When I first moved to Fort Worth I lived in Bluebonnet Hills, one of the charming neighborhoods around Texas Christian University. There were lots of things I enjoyed about living so close to TCU, and lots of things I didn’t like but accepted as “just life” because of my home’s proximity to the university.
The parking problems were not one of them. I didn’t accept them, not because they were annoying or inconvenient, but because they were dangerous.
On normal days, the street was packed with cars parked on either side. On game days, the streets were impassable.
There was barely enough room for a single vehicle to drive down the center of the road. There certainly was not enough room for two vehicles to pass each other. And while I never saw an emergency vehicle attempt to traverse the street, I doubt one would have been able to drive its length without sideswiping a few SUVs.
Crossing the street on foot was even more dangerous since people — children especially — were difficult to spot behind cars as they entered the roadway.
Our neighborhood didn’t feel like a neighborhood — it felt like a really perilous parking garage.
The areas around TCU aren’t the only ones that experience overflow traffic on a regular basis. Arlington Heights falls victim to it every January during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
So in December, the Fort Worth City Council decided to do something about it. Sort of.
The council designated Arlington Heights and four other areas in the city where spillover traffic has become a problem as “resident-parking-only zones.”
That means only permitted residents and their guests will be allowed to park on residential streets. Violators will be ticketed or towed.
Sounds great. Especially since parts of Bluebonnet Hills and Arlington Heights set the precedent for success by running their own permit parking program for years.
Martha Jones, who chairs the parking program for Bluebonnet Hills, told me the totally volunteer effort has made the blocks of Bluebonnet Hills covered by the program much safer.
She concedes that “no program in the long-term is totally sustainable if it’s maintained by volunteers.”
But even Jones, who worked with city staff to help develop its new plan, has some questions about the ordinance.
The biggest problem is that the ordinance lacks details about ... well, pretty much everything, from how the program will be enforced to how it will be financed and how the city will maintain tag control.
Residents are allowed up to three permits plus an unlimited number of guest tags.
But the ordinance doesn’t have any guidelines about guest tag use, so fears that residents might print tags for all their friends and acquaintances on game day or during Stock Show time aren’t unfounded.
Jones says Bluebonnet Hills doesn’t allow guest tags on game days, so it would be important to know if neighborhoods can continue to specify certain days when guest tags may not be used.
Since neighborhoods are different and have divergent needs and concerns, its unclear whether the programs will be enforced uniformly.
Then there’s the issue of citations, as in: Who is going to issue them? Most neighborhood patrol officers have higher priorities than ticketing parking violators, but third-party vendors don’t come cheap.
Which of course raises the question of what this will cost, and who will pay for it?
Sam Werschky, formerly with the city’s Transportation and Public Works Department, told the council in December that the estimated startup costs would be about $135,000, and $115,250 annually thereafter, not including the costs of additional traffic studies were the program to expand.
The city had proposed a $25 fee per car for neighborhood residents, but concerns that fees were too high meant the ordinance passed without a fee structure in place.
The council seemed to agree that a reasonable fee was necessary, despite the protests of some residents that they will be paying to park on their own streets. That’s not exactly true — they’ll be paying to keep nonresidents from parking on their streets. Either way, there’s room for debate about what it should cost, but that’s a topic for another column.
If the ordinance is clear about anything, it’s that the program is flexible and neighborhood driven, so streets on which the majority of residents aren’t interested won’t have to participate. Good.
But the city will have to work out of lot of kinks before other neighborhoods — assuming they want to — join the program.