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Brookline Newcomer

How about a parking experiment?

Published in the Brookline TAB

November 11, 1999

I confess. When we moved to Brookline last year from Midwest Parking Heaven my wife and I came with two cars. We quickly sold one, but the other still lives in its rented spot a couple of blocks away, at $115-a-month. So naturally I've been curious about the mass hostility directed toward residents who want to park on the street. I just don't get it.

The main issue is the overnight parking ban, at least for those of us silly enough or desperate enough to buy a condo without a parking spot. Unfortunately, rather than coming up with a real solution, Brookline Future Search simply suggests that the town "retain the overnight ban as a deterrent to crime and to parking overflow by students, institutions and other Boston cars." This suggestion may reflect the views of many long-time home-owning residents, but it isn't responsive to the concerns of Brookline's majority: renters and condo owners.

Now, I know some residents say they feel safer at night when they walk past car-free curbs. I'm willing to believe them.

But I also know that feeling safer doesn't always mean being safer. Americans tend to overestimate the amount of crime and personal danger waiting for them in the streets, especially older people and those who watch a lot of TV. Is there really any proof that overnight parking causes crime in other towns that are similar to Brookline?

And what about residents who walk home alone from their distant parking spots late at night, or early in the evening with a child or two and a bag of groceries, often in the rain or snow? Wouldn't they feel safer, wouldn't their lives be easier, if they didn't have to walk so far? Don't their feelings, and their safety, count also?

Future Search's second argument, about avoiding overflow from Brighton and other foreign lands, no longer surprises me; I've become increasingly aware that fear of a student and working-class invasion has led some town residents to adopt an overly property-protective, near-bunker mentality. The overflow problem could partly be resolved, however, by selling resident parking permits, with just one permit for each household.

Another parking issue that leaves me perplexed is the two-hour limitation on daytime street parking in residential neighborhoods. The rule is enforced haphazardly, just often enough to remind us that leaving a car outside is against the law--and often enough to get the town some parking ticket revenue.

But the rule is modified by a confusing array of street-specific residential permits, which I haven't quite figured out yet. All I know is that residents on some streets near the MBTA stations and elsewhere can legally park all day, while their neighbors around the corner risk a ticket. The parking problem just gets pushed from one block to the next. Wouldn't a parking-permit system work better, and be more fair?

The lack of metered parking in commercial districts is a third problem. I don't mind this so much myself, since I can walk most places I need to go, but it's certainly important to local businesses whose customers head for the suburbs instead. As Coolidge Corner parking lots get turned into condos, the result is fewer places to park even when each individual project meets Brookline's antiquated zoning rules.

In looking for solutions, Future Search has come up with an array of good ideas to control town traffic. But their suggestions don't resolve the parking problem beyond new underground lots in the commercial centers.

Fortunately, we don't have to come up with a permanent solution all at once, and we can vary the solution to meet different neighborhood concerns. We might retain the overnight ban in the town's driveway-heavy neighborhoods, for example, but end it where the streets are more crowded.

And we can experiment. For a one-year period we could allow 24-hour parking in some neighborhoods--with a permit--while retaining the ban in equivalent neighborhoods. That would help us find out if more cars in Brookline really do cause crime, and if fears of a student invasion are justified rather than inflated.

One more thing: We already pay to park. Let's pay the town instead. It's time to mine the gold in the streets, and stop encouraging homeowners to pave over their backyards.

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