Why Purple Curbs Are Causing Some Local Business Owners to See Red
Controversy over the transparency surrounding a pilot Smart Loading Zone program has emerged with the addition of purple curbs in Squirrel Hill.
Purple paint popping up along some city curbs has caused an outcry among businesses in Squirrel Hill this week.
City officials have added Smart Loading Zones in various neighborhoods, such as Oakland and Downtown, with the splashes of lilac appearing in Squirrel Hill in the past two weeks. They soon will be added in Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, the South Side Flats and the North Shore.
The aim of the new zones – which assess parking fees through special cameras – are to deter motorists from camping out in spots in front of high-trafficked businesses for long periods of time to allow delivery drivers, Uber drivers and customers to park for a few minutes at a time to quickly finish their jobs or pick up their food or other items.
“The goal of the program is to increase the efficiency of loading zones,” says Olga George, Mayor Ed Gainey’s press secretary. “The zones are being added to areas that already have parking meter enforcement. However, there are some people who don’t like to pay for parking and will take over these loading zone spots and stay there for hours on end.”
But John Mineo of Mineo’s Pizza House on Murray Avenue says the city posted “Coming Soon” signs for the zones about three weeks before painting the curbs and adds no one from the city approached him or other businesses along the busy Squirrel Hill thoroughfare.
“I don’t think the city did a good job of bringing this to our attention beforehand,” he adds. “I am not happy with the way this was designed and executed. No one came to us and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ We would have said no because we aren’t fans of this idea.”
Mineo has had a 30-minute loading zone in front of his pizza shop for 30 years that allows customers to run in and grab their pies and purveyors to drop off needed ingredients, such as the 3,000 pounds of cheese he uses each week. He adds there are currently three purple zones in one block along Murray Avenue, all where there are loading zones for businesses.
“This is just a money grab,” he says. “You’re going to punish my customers who are there for 5 minutes to get a pizza and cause people to not buy a pizza from me.”
Mineo also wonders why the Smart Loading Zones are enforced from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. — with metered parking only enforced from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Monday through Saturday.
Mineo and other local business owners plan to meet with city officials in his Squirrel Hill location next week. He says a spokesperson from the mayor’s office has apologized to him for the lack of notice.
Though George says the city gave affected business owners ample notice for the added Smart Loading Zones. She also says this pilot program is not new to the city.
“The program has been in existence for about a year now and city council voted in December to extend it to 2024,” she explains. “Smart Loading Zones were launched in April 2022 with 20 zones throughout the city. The business owners are not just learning about this. Before we do any programs, especially with businesses involved, they are alerted to the changes.”
George says the pilot program was made possible by a $100,000 Automotus grant. Automotus is a Los Angeles-based curb management solution company that works to help reduce emissions, congestion and safety hazards in communities, its website reads.
If you park in a purple zone, your license plate is photographed by an installed camera and the owner is billed accordingly. The cost is about 6 or 7 cents a minute for the first 5 minutes, with a maximum of $12.67 per hour.
George says data in the first year has shown that most of those parking in purple zones are there for a few minutes at a time, with an average charge of just $1.67. No driver has been charged the full$12.67 for one hour.
George says registered drivers can also receive a discounted parking rate by registering their vehicle via email to Automotus.
In addition to improving efficiency, the Smart Loading Zones should deter delivery trucks or other vehicles from double parking and further clogging up traffic in these areas, as well as reduce emissions.
Mineo says patrons and purveyors do not currently pay to park in his loading zone, an agreement that was made when he applied for the zone three decades ago.
“If someone is going to park in my loading zone for longer than 30 minutes, then use the people you employ within the parking authority to ticket them,” Mineo says.
An interactive map shows the location of current and proposed purple Smart Loading Zones.
In the first year, Automotus reports the average park duration in the city has decreased by nearly 25%, the average double park duration has decreased by 40% and turnover has increased by nearly 25%.
George says locations for the purple zones were chosen based on parking and availability, metered locations, ticket data and suitable electrical connections for the cameras.
“I know some businesses like the idea and others do not,” George says. “We’ve been hearing more positives than negatives.”
Multiple comments made on a Post-Gazette article that details the frustrations show many people feel officials are trying to drive businesses out of the city and cause more headaches for motorists, especially in areas that are already difficult to find a parking spot.
Other commenters wrote the zones would encourage more people to pick up their food if they have assured parking spots near their destination and act as a preventive measure to keep “freeloaders” from leaving their vehicles in those spots unnecessarily.