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Brookline Newcomer 

Zipcar advances,
Transportation Board reverses 

Published in the Brookline TAB

October 5, 2000

The tickets on Zipcar's shiny green Beetle in the Centre Street Parking Lot over the past month were apparently issued in error, since the Transportation Board donated that spot to the new car-sharing company. Yet the recurring tickets demonstrate the persistence of Brookline's anti-parking mindset. Unfortunately, even as fed-up car owners push for reform, the Board is complicating their lives even further.

Zipcar recently expanded to Brookline from Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Already successful in Europe, car-sharing is designed for people who don't drive every day. Company-owned cars of various sizes are available in central locations for a $75 annual fee and a variable hourly and mileage rate (see ). So far in Brookline we've got the car that's accumulating tickets in Coolidge Corner and another in Brookline Village; when new people join, Zipcar adds more cars and locations.

The company's pitch at the Transportation Board's August meeting for free 24-hour parking spots turned out to be superfluous. Board members were so eager to help they could barely contain themselves. Maybe they think that, with Zipcar in place, they'll feel less guilty about Brookline's elitist parking rules: from now on, it's driveways for the wealthy, car-sharing for the rest of us.

Car-sharing does make sense, for financial and environmental reasons. My wife and I are tempted. But it's not for everyone. More important, it's not a significant institutional solution to the town's parking problem.

Shared parking doesn't help people who drive daily. And until many more shared cars are parked in more locations--perhaps owned and subsidized by the town, which would assure stability as a permanent transit alternative--it's not for most people with kids or disabilities. My daughter would rebel at routinely having to walk all the way to Zipcar's Village spot; I'd have trouble getting there myself on hot summer days.

Although many Zipcar customers avoid buying a car, thus reducing traffic and parking pressure, not that many sell cars they already have. We'd consider selling ours and getting another later if Zipcar doesn't work out or our needs change. But we'd hate to give up our hard-to-replace parking spot.

Seeking a comprehensive solution, community activist and Town Meeting Member Craig Bolon has organized several meetings about parking problems in North Brookline and started an email discussion list Once subscribed you can review old messages and read Craig's detailed article on Brookline's sorry parking policy history. With some momentum, we should see additional meetings in other dense neighborhoods, aimed ultimately at townwide action.

Several other Town Meeting Members have proposed Article 12, which would require new housing developments to provide more parking spots. Town Meeting should pass this in November rather than wait for some future bylaws change that would come much too late. We can't impose more spots on already-built buildings.

Despite the flurry of activity, the Transportation Board itself is heading backwards. It recently transformed 24-hour resident parking spots in Brookline Village's Lot 7 to 12-hour resident, 12-hour merchant parking. Accommodating merchants makes sense, but not by antagonizing residents.

And now the Board wants to penalize people for not getting to bed early enough. Current town law bans parking for more than one hour between 2 and 6 am. The Board proposes eliminating that one-hour provision so police can issue tickets immediately. Instant ticketing may be efficient, but it's unfair. People park in the middle of the night for reasons ranging from nighttime shift work to preparing for an early morning vacation to a lingering goodbye after a late-night date. These drivers don't deserve tickets.

The overnight ban gets the most attention, but the two-hour daytime parking limit is also a hardship. One of many emails I've received came from an aging couple who, after 40 years in Brookline, are tired of walking downstairs from their third-floor apartment every two hours just to move their car. That's ridiculous!

The Transportation Board should be forced to represent all residents, not just those with driveways.

And they should tell the police to stop ticketing that legally parked Zipcar!

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