by Benn Ray
This is a follow-up to "Hampden Slated For Parking Problems", a piece I posted a few weeks ago as preface to a community meeting where some residents were suggesting Residential Permit Parking restrictions for a significant portion of Hampden that would allow those without permits to park there only for 1 hour a day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In mid-June, nearly 200 concerned residents who are slowly starting to realize what an exclusionary, expensive parking scheme, as launched by a handful of other residents who mistakenly believe this will reserve parking spots in front of their homes for them (spots they mistakenly look at as "theirs) will mean for them all met in Keswick Adult Care to find out just what the hell is going on and why.
At this meeting, Councilperson Mary Pat Clarke, the driver behind this initiative, presented the restricted parking plan (roughly a 2 block radius around the Rotunda and Hopkins that resticts access to public city streets to 1 hour only, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week unless you are a resident who is eligible (and can afford) to purchase a city parking permit) as a "done deal" (like so many controversial initiatives are introduced - and, as usual, it's not. Proponents are simply trying to dampen opposition).
Residents who were just hearing about this for the first time were outraged that they were just hearing about this for the first time. Residents who had been quietly working on this scheme for months were outraged that their neighbors had finally found out about it and weren't happy.
"We've been working on this for months! Who are all these people and why are they here now all of a sudden," one organizer conspiratorially bemoaned.
It was a tense community meeting - with a not insignificant number of residents asking, "Well, what if we don't want this at all" or "Why do we have to do this" only to have their questions ignored by Clarke or shouted down by their neighbors.
The term "generator" was used to describe the supposed causes of the neighborhood's parking density. It was used to refer to the Rotunda (an incomplete project that won't come online until late 2015 at the earliest), it was used to refer to Johns Hopkins University (whose purchase of the empty Zurich building and garage has brought life back to that abandoned block), and it was used to refer to the 36th St. business district, The Avenue.
The one area, and the most siginifcant one, where the term "generator" was not used, was to refer to the residents themselves. Where low density homeownership over the years has become more dense as more people have found Hampden a more attractive place to live, this means that houses that traditionally had 1-2 cars now have 4-6 vehicles (it should be noted that these vehicles will be protected under the RPP plan).
When hysterical residents imagining a doom-like scenario as a result of Hekemian's Rotunda redevolopment demanded that we act now and install the RPP immediately, more rational residents who asked, "Well, why don't we just wait to see what happens years from now when that place actually opens" were not countered with a rational argument. They were shouted down with a "NO WAY!", as if their suggestion was somehow ridiculously naive.
The residents behind the RPP are also intent on overstepping their bounds and seeking to install RPP on blocks that, by law, are supposed to be free parking. Residential Parking Restrictions are only applicable along blocks that are residential. This is why you'll sometimes see RPP signs on one side of a block, and nothing on the other where that block rings a private non-residential, commercial or institutional building. Unfortunately here, residents aren't just happy with restricting access to their own blocks, they are seeking to expand RPP along other commercial blocks which they have no discernable claim to whatsoever. Clarke said that Hekemeian has already conceded them the commercial property along the Rotunda, and now the residents are taking aim at the several blocks of what would be free parking along Johns Hopkins' buildings too.
One point I've made about this sort of Residential Permit Parking is that it doesn't actually solve parking problems - it just creates more parking problems (for other members of your community) by pushing more cars onto fewer blocks and the result is often those blocks then seeking RPP. RPP spreads like syphilis in a community. And in fact, as if to underline this point, early in the meeting, a resident from the south side of 36th St., below where this RPP is being proposed, raised his hand and asked, "How do we get these parking restrictions on our block?"
During the meeting, the tradional petition process of getting RPP was discussed - as in why is Mary Pat Clarke drafting special legislation for RPP when there already is a process by which neighbors can get the restrictions (assuming they meet certain minimum thresholds)?
Clarke had no clear explanation to this - but they are now, retroactively, I guess, going through the petition process. In the context of the meeting, it should be noted, that this process was intentionally obfuscated. Clarke announced that neighbors will be coming around to get you to sign on whether you want 1 hour restrictions or 2 hour restrictions. It wasn't clearly pointed out that neighbors don't have to sign the petition at all and that, legally speaking, if blocks can't meet a 60% threshhold, they don't fulfill the city's minimum requirements for RPP (which, I suppose is where Clarke comes in with her legislation). The whole thing seems very sketchy and may be open to future legal action. It's even more troubling that while Clarke is spearheading this initiative, she could not tell us how many parking spaces this is effecting.
This is a parking meeting, so there were a lot of irrational attitudes on display. For example, one resident, shaking mad, unironically yelled, "I did not pay several hundred thousand dollars for my house on 37th just to not be able to park in front of it because of the businesses on 36th St." This reminded me of the residents who move to Fells Point and then complain about the bars. That he paid several hundred thousand dollars for his house was the tip-off in the flaw of his complaint - he moved here after the 36th St. business district took off - if not, he would have paid the $60-$80,000 rate houses were going for in the late '90s.
I shouted back, "And why is your house worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? You're welcome!"
There was a lot of Old Hampden Xenophobia Syndrome (OHXS) on display. In fact, a woman I used to live next to, and thought of as friendly, said something to the effect of, "I've been in Hampden all my life. But now all these new poeple are moving in, invading my neighborhood, and changing everything and taking away all the green space. This isn't what I want," (I'm not sure what she meant about taking away the green space). I wanted to ask her, so those two years I was living next to you and we were neighborly, did you really just think I was some kind of asshole the whole time?
Hampden has worked very hard for years to overcome its troubling and embarrassing history and reputation as an exclusionary community where old school residents are hostile to and unwelcome to new people coming in. Unfortunately, these newly proposed parking restrictions move the neighborhood dramatically backwards in that regard. And that attitude was on display at the meeting.
There were typical gentrification complaints, "There ain't nuthin' for me on that Avenue anymore." It's just sad that people still feel that way. At this point, it speaks more about them than it does levy any sort of legitimate criticism of gentrification. But this attitude was squashed (hopefully once and for all), when Hampden resident and business owner Debbie Falkenhan got up to speak.
Deb said, "I think y'all know me, I'm Debbie Falkenhan, I live on Roland, I own Falkenhan's hardware, and I've lived here all my life, and I don't want these parking restrictions. Now I understand some of you feel like there isn't much on the Avenue for you..."
At that point, there was a smattering of applause from Old Hampden, thinking they knew where Deb was going with this.
"I just want to say to you all, get over it. There is more to do on 36th St. than I can recall. I remember what the Avenue looked like in the '80s, and it was a real shithole. None of us want to see that come back, so you need to get over it."
The place erupted in applause save for a few scowls from the scolded.
Then Clarke took a very biased straw poll about who wanted what kind of restrictions and here are the results:
Most want 2 hour restricted parking.
Then 2 hour restricted parking.
Then, after someone called out how about NO restricted parking, that got the third most amount of votes.
And then last was the currently proposed 1 hour restricted parking.
I can only wonder what the results would be if Mary Pat had started with No Parking Restrictions and worked her way down. I suspect free parking would have ranked much higher - regardless - it ranked higher than what residents are currently proposing.
The meeting ended with Clarke selecting block captains responsible for gathering petitions even though she was drafting custom legislation for this? I'm still hazy on that. But step #1 is very simple, if you don't want the RPP - don't sign the petition.
But there are a few small points of irony that should be pointed out as we move forward.
Johns Hopkins University, when they first took over the Zurich building and its adjacent parking garage, offered residents the ability to rent spaces in that garage and from what I understand, not a single resident took advantage of it.
Some of the people most vocal and active in trying to get this residential permit parking scheme adopted have parking pads and/or garages that they aren't using for parking.
And finally, when I was a part of Parking Task Force 1.0 - we tried to bring reverse angle parking all the way up Roland Ave. This is something the new Parking Task Force has just revisited and were told the residents won't allow it. This would have meant a dramatic increase in the number of parking spots in an area where they are now looking to expand Residential Permit Parking because of perceived parking density. In other words, they could have had nearly 100 spaces (by Parking Authority's count) nearly 10 years ago but didn't want them. But now, they want to restrict the public's access to these streets to 1 hour a day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Clearly, when we talk parking, we are not having a rational conversation.
So what can you do?
Email Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and tell her how you feel if she is your representative.
Email Councilman Nick Mosby and tell him how you feel if he is your representative because these restrictions will be felt by homeowners and businessowners in that district as well.
Keep aware of any parking-related community meetings. Join the Hampden Community Council if you are a resident, or the Hampden Village Merchants Association if you are a business, and make your feelings known to them.
Talk to your neighbors about what's going on too.
And finally, don't sign any petitions you don't agree with.
For further reading, check out Hampden Community Council President Adam Feuerstein's letter in this month's Hampden Happenings [.pdf]