An independent news publication of
United Way of Lancaster County


Lancaster is analyzing its parking permit program

A sign on a Residential Parking Permit block on Lancaster’s west side outlines the zone’s restrictions. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Lancaster’s Residential Permit Parking program, or RPP, has made it much more difficult for Bob Wilson to find a place to park.

Wilson lives on the 100 block of South Ann Street, which is not in the RPP. However, it’s surrounded by ones that are, which leaves Wilson’s block to absorb spillover demand.

Frequently, he said, especially after business hours, his block is packed full, while spaces go unused nearby. On occasion, he’s parked in an RPP block, knowing he would get a ticket, because there were no other options.

“It’s awful,” he said.

The blocks in red are enrolled in Lancaster’s Residential Parking Permit program. Click to enlarge.

The RPP system has led to the same situation elsewhere, too, city officials say, pushing demand out of some blocks into others and leading to inefficient use of neighborhoods’ limited curb space. Moreover, the city has no means to remove a block from the RPP: Additions and removals happen through petitions, which require 75% of a block’s residents to sign on.

With a view to reforming it, the city launched a study of RPP in March in partnership with parking consulting firm Kimley Horn. On Tuesday, Kimley Horn gave a presentation to the Traffic Commission, followed by an open house.

Currently, the project team is gathering data and input from residents and other stakeholders, Kimley Horn’s Robert Ferrin said. An online survey on Engage Lancaster, the city’s public engagement website, has already garnered more than 400 responses. The survey remains open through the end of May.

For more information

A virtual meeting on the Residential Permit Program is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 16. It will consist of a brief presentation, followed by public comment.

Registration is required to participate. To register, click here; you will be sent a link to the Zoom meeting. Spanish-language interpretation will be available for anyone needing it.

Kimley Horn is looking to several other cities for changes Lancaster could consider, Ferrin said. For example, Columbus, Ohio, moved from a petition-driven system like Lancaster’s to one based on data analysis and engineering studies. Seattle, Washington, raised its permit prices to better reflect actual market demand for parking in particular areas.

This analysis shows which Residential Parking Permit Sectors have issued fewer (green) more (orange) or about the same number of parking permits as the spaces available. Click to enlarge. (Source: City of Lancaster | Kimley Horn)

The team intends to issue draft recommendations next month. They will be subject to another round of public review and comment, leading to implementation beginning in August.

The city wants to complete all changes by the end of the year, before the start of the next permit period, Deputy Public Works Director Cindy McCormick said. Permits must be renewed on an annual basis and are valid Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

McCormick said her goal is to move Lancaster toward a more data-driven process. The ultimate outcome could well be a net increase in RPP blocks, she said; that remains to be seen.

Adriana Atencio, executive director of The Common Wheel, asked if abolishing RPP is on the table. By and large, cities haven’t gone that route, Ferrin said. Public Works Director Stephen Campbell said Lancaster is open to whatever ends up making sense.

Lancaster’s RPP dates to the 1970s. Originally, it was intended as a way to insulate residents from parking demand generated by nearby businesses, Mayor Danene Sorace said, but in the decades since, it has been used in ways that don’t comport with that goal.

Lancaster residents discuss the Residential Parking Permit program at an open house at City Hall on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

She sounded a note of caution: While there is room for improvement in the RPP, the bottom line is that there are more cars seeking to park curbside than the city has room to accommodate.

The city took the first steps toward studying the RPP a few years ago, but suspended further action because of the pandemic. In the interim, it imposed a moratorium on adding any more blocks.

That has been a frustration for Wilson, the South Ann Street resident. He has been pushing to enroll his block in the program, to put on an even footing with the neighboring blocks; because of the moratorium, he can’t.

As things stand, it’s unworkable, he said. Either his block needs to enter the RPP, or the blocks nearby need to be decommissioned.

“I either want it one way or the other,” he said.