Parking in Allston Is Getting Even Worse

How recent improvements to a Herb Chambers dealership have come at the expense of public parking.

Parking across the city can be a nightmare under normal circumstances, but some changes over the past few months have driven people who live and work in Allston even crazier than usual.

Back in November, the carriage lane along Commonwealth Ave. near Harvard Ave. was almost completely taken over by the sprawling Herb Chambers auto dealership, with 56 formerly metered spaces being used to park inventory from the store day and night. Around 20 of those had previously been diagonal metered spaces and have been converted into 11 horizontal 15-minute drop-off zones. It’s made finding a spot an exasperating headache for the residents of the numerous residential buildings along the block, as well as for the nearby businesses, realtors, insurance companies, and rock club. Those who’ve been complaining about it seem to think Herb Chambers has simply purchased public-use parking for their own purposes.

“If you’re ever having a hard time finding a parking space in Allston, you can thank #HerbChambers,” one critic wrote on Facebook. “They just bought this whole stretch of spaces in the Comm Ave carriage lane from the city… wtf?”

It’s easy to understand the frustration of seeing parking that was previously available to you or your customers being used by a single private business. But as it turns out, it’s not quite as bad as it looks. Herb Chambers has paid for a construction project to improve the roadway and the landscaping of the area, according to the Boston Transportation Department (BTD).

The end result of the project is 40 metered parking spaces, 11 drop-off spaces, one accessible parking space, and a revamped area surrounding the dealership that will make for a more appealing location for shopping for BMWs. All in all, a pretty good deal—if your last name is Chambers.

When construction like this finally gets underway, street occupancy permits are issued by the Public Works Department and the Boston Transportation Department, “often to construction companies, moving companies, and other commercial interests that have a temporary need to utilize a specific section of the curb. If meters are located within the permitted area, an additional $20 per day per meter is charged,” according to Tracey Ganiatsos of the BTD.

While it might seem annoying if it’s in your backyard, it’s common for private businesses “… to contribute financially to enhance the public amenities that surround their buildings,” Ganiatsos says. It’s also common for businesses, with city approval, to pay a rate for occupancy fees and take over public spaces for loading zones ($20 per foot each year, and $300 for two signs every five years) or valet zones ($40 per foot each year, and $300 for two signs every five years). Since the project’s start, Herb Chambers has paid a total of $18,884 in permit and parking meter fees to the city.

If those seem like bargain rates compared with what you’d pay for metered or garage parking, then consider this: Drop-off zones, like the new one in front of Herb Chambers, are often provided by the city for free, particularly in front of schools, hospitals, and businesses where it’s deemed in the public interest to help alleviate traffic and double parking.

While it’s easy to justify a gift from the city of valuable public parking for a hospital or school, just how the public interest applies to this stretch of Comm. Ave., not to mention a very lucrative auto dealership, isn’t exactly clear. Presumably the spaces will be used for the service portion of the dealership, but Herb Chambers did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The BTD points out that the drop-off spaces will not be for the exclusive use of the dealership, and can be used by visitors or customers of other nearby businesses. But there aren’t very many other businesses on that strip where a 15-minute drop-off zone is particularly useful, except for the service portion of the dealership, for dropping off one’s car and so on.

To the public, the end result is a loss of 15 metered parking spaces. If you consider the city can make up to $90 a week from a single metered space, it comes to $1,350 a week in lost parking revenue or around $70,000 a year. This is more than just a rather generous gift to the auto dealer. It’s a significant loss in the city’s ledgers.

But, hey, there’s gonna be some nice landscaping.

“The project refers to the design and reconstruction by private architects, engineers and contractors of all sidewalks, the roadway, curbs, walkways, landscaping, etc.,” says Ganiatsos. “It also includes making the area ADA compliant. [It’s] all paid for by the private business in the neighborhood. Everyone, including residents, benefit from the enhanced and updated surroundings. Drivers benefit from plenty of metered parking and less congestion resulting from double parked vehicles.”

One area worker, who didn’t want to be named, isn’t so convinced. “What Herb Chambers has done to improve his own business is coming at the cost of making an already challenging parking situation that much more so. They constantly have vehicles double-parked … including giant car carriers that routinely block the whole road while they’re being unloaded. It’s absurd to suggest that residents are better off with fewer metered spaces, and with Herb Chambers expanding its showroom onto the Comm. Ave. carriage road.”

As of last week, a majority of the metered spots were back in operation, and parking enforcement officers have begun patrolling the strip once again. The rest will come online once some additional pavement work has been completed, likely by the end of the year. In the meantime, residents looking for parking will just have to do something they’ve become accustomed to over the years of living in Allston: wait a little bit longer.