At the advice of their parking director, Lower Merion's Board of Commissioners decided Monday night not to pursue a program of year-round free Saturday parking in business districts.
Board members discussed other ways to aid shoppers and business owners, while others continued to advocate for a free parking program on a more limited scale.
Parking director Tom Pintande told the board his department performed an analysis of Commissioner Lew Gould's suggestion for free Saturday parking. It was determined that it would cost the township revenue—about $200,000—and make it easier for non-shoppers to take up spaces during busy shopping times.
Bryn Mawr Commissioner Scott Zelov said business owners in his ward opposed the idea: "Helping our business community is an important goal of this board, but this isn’t the way to do it. If we have free parking on Saturdays, we’re going to have students parking through the weekend at the meters. That’s a bad idea."
Commissioner Dan Bernheim also said he would be "reluctant to move in this direction."
Zelov and Bala Cynwyd Commissioner George Manos were among several commissioners suggesting the township should make parking "smart cards" available at more places than just the township building, and Zelov called for signage at public parking lots to be made larger and clearer.
Others wondered whether a free-parking proposal would work better in some areas than others.
"I have no problem having this apply to Ardmore only," said Commissioner Cheryl Gelber, who represents that neighborhood.
Said Commissioner Brian Gordon, "Each town on the Main Line is unique. In Merion, we don’t need this. We have a tiny shopping district and spaces are precious."
Christine Vilardo of the Ardmore Initiative said of the businesses she'd spoken to, "70-30 are in favor of more free parking. ... We've noticed that people spend more time in the stores when they're not worrying about rushing out to feed their meter. If there were a way to acknowledge that people have stayed overtime but not penalize them, I think that would be worth looking at."
Nancy Gold, former president of the Ardmore Business Association and owner of King's Collar, told the commissioners the idea of more free Saturday parking was "a welcome concept and deserves your serious consideration."
"If the addition of every Saturday is too much to consider, and I think it probably is, I hope you'll at least consider it on the first Saturday of every month," Gold said.
She also called for parking amnesty on all Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In recent years, the township has allowed free parking on a few December Saturdays.