July 6, 2011: Nothing raises the ire of a Bronxville driver (and visitors, too) as much as returning to a parking meter that has expired a nanosecond before the driver has returned to it and finding a ticket that has beaten said driver to the punch.
No wonder. It's hard to park anywhere gratis in the Pondfield Road business district and most of the West Side. Meters snake through main streets and nooks and crannies--1,114 in all.
They may strike their victims as a nuisance, but they are a boon to village taxpayers. The meters and parking permits yield $1,796,520, and fines are $860,000, for a total of $2,656,520--the second largest item in the village budget after taxes ($7,912,956).
Who would have thought when the first parking meters were installed in the Village in May 1940 (only five years after the world's first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City) that they would collect such large sums today? Bronxville's first meters cost a penny, but they collected $35 in only the first three days.
The village budget for parking enforcement totals $191,279--one full-time officer, one meter repair person, and part-time enforcement officers. The full-time officer earns around $55,000, and part-time parking enforcement officers are paid at an hourly rate at $16.01. They are not permitted to work more than 18 hours a week. They are unionized with the Teamsters.
The character of the village was altered when by popular vote Pondfield Road was widened in the 1920s, prompting the Bronxville Review Press to observe, "A foreigner has remarked that Americans seem to spend most of their time hurrying around in motor cars, looking for a place to park! No driver of a car can consistently regret the widening of Pondfield Road."
Parking rules are a patchwork for all but drivers with superb memories. On Palmer Road, for example, the limit is 32 minutes, requiring a quarter, a dime, and a nickel. The odd amount is the result of entreaties by merchants who didn't want space occupied too long by any single person. Since the street adjoins Lawrence Hospital, parkers are advised to tool over to Pondfield Road West and park in the hospital's parking garage.
In contrast, some meters along the parking lot on Kraft Avenue are good for up to three hours; on Pondfield Road, 90 minutes; and on Parkway Road, one hour--a challenge for patrons wishing to dine leisurely in the restaurants along that thoroughfare.
Studio Arcade allows one-and-a-half hours. Possibly the best bargain of all is a metered area on Kensington Road that permits 12 hours of parking at 40 minutes a quarter.
Meters wander far off the beaten path. One of the most remote, certainly to residents who live in the fastnesses of Lawrence Park and Hilltop, is a kind of "gasoline alley"--lower Milburn Street, dotted with a car wash and auto repair garages. Meters along Milburn connect around a corner to Stone Place, the site of a building of doctors' offices. One side is metered, the other reserved for holders of Bronxville parking permits.
Around another corner, parking limits expand sharply--two hours on Paxton Avenue. Paxton is also the site of a 150-space parking lot that Lawrence Hospital has leased for its staff for 10 years, who pay a dollar a day. Similarly, the Bronxville School provides parking for its staff in the Elementary School lot.
Up a long series of stone stairs is the start of Milburn and the back of the Avalon apartment complex. A few spaces are reserved for Avalon tenants, and across a path, several places are available without charge to patrons of the corner restaurant after 6:00 pm.
The Village has only two garages--Lawrence Hospital's and the garage on Palmer Avenue. The hospital costs $5 for the first four hours, $20 for eight to ten hours, and $25 for over ten hours. The Palmer Avenue garage charges $18 to park between 8:00 am and 7:00 pm, and $2.50 an hour thereafter.
Parking permits are available for residents, including special permits for overnight parking (from 6:00 pm to 8:00 am) and train station parking ($920 annually).
"Believe it or not, people are very nice, even when they're ticketed," says Tony, a PEO (parking enforcement officer), who declined to give his last name. A veteran of three years in the job, he covers the entire West Side and makes the loop once every hour. Tony points out that meters flash when they are empty or disabled or otherwise fail. The meters are digital, powered by a battery that can run down. The meter can malfunction if a quarter descends too quickly.
Meters do get vandalized--jammed with pennies, for example. Why? "Because they feel like it," says Tony. "They're mischievous." It isn't clear whether the mischief is by adults or youngsters. It costs about $400 to replace a meter. Occasional vandalism isn't the only peril. Former Mayor Bill Murphy, the present parking commissioner, recalls that several years ago a massive flood disabled some 100 meters on Stone Place and Paxton. They were dried out and restored to working order.
Parking officers also serve as eyes and ears. One of them recently noted a woman taking photographs of buildings along Palmer Road and, since she didn't identify herself, a PEO reported it to a patrolman. "I apologized when she identified herself, but these days you just don't know," referring to ongoing national worry about terrorism.
The officers watch not only for expired meters but also for expired inspection and registration stickers. The fines for each are $35.
The officers' only complaint is the buildup of heat under the yellow vests they are required to wear. They are intended to make the officer more visible at dusk in the fall and winter, but toward the end of very warm days, it's hard to avoid removing them.
Photo by A. Warner