Everyone loves free parking.
We’d love free ice cream, too. But the effect on our waistlines (and the waste cans outside of ice cream stores) would be ugly.
America has experimented with free parking, and the result was similarly ugly—cars were parked everywhere, and nobody could find a space.
Some places tore down buildings to create parking lots and garages—take that solution far enough and you have few stores, lots of parking—but it’s hardly a vibrant, walkable area—too many cars, too much asphalt between destinations.
Other places added parking meters. A small cost meant that drivers thought a little harder about where they needed to park in order to run an errand or get into work.
But in Newton, we haven’t changed the price of parking at a meter for so long, the cost is hardly a deterrent. On Friday, wanting to take my mother (87) to lunch, I circled Newton Centre looking for a spot close enough to an open lunch locale for us to get in and out in an hour. No luck.
From my email inbox and conversations, I know that a good number of spaces are taken by employees—feeding meters, moving cars on time-limited streets every few hours by a few feet—and this limits the number of spaces available for other uses.
City Council has heard that the time-limiting ordinance, which is applied to meters and residential streets with no meters and high demand, has a wording loophole that allows savvy drivers to successfully appeal. We tried to adjust that language recently.
I agree with many of those who emailed in opposition to the changes—time limits are a crude method for achieving parking turnover.
To achieve the desired behaviors that will make finding parking in our most valuable commercial locales easier, we need better policies. Public parking spaces are a common resource, and should benefit everyone. The balance between commuters, employees and customers is difficult, as City Council just heard. Who should occupy the most-convenient most valuable spaces? The owner/employee, the customer, the commuter?
Ideally, those who need spaces for several hours (owners, employees, commuters) can find the space they need further from the center of the action—and can leave the car there all day for a reasonable cost. Then customers can find parking convenient to their destinations for short periods, and a little further away for longer visits. But in Newton Centre in particular, that’s not happening now.
As I write this, the City is working to open up some long-term spaces on private property for employees and others using an app—there are a number of nearly-empty private lots near most of our village centers.
But these spaces won’t alleviate the parking issue in the village center unless the City better manages the public spaces that are most in demand by customers. After all, if the space in front is cheap enough, why park further away?
Councilors Jake Auchincloss, Alison Leary, Vicki Danberg and I are working on a pilot parking management tool that has worked in other cities, and which Newton-Needham Chamber President Greg Reibman called “congestion pricing,” to keep some highly valuable spaces available at peak times for short-term uses.
Developed by UCLA economics professor Donald Shoup (http://www.streetfilms.org/illustrating-parking-reform-with-dr-shoup/), “demand based” or “dynamic” parking pricing has two components:
Time & Return: Before City Council Now
The proposal to clean up Newton’s ordinance on time limits remains before the council. Dynamic pricing isn’t appropriate for the whole city, but residents have been coming to Traffic Council for decades asking for relief from all-day commuter or employee parking, and the common result has been some form of time limit. So we need to have an ordinance that is enforceable. I will be voting again to tighten the language in the ordinance to make it more effective.
However, I did hear that the 24-hours is too long a prohibition on return (which was added to help the parking control officers, who don’t yet have the technology to know whether a car has left a lot/block and then returned or whether it was just moved a few spaces). On a two-hour space, clearly two hours is too short. So what is the right amount of time? I look forward to hearing your suggestions.