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Brookline Newcomer 

Resident parking concerns still ignored 

Published in the Brookline TAB

July 13, 2000

My parents are driving up from Retirement City. I expect that once again we'll have a good visit, except for one recurring annoyance. Mom and Dad enjoy our parks and restaurants and stores. They like to hang out and wander around. But what they don't like is figuring out what to do with their car every night, and moving it every two hours during the hot day. Each visit they're flabbergasted anew by Brookline's long-standing anti-parking policy.

Many residents are equally flabbergasted at the town's refusal to address what is not just an occasional irritant but a daily stressor. This paper repeatedly prints letters from people tired of walking home at night from their expensive distant parking spots through endless empty streets, tired of dragging a sick or sleeping child outside every two hours just to move their car throughout the day, tired of watching the town bend over backwards to help commercial-area parkers while ignoring residents.

Parking complaints that aren't simply ignored are met with a combination of platitudes and hostility. "The streets are safer this way" and "snowplows can't get around parked cars" are typical responses, ignoring both the lack of evidence about safety and the example of towns and cities that manage to function just fine every winter.

The hostility is seen in the smug "Get out of Brookline" response, or in a simple shoulder shrug--the local symbol for someone who owns a driveway.

During a discussion last month concerning 77 Marion Street, where 90 parking spots were lost to new apartment construction, the Transportation Board agreed to provide evicted parkers with overnight parking--until September 1st. When asked about parking on the Beacon Street median, the board simply refused to go along. They're still studying that particular possibility.

Board members didn't beat around the bush when residents asked about modifying Brookline's overnight on-street parking ban. As Board Chair Fred Levitan put it, "There's not one vote on this committee to change the ban." Others agreed.

One evicted parker, a woman with a young child, movingly described her daily difficulties and said "The situation is unacceptable. Where can I bring these concerns?" Levitan's response was honest but unhelpful: "You bring them here, to us"--and then he acknowledged that the board would do nothing to help her. The woman asked again, clearly frustrated: "What can I do?" The response: a boardful of shaking heads and lowered eyes.

Some in town are beginning to organize, hoping to push a compromise. Town Meeting Member Craig Bolon held a parking meeting in June for more than 50 North Brookline residents. The group will try to persuade the town to open up more overnight lots.

That would help, but a few small lots won't be enough. What's needed is a breach in the overnight ban--a breach that Transportation Board Member Michael Sandman said would never happen. Not on every street perhaps, but certainly in dense neighborhoods where the lack of parking is a nightly preoccupation.

Sandman made another comment at the meeting: "This board, and the Selectmen, and most voters do not want any change." That's probably accurate, but it's not the whole story.

The majority of Brookline residents live in multi-family dwellings, many of them without parking. Most of them don't vote, but an organized "End the Ban" campaign to register apartment and condo dwellers could shake things up. It's a long shot, but motivated voters might win a referendum, or at least elect new Town Meeting members and Selectmen willing to help what may be Brookline's true majority: the parking-deprived.

A serious voter-registration drive might push the Transportation Board into a compromising mood. They should at least be willing to investigate options--not just for show, but with an open mind--just as they have for commercial-area parking. After all, if all those angry renters and condoites start voting, who knows what havoc they might create?

As for Mom and Dad, they'll apparently survive the visit. They just told me they've decided to stay in a Newton motel this time around. Among the main attractions is the 24-hour parking lot.

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