Hard Time Finding a Parking Spot?

By Meg Muckenhoupt | Boston Magazine |

Parking in Boston isn’t pleasant: the constant trolling for a spot, the congested streets, the outrageous garage fees. But the real problem, says Jason Schrieber, a traffic expert with the local office of urban planning firm Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, is the low price of metered parking. He’s been selling community groups on a plan to change that, and argues that if rates were hiked—to $4 an hour, maybe even higher—Boston would become a far better place to drive, and live.

METER FEEDERS Drivers are conditioned to search for on-street spots first, thanks to garage rates that reach $15 an hour in prime neighborhoods. That leads to circling cars—which studies show make up at least 30 percent of daytime city traffic—and parkers who return to feed the meter every two hours after nabbing a space. The solution, Schrieber says, is to make street parking more available by making it attractive only as a short-term option.

DRIVING PRICES "We all see parking as free, as if land value dropped out of the equation," says Schrieber. He contends spaces should be priced like any other real estate—with neighborhoods’ fees set according to demand (as opposed to the blanket $1-an-hour rate the city put in place in 2003)—and tweaked upward until 15 percent of spaces go unfilled. That’s the magic number for establishing the spots’ market value. And it’s when, Schrieber says, squatters will be discouraged from staying in high-traffic areas.

COMPETE STREET Garages get away with absurdly high prices in part because they snag short-term customers who are in a rush and can’t find anything curbside. But if, say, there were always spots available on Newbury—even at something like $5 an hour—nearby garages would have to lower prices to compete. If that happened, drivers would have even less reason to circle for a spot, ensuring yet more on-street parking and less traffic.

CONCRETE GAINS With customers finding easier parking for quick stops, businesses should see increased revenues. And if Boston invested all the extra quarters stuffed into meters (Schrieber estimates those in the Back Bay alone could net an additional $6 million a year) into better sidewalks and public transportation, demand for parking would be driven even lower. But will City Hall bite? Transportation commissioner Tom Tinlin sounds hesitant: "You don’t want high parking rates to be an incentive for people not to go into the city."

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2008/05/hard-time-finding-a-parking-spot/