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MoCo: Is Free Library Parking a Civic Right?

The prospect of charging library patrons for parking has mobilized residents and politicians in advance of a likely County Council vote next week and has both sides invoking the Constitution and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

Those who would continue the county's policy of free parking at libraries say that an hourly fee would discourage low-income residents by creating a "de facto admissions fee," and would discriminate against residents who use libraries in the county's more urban areas.

Opponents contend that free library-only parking is difficult for librarians to monitor in areas where others must pay and that subsidized parking encourages residents to drive, instead of using public transportation.

The council appears narrowly divided on the issue, after passing a free-parking policy two years ago. Under the current system, the county reimburses the City of Rockville, which owns the garage adjacent to the library, about $90,000 a year.

According to the resolution approved in 2006, charging for parking "may impose a barrier for the poor, may discourage other residents as well from using libraries and establish a de facto admissions fee for the many county residents who have no reasonable way of getting to a library other than driving."

The resolution passed 6 to -2, over the objections of council members George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) and Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County).

Leventhal raised the library parking issue again during the recent budget debate when council members were looking to shave spending. In an e-mail to Leventhal, Rockville City Council member Anne M. Robbins called the goal of free parking a "great aid to democracy." She said that Franklin, the founder of the nation's free library system, "understood that the very foundation of a free society depends on the education of its citizens."

Leventhal said this week that parking fees are a small, but necessary hardship of using libraries in congested urban areas. Hospital patrons pay for parking, he said, as do residents who testify at the County Council building. According to Leventhal's research, libraries in Baltimore, the District and Franklin's home town of Philadelphia do not provide free parking.

"Benjamin Franklin promoted reading; he did not promote free parking," Leventhal said, adding that the U.S. Constitution provides for free speech and freedom of religion and assembly "but not free parking."

Council members Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) joined Leventhal in sponsoring the resolution to end free library parking, which is slated for consideration next week. The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, which has reviewed plans for the new Silver Spring library, backs his position.

On the other side, council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) said a change in policy would have a disparate effect on residents with disabilities because the Rockville Library houses the countywide Disability Resource Collection. He said the parking fee at the library would be $1 an hour.

Libraries in Rockville and Bethesda would be initially affected if free parking ends, but the decision also could have repercussions for patrons of libraries planned for Silver Spring and Derwood. Bethesda Library patrons paid for parking until two years ago.

To resident Irwin Cohen, a member of the Rockville Friends of the Library, the policy is a matter of equity. Seniors who patronize the Rockville Library should not be treated differently than those who use the library in Potomac, he said. Cohen warned that the more than 500,000 library-card holders in the county could be a formidable political force if the council gives them reason to revolt.

By Anne Bartlett  |  June 6, 2008; 11:03 AM ET
Categories:  Ann Marimow  
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Comments

Sounds like an opportunity for MoCo library patrons to reduce their carbon footprint by taking the bus. Plus, you'll have something to read on the trip home!

Posted by: Baltimoron | June 6, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Okay, and I assume they'll be adding money for housing to be built within walking distance of libraries and the like? Oh, wait, this is MoCo...go north of about Bethesda and you'd almost have to drive to it just because of the distances involved.

Or do they also realize that all this will do is force people to park elsewhere? The Germantown Library for instance is in the middle of a shopping center (with lots of parking), the Gaithersburg one is across from a mall (hmm, parking, but a hazardous street in the middle), the Kensington one is on a road where conceivably you could park along it (although I'm not sure how safe that would be).... You're asking for residents to get hit and not use the libraries!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Rockville can impose a low fee for the first hour, say $.25 or $.50? This would help the area restaurants and shops as well.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I would love to see those who are not Montgomery County residents pay for parking. I am tired of seeing the DC residents use our libaries for free and take up the parking spaces.

I would also like to see those non-county residents who have company cars and use the libaries to park their private vehicles have to pay the hourly rate.

Check the libary parking lots at night and count the county vehicles parked there. For each one, there is a private car taking its place all the next day.

Posted by: Citizen Payne | June 6, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

The council member is Don Praisner, not the late Marilyn Praisner

Posted by: check your story | June 6, 2008 8:30 PM | Report abuse

The council member is Don Praisner, not the late Marilyn Praisner

Posted by: check your story | June 6, 2008 8:30 PM | Report abuse

Anne Marimow writes:

Those who would continue the county's policy of free parking at libraries say that an hourly fee would discourage low-income residents by creating a "de facto admissions fee," and would discriminate against residents who use libraries in the county's more urban areas.

The last part of that sentence baffles me. I fail to understand how opponents of universal library parking fees can creditably claim that such fees,

"would discriminate against residents who use libraries in the county's more urban areas".

I'd have thought the opposite. Urban dwellers can walk, or more easily use transit, than suburban dwellers, and therefore are less likely to incur parking fess? What's up?

Posted by: Count Bobulescu | June 7, 2008 1:43 AM | Report abuse

Dear "check your story" -- perhaps you should check your reading glasses. The reference to Marilyn Praisner concerned her no vote on the original (2006) free parking resolution, when she was very much alive.

Posted by: hmpstd | June 7, 2008 7:39 AM | Report abuse

How can anybody concentrate on their library research project if they have to worry about coming out to their car and finding a $35 parking ticket? Bad idea.

Posted by: Robin Ficker Broker Robin Realty | June 7, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

For library patrons to use this library, parking should be free. There is nothing more beautiful than to see families with children using the library, reading to their toddlers on their laps, walking leisurely through the lobby, gazing at the beautiful ceiling, and enjoying what the library offers.
The restaurants can validate parking (gee, a nice meal and then finding you have to run out to put more money in the meter! Not good customer service!
Sure, we need the revenue, but find it someplace else, not the library!

Posted by: Harriet | June 7, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

For library patrons to use this library, parking should be free. There is nothing more beautiful than to see families with children using the library, reading to their toddlers on their laps, walking leisurely through the lobby, gazing at the beautiful ceiling, and enjoying what the library offers.
The restaurants can validate parking (gee, a nice meal and then finding you have to run out to put more money in the meter! Not good customer service!
Sure, we need the revenue, but find it someplace else, not the library!

Posted by: Harriet | June 7, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

make the people pay for parking. it will influence them to take public transportation, or walk. this all helps our environment. go green!

Posted by: Scott Helnes | June 9, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

When going green means paying more the term going gold or going silver should be used.

Posted by: What kind of green? | June 10, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: Nancy Barness | June 23, 2008 9:04 PM | Report abuse

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