Parking as Priority

Main Street, Sag HarborAre You Looking for a Place to Park? No, 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 with 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 our “car-centric” culture. I’ll have more to say about cars, parking, streets, 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 below.

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