At about 8 a.m. every weekday morning, Port drivers, in what resembles a localized Grand Prix, converge on the commuter lots in the hope of getting one of the last remaining parking spaces. Anyone shut out of a parking space at Port's commuter lots knows the feeling of despair and the hope that, someday things will get better. What the shut-out commuter may not realize is that the parking administrative function involves far more than the approximately 800 spaces which facilitate Port's Dashing Dans' journey to Manhattan.
The responsibility for parking administration lies with the Port Washington Parking District, a unit of the Town of North Hempstead's Parks Department. The District was founded in March 1953 and assigned to the Department of Highways. Around 1990, the function was shifted to the Department of Parks. The district has a staff of three full and one part time employee. It manages six commuter lots, three mixed use lots, i.e. commuter and shopper, approximately 450 metered parking spots in Port and the issuance of about 3500 annual commuter permits. The supervision of this unit is one of many assignments administered by the North Hempstead's Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, Mr. Warren Schein, a 20-year resident of Port Washington.
Dashing Dan should take hope - the parking district has a number of plans for the future. In the main lot at the train station, spaces will be reconfigured and restriped; the former district office will be removed and certain areas will be repaved. Additional parking spaces should be available at the North Bayles and Irma Avenue lots. Discussions are presently under way to deal with special concerns caused by the increased popularity of SUVs.
What changes can shoppers expect? Due to improvements in technology and the difficulty in obtaining parts for the parking meters, one major change anticipated is the replacement of the spring operated meters by an electronic model. The transition will occur with about 100 meters annually, with a complete turnover estimated in four years. The cost of the new mechanisms will be borne through the generosity of the Port Washington Business Improvement District.
The present meters offer several benefits, which will be incorporated in the newer electronic models. The first, the quick shopper setting, permits the motorist to activate meters on certain busy shopping streets for a ten-minute period without depositing a coin. This short stay encourages the turnover of spaces and relieves the quick shopper from being charged for a full hour. The second benefit is the programming of the meters to run slightly slower to afford a little more time to the harried shopper worried about an expired meter summons. However, some feel the meters run fast. If a fast meter complaint is made promptly, the District's Vanderventer office will remove the meter and conduct two separate bench tests. Rarely do these tests disclose fast reading and the motorist must still answer the summons. Complaint about summonses should not be directed to the Parking District, which does not issue parking summonses. Parking regulations in Port are enforced by the Town's Department of Public Safety concurrently with the Port Police.
A concept used in Great Neck called red-zone meters is also under study. The concept, designed to minimize double parking by commercial vehicles, designates an area on a corner of the busier commercial streets for the use of commercial vehicles. In the Great Neck program, from Monday to Friday, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., this metered space permits commercial vehicles to park for a 15-minute period.
The Vanderventer Ave. office serves as the operations base for the District. The facility houses two trucks fitted with plows for snow removal duties, various maintenance equipment, offices and a locker room. The facility is also used to supplement the work of Port PD's School Resource Officer. Under the supervision of Foreman Rocco J. Calo, a five-year veteran of the District, this unit has a number of varied responsibilities reaching every corner of Port Washington. Duties include cleaning and landscaping the lots and coin collections from the meters. If the amiable staff can help with a battery boost, they will do so. With the assistance of the Highways Department, the District assists in snow removal. The office disseminates general Parks Department information to the public and, on certain advertised days, functions as a satellite office for the Town's Receiver of Taxes.
Foreman Calo and his staff were appointed five years ago after a scandal concerning the misappropriation of coins from the parking meter collections. Calo and his staff brought several diverse skills to the unit such as computer sciences and mechanical expertise. Under Calo's guidance, the Vanderventer office has fostered an enviable rapport with the thousands of Port residents who use their services.
A major function that brings Port residents to the Parking District office is the annual issuance of the train station permits and the periodic purchase of parking vouchers. While there are no periodic audits of the thousands of permits issued, the initial issuance requires the production of a number of motor vehicle documents as well as two utility statements to verify the residence of the applicant. Calo cautioned parkers to make certain their vouchers are properly displayed. A voucher improperly mounted, which obscures the scratch-off section, could result in a summons. Vouchers left on the dash often fall into the crevice between the dash and windshield. Plans are under way in Vanderventer to put all residential parking permit data on computers.
The three full time employees are charged with the task of collecting from the hundreds of parking meters in Port. Inherent in the use of coin operated devices is the problem of slugs. To combat this problem, Calo is conferring with the contractor scheduled to install the new electronic meters. While it appears the new meters may accept the Canadian and Mexican coins as well as common washers, they probably will not activate the meters.
Unfortunately, certain governmental agencies have become legend in their poor service levels to the public. Commissioner Schein's philosophy for the District personnel enthusiastically supports the highest standards of customer relations, which are readily evident in Vanderventer. His civic commitment to Port Washington is evident by his service as the president of Port's Chamber of Commerce and as both a founder and board member of Port's Business Improvement District. Shoppers and Dashing Dans alike should find a source of comfort in having this basic and sensitive governmental function assigned to one of Port's own.