by Dennis Reeves Cooper…….
Oxymoron is defined as a figure of speech that is incongruous and seemingly self-contradictory. Thus, I present to you the phrase “parking in Old Town.” The problem here is not that there is no place to park in Old Town. There are lots of places to park. It’s just that there are often more drivers looking for parking spaces– usually free parking spaces– than there are spaces. And it’s not like city commissioners and city managers haven’t been trying to address this problem for years. They have. And although I have been a frequent critic of the less-than-productive just-pass-another-law mentality of city government officials, I have to report here that there seems to be some progress being made. New businesses are required to provide some off-street parking. More city-managed parking lots and parking garages have been constructed in recent years. And an initially-ineffective residential parking permit program has evolved that at least increases the odds that Old Town residents might find a place to park anywhere close to where they live.
The original Old Town parking permit program, introduced several years ago, was a fiasco. About 1000 or so parking spaces in Old Town were marked “Residential Parking.” But all you needed to legally park in one of these spaces was the word “Monroe” on your license plate. That included virtually every car-owner in the Keys! And to make matters worse, there was virtually no enforcement.
Last year, however, a new Old Town parking permit program was introduced that made more sense. Residents can pay $10 for an annual parking permit that allows legal parking in a space marked “residential parking.” Simple. Although I dutifully went down and bought my sticker, I– in my vast wisdom– also predicted that this new program wouldn’t be any more effective than the original program. I cited the fact that thousands, of permits would be sold to other than true, full-time Old Town residents– like all island residents, like all owners of property in Old Town, like all military personnel stationed in Key West, like all snow birds who live in Old Town more than four months a year and like all business vehicles associated with any island business. I also predicted that there would be little or no enforcement.
I was right about permit sales. Last year, more than 7000 parking permit stickers were sold that allow parking in the 1000 spaces marked “residential parking.” But I was wrong about enforcement. City Public Information Manager Alyson Crean told me this week that more than 5000 tickets were written last year for residential parking violations– at $30 a pop. And money is budgeted for an additional residential parking enforcement officer.
I guess I am sort of an “expert witness” when it comes to the residential parking permit program, since I live in Old Town and have a parking sticker. I don’t think my residential situation is much different than most other Old Town residents. I like living in Old Town because I can walk to just about anywhere I need to go. But I also have a car– and there are very few parking spaces in my immediate neighborhood. Although I can park briefly at the yellow curb in front of my apartment building if I have to unload stuff, I usually have to drive several blocks up the street to find legal parking. And many of those spaces are marked “residential parking.” Sure. It would be a lot more convenient to have a dedicated parking space right in front of where I live. But I have chosen to live in Old Town. And a nice little walk in a beautiful town never hurt anybody.
So for the past year, although my sticker gave me some peace of mind that I would not be ticketed for parking in a residential parking space, I really assumed that there was not any enforcement anyway– until a couple of weeks ago. Walking back to my car, I saw a note that had been placed under my windshield wiper. It was simply a reminder that my parking sticker was expiring in a couple of weeks. What?! Some “enforcer” has actually been looking at my sticker– maybe every day! And the same folks who carry around ticket books are also providing a reminder service. A whole new concept in city government. My experience may or may not be typical, but I can tell you this: Having a residential parking permit makes my life easier.
While city government officials have been trying to give island residents at least some priority when it comes to parking, they have not forgotten that, every day, there are thousands of other drivers trying to find parking in Old Town– up-the-Keys residents coming in to their jobs in Old Town or for shopping or entertainment– as well as tourists, who bring millions of dollars a year into our economy. Believe it or not, there are still 750 free on-street parking spaces in Old Town– but everybody can legally park in those spaces, including residents with parking permits. In addition, there are now almost 1900 for-pay parking spaces in Old Town, on the street and in city-managed parking lots and parking garages. Monthly parking permits are available for the city parking garage on Caroline Street for $25 per month.
Here’s what you need to know. If you have a permit to park in spaces marked “residential parking” in Old Town, your permit expires on November 1. If you live on the island and drive a car, but don’t have a parking permit, you can purchase a sticker for $10 at the Property Assessor’s Office at the Harvey Government Center on Truman at White. If you choose not to buy a permit– or if you don’t qualify to buy a permit– you need to know that the residential parking program is now being enforced and, if you gamble that you won’t get caught if you park in one of those spaces marked “residential parking,” it will probably cost you $30.
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