percent, or about $62,000 more a month.
Issuing more tickets has other positive effects, Kopencey said. Not only does it open up more parking spaces on the streets, it makes it safer for pedestrians by removing cars parked too close to crosswalks or in fire lanes. Also, enforcing special parking rules during rush hour makes it easier for commuters to get in and out of downtown, he said.
The ticketing program has been met with applause from business owners, as their patrons find more open spaces downtown.
Ron Morneault, president of Business for Downtown Hartford Inc. and owner of Tuesday's, a clothing store that has operated downtown for 37 years, said he has seen a "tremendous" improvement in the area's parking situation.
"Prior to all of this, people would park out there for days sitting on a meter," Morneault said. "Under this new regime of enforcement, you now have all kinds of short-term parking freed up for consumers coming into downtown...We notice the difference, and it has been a major difference."
But solving the parking shortage with vigorous enforcement may have a negative side, Morneault said.
He said he believes anyone parked illegally should be ticketed. But while motorists who think ahead have coins, not all do.
Morneault has watched consumers park with only a nickel in their pockets and, after slipping the coin into a meter, race against the clock to break a bill into quarters. The two minutes that a nickel allows - which Morneault describes as long enough to "bait" someone into parking, but too short to actually get more change - acts only to aggravate customers, he said.
The ensuing game of cat and mouse between consumers and parking officers can at times create more "negativity" than good, he said.
"Where can I go and get quarters in two minutes? Nowhere." Morneault said. "People are then annoyed and frantic."
The more aggressive ticketing program does have its detractors.
Nelson Velasquez, who works for a window, cabinet and door supply company, parked his boss's car Wednesday on Church Street to drop off a bank deposit for his employer. Expecting to be only a few minutes, he fed the meter and entered the bank, where he waited in line for about 30 minutes behind five customers for the single teller who was working that day.
As he waited, the meter expired, and his boss's car was ticketed - a recurring and exasperating occurrence, he said.
"I do this about two or three times a week, and each time I have to worry about getting a ticket," he said. "It is a big pain in the neck."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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