The Parking “Problem”

Are You Looking for a Place to Park?  I thought not, neither am I. There always seems to be one in Sag Harbor when I need it, even though it may not be  right out front of the place I’m going.

On the other hand there’s this guy in Sag Harbor who keeps jumping up at public meetings and proclaiming loudly that the Sag Harbor library’s plan to expand is fatally flawed  because it does not include a parking lot.

Whenever he repeats this mantra, I want to ask him, “which of the million-dollar-plus historic homes that surround the library should be purchased with taxpayer dollars and torn down to make room for a parking lot?”

If you’ve been to the library in Sag Harbor, you know that it is never a problem finding a parking space within a few blocks of the building. So, why is this guy obsessed with parking? And, is he the only one, or only the most extreme?

Actually, I think it’s fair to say that just about everyone who drives a car (and that’s just about everyone) is concerned, if not obsessed, about parking — not just at the library, but about parking in general. Most of us who drive tend to think that there’s never enough parking, and that what parking there is is rarely close enough to the place to which we want to go. In that regard, I’ve heard a local restaurateur quoted as saying that his customers would “park in my kitchen, if they could.”

So, is it true that we need more places to park in Sag Harbor? For me, the answer to that question depends on when you ask it. If I happen to be behind the wheel, looking for a place to park outside Conca D’oro so I can pick up a pizza on a rainy Saturday night in summer, then my answer would probably be “damn straight we do.”

But, in less stressful moments, my response would be a bit more thoughtful. Most of the time, I tend to think that more parking might be nice, but at what cost? As at the library, we’re not likely to come up with a “free” parking solution anywhere else either. The simple truth is that whether or not you pay a fee to park, parking is never free. Every parking space requires a bit of land on which to live, and as we know, land is a very expensive commodity.

Who pays for that land? You do…it’s always you. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s a private parking lot, like the one outside K-Mart in Bridgehampton, or if it’s the space on the street in front of your house. You pay.  In the case of K-Mart, and every other business that must buy or rent extra land to provide parking, the prices you pay for the goods and services you purchase include the cost of of that land. It’s one of the merchant’s overhead costs, and any business that wants to stay in business has to cover their overhead.

As for “on street” parking, you pay many times and in many ways for this luxury. First and foremost, every parking space represents land that is not on the tax roles. Therefore, your taxes are higher because no one is paying taxes on the land used for all that parking. Second, each of those spaces has to be paved, striped, maintained and policed. All of these services are provided by various government departments, and all are paid for by your taxes.

Finally, we often pay a very high aesthetic price. Sag Harbor is a lovely scenic village, yet if you try to take a photo of our historic Main Street, what you end up with is a picture of parked cars. We know it’s a picturesque street, but we never get to appreciate its beauty in full because so much of it is obscured by parked cars. The net result is a reduction in our community’s quality-of-life.

Unfortunately the aesthetic effects of our parking problem are not confined to Main Street, but severely impact many adjacent parts of the community, including what is arguably the most scenic spot in the village: Long Wharf. Think about it — the most scenic spot in Sag Harbor Village is…a parking lot.

This is part one of a multi-part series on the “car-centric” culture here on the East End. It originally appeared on my blog “Sag Hampton.” I’ll have more to say about cars, parking, streets, biking walking and other forms of transportation in future posts. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you have to say about the parking situation in your community, whether it be Sag Harbor or any place else. Please let me know what you’re thinking by leaving a comment here or on Sag Hampton.

About Eric C. Cohen

Eric C. Cohen is the principal author of the blog "Sag Hampton" (www.saghampton.com). He has lived on the east end of Long Island for 37 years and in Sag Harbor for the last 31 of them. Eric is a past member of the Board of Education of the Sag Harbor School District, and the District’s Shared Decision Making Steering Committee. Currently, he serves on the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Council to Southampton Town, and is an appointed member of the Southampton Town Transportation Commission. He is also active in politics. Eric and his wife, Bobbie, have three grown children and one grandchild, none of whom currently live in Sag Hampton.

Comments

  1. Walker says:

    It would be nice if every car purchase included the proper-sized spot for you to park it, but the reality is that when you choose to drive you have to have somewhere to leave your car (for more on this, you should watch the indie documentary “The Parking Lot” which is streaming on Netflix). Leaving your car somewhere while you run your errands isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.

    I come from the midwest where it’s not unusual to have to go great distances to run errands. It’s sometimes shocking to me that people on the east end drive to places that they could easily walk to. I have a friend that occasionally drives to work, two blocks from her house. She takes up one of the spaces someone else could use and then has a hard time finding a place on the street where she lives when she returns home! She is fully capable of walking, but doesn’t.

    If you ask me, everyone healthy enough to walk or bike should locate their home on a map, and draw a mile-wide circle around it. Challenge yourself to never drive within this circle if walking or biking could get you there. Sure, there are times when you need to carry or rush, or weather interferes — those could be exceptions.

    By the way, I use the library all the time. I walk to it, or take the bus. Funny how parking isn’t an issue.

    • @Walker:
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Driving two blocks to work may be a bit extreme, but is also emblematic of our car-centric way of life.
      I like your thought:

      “Leaving your car somewhere while you run your errands isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. ”

      However, I would take it a step further and say that owning a car is not a right, but a privilege. And, it’s a privilege that comes with many consequences for our community and our world –the availability of parking, and its related costs are only one.

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