Patrick Ward didn’t think he was an activist. But when the parking lot around the corner from his house was purchased by a developer with plans to build a two-family home, he lost his parking place and knew that he had to do something. As the developer was digging the foundation, Ward called the media, organized his neighbors, and staged a small rally.
 
A little more than a year later, Ward continues to challenge Providence’s on-street parking ban. Frustrated by the lack of parking spaces in his Valley neighborhood, he’s advocating for resident parking permits, in which neighbors would pay $25 for a pass that allows them to park on the street at night.
 
Ward has a habit of waking up early on Sunday mornings to catch photographs of cars in compromising positions, squeezing on sidewalks and front yards to avoid a $15 ticket for parking on the street at night (for examples, visit crpp-providence.org).
 
His grassroots efforts prompted a phone call in August from City Hall, offering a pilot parking study in the four blocks around his house. He’s also motivated the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA) to organize around establishing a small pilot parking study. 
 
Although some residents oppose on-street parking, many are anxious to support Ward’s efforts. Chris Sanford recently walked up and down Chapin Street to gather signatures for the WBNA pilot study, and all 51 of his neighbors signed his petition. Sanford says he has trouble renting the units in the building he owns because parking is so scarce in the neighborhood. He can’t think of any reason to oppose a permit program.  
 
There are some reasons — parked cars can potentially block emergency vehicles, especially fire trucks, and complicate snow removal. But Ward points to Toronto, Boston, and Newport as cities that have managed to run effective parking permit programs. He says resident parking isn’t appropriate for all neighborhoods in Providence, but that residents should be able to choose whether the program makes sense in their area.
 
According to Dave Everett of Providence’s Department of Planning & Development, the city would never create a citywide resident parking permit program. Resident parking “has to be a palatable thing for everyone,” he says, and programs will only be introduced in neighborhoods that want them.
 
Everett was part of a team that planned pilot studies of resident parking permits in four Providence neighborhoods. So far, Washington Park is the only neighborhood with a program. Everett said residents in the study area have experienced few problems obtaining permits, and the program has run smoothly, but the pilot has yet to test what happens when Providence experiences a serious snowstorm. The city is extending the length of the pilot program into 2008, partially because last year’s study was during a particularly mild winter.
 
For other residents that wish to follow Patrick Ward’s lead, the process for establishing pilot parking programs is fairly murky. Because permit parking is a new idea in Providence, it isn’t managed by a particular city agency.
 
Some responsibility rests with the city Planning department, some with traffic engineering, and funding may or may not come from the city council. The WBNA and Patrick Ward are still waiting until the city identifies a funding source and assesses street widths before their pilot studies can begin.
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