How about a parking experiment?
Published in the Brookline
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
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
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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