A car exits West Chester Lot 5 around midday

In 2016, West Chester hired Desman Design Management to develop a Comprehensive Parking Guide. The goal was to “effectively address future parking needs, implement best practices, run a financially sustainable system, and reduce user frustration.” 

A lofty goal that resulted in a 79-page report and a few undeniable truths – West Chester issues way more residential permits than it has parking spaces, guest passes are a problem, and parking occupancy in the business district is high but not yet at crisis level, mainly because capacity still exists in the Borough garages and lots. 

The report also lists 31 short-term, nine mid-term, and two long-term actions the Borough can take to improve the parking situation. Toward the top of the short-term list is “Eliminate leased parking from the parking lots in the central business district and replace with permit parking.” 

According to the report, there are 128 spots reserved in West Chester lots, many of which are not reaching the targeted 85 percent occupancy rate. “There is substantial parking availability during the noon period,” the report states. It is suggested that leased parking be slowly eliminated and these spaces made available to permit parkers instead. Over time and based on demand, the report even suggests transitioning some of the meter spots to permit spaces. A redistribution of parking real estate that seems to make sense based on where shortages currently lie.

“If we’re going to talk about equality in parking, let’s also include in that conversation, how to do that without the residents in that area paying the price for it?” 

Jen, West Chester Resident
West Chester’s complicated parking system.

“I used to live on the 100 block of S. Walnut and had to park in that lot often, especially in the evenings,” said reader Jen in reference to Lot 5, the Borough parking lot next to the Methodist Church on S. High Street. Currently, the church rents 18 spaces in the lot; another 19 are open to the public at a rate of $1.50/hour. “The reason being that our side of the street had zero off-street parking and our block (and several surrounding it) would fill up with people coming into town for the evening,” she said. This was despite the block being permit parking only. 

“I’m not necessarily saying the church shouldn’t have any reserved spots,” she said. “But I’m thinking about how difficult parking was in that area of the Borough for residents.  If we’re going to talk about equality in parking, let’s also include in that conversation, how to do that without the residents in that area paying the price for it?” Jen said. She means literally. She and her neighbors were forced to park in the metered spots – and pay the fees. 

Similar feedback came from another resident, a long-term parker in another lot. “I recently read your article about the parking situation in West Chester,”  wrote Neil Greene, a 50-year resident of the Borough. “It was informative but you failed to mention the parking issue at Lot 6 on W. Gay Street. We were informed that not only would we be losing 5 spaces to park in the lot, but we also must take part in a so-called lottery.”

Lot 6 has a total of 104 spaces, of which the Borough leases 79 to Chester County. Until this summer, residents would purchase their parking permits on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Aug. 1. “When they talk about camping out at Borough Hall in pre-dawn hours, that was us!” Neil wrote. 

The lottery, which will take place on Sept. 1, will help eliminate the lines but it is not clear how it will improve parking efficiency. “[The lottery] will undoubtedly lead to some tax-paying residents losing their ability to park. It is a solution looking for a problem,” Neil wrote.

That feeling of misplaced intentions was shared by resident Joe Baker, who has two children attending the United Methodist’s daycare. 

“The Parking Committee also cited “equity” as a basis for its proposed action,” he wrote in a Letter to the Editor published in last week’s Daily Local. “But neither the Parking Director nor the Parking Committee offered a coherent explanation as to why their plan of reallocating the Church’s parking spots to 18 individual recipients via lottery would be more equitable than their current use, which shares them among the hundreds of churchgoers, community group members, and daycare parents who use them daily.”

Not that there isn’t clear evidence that something needs to be done. According to the study, West Chester currently has 5,168 permits issued (2,867 residential permits and 2,302 guest permits), but only approximately 2,000 permitted spaces – and that number is only going to get bigger. 

“Parking is going to be even more of a hot issue with these two gigantic buildings coming,” wrote resident Peggy Forest referring to construction projects in development at Mitch’s gym and Burger King. “Wait until all those folks and their guests need parking,” she said.
While efforts are being made to exclude those residents from participating in the residential permit program, there is still the “butterfly effect” as Parking Director Ramsey Reiner described it. The question now seems to be not should we do something, but what is the best way to go about it?

“I’ve been a borough resident and member of the West Chester United Methodist Church for 16 years. I’m upset both by the Borough’s attempt to revoke our parking and by the hasty way it was done,” wrote resident Eryn Travis. “West Chester Borough has always promised its citizens a say in local decisions. However, their proposal to terminate the church’s 20-year parking lease clearly overlooked resident feedback. While I understand that devising parking solutions can be daunting, the council should prioritize the quality of their decisions over the speed of implementation.” 

Eryn makes another good point. “Despite being dated, this approximately 80-page report holds other valuable recommendations,” she wrote.

A fitting summary. While the frustration by the community of seemingly being left out of decisions is real, (cough) Gay Street closure (cough), there is also opportunity outlined in the report and it is nice to see someone is at least taking a look.

Read the full 2018 report here.


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Originally published, Aug. 25, 2023

This story is part of a longer weekly West Chester newsletter. Curious what else is going on? You can find the full issue here and the latest newsletter here. Even easier? Subscribe here to get the future issues delivered directly.

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