The time has come to consider a user fee for on-street resident parking permits

With the new Boston City Council term officially underway as of Wednesday, At-Large Councilor, Transportation Committee chair, and Rossident Michelle Wu has made good on her statement late last year to start the discussion on collecting a user fee for something that is currently given away — on-street residential parking permits. Universal Hub has a short summary of Michelle’s council-approved request to hold a hearing on the concept soon: “Time to start charging for Boston parking permits, some councilors say.” Many issues will be in the mix, including how much to charge, whether to limit the number of permits, and how to deal with visitors and critical home care providers. As the discussion gets going and the hearing date nears, we’ll look to make this space a place for discussion of the intersecting policy and community issues at stake. While WalkUP Roslindale’s steering group hasn’t yet formulated an official policy on the issue, I can personally state for the record my complete support for implementing a user fee plan with details tbd this year. The time has come. – Matt Lawlor

Let’s dedicate a bus lane!

Proposed Washington Street Dedicated Bus Lane

Proposed Washington Street Dedicated Bus Lane

For people who want to walk more and drive less in Roslindale, and encourage others to do so as well, the stretch of Washington Street from Rozzie Square to Forest Hills has long been an extreme pain point. The Commuter Rail makes the trip in less than five minutes but is infrequent and too expensive for many. We believe the cost for getting downtown from Roslindale should be the same, or nearly so, whether on Commuter Rail or bus/subway, but changing that will require political will at the state level and so far we’re not seeing much in that direction.

Meanwhile, this corridor is well served by buses — nearly ten different lines from points south and west converge here, so in theory the wait should always be short and the one-mile trip to the end of the Orange Line quick. But these buses share a single lane with traffic, making the entire route indistinguishable from a parking lot at rush hour. This isn’t right and it’s time to fix it.

The GoBoston 2030 study found that an average of 19,000 bus riders pass along this corridor every day, and more than half the people traveling along Washington Street between Forest Hills and Roslindale Square are in a bus. With heavy mixed use development going up around Forest Hills as well as a growing population in Roslindale and points south, this route is only going to become more well traveled, but it’s physically impossible to accommodate hundreds or thousands more people trying to make this trip in single-occupant vehicles[1]. Moreover, if the bus trip were faster and more convenient, it’s near certain that many more would opt for that mode, making it an overwhelming favorite.

A potential solution has been on the radar for years and it’s time to give it a try. Several groups, including the City of Boston itself, have proposed removing a lane of parking and turning it into a dedicated bus lane — inbound in the morning, and outbound in the evening. A similar experiment was quite successful last winter in Everett and we’d like to see how it works here. Community feedback on the idea has been overwhelmingly positive thus far and we’re hopeful to get a trial going soon to see how much it reduces the bus commute time, and to gather information on how it might impact other users of the road. Once we have real data in hand, we can have a well-informed conversation about the trade-offs involved in this sort of dedication of our street space.

One concern is the bus lane will likely have to be shared with the bike lane. This arrangement works well on the Silver Line route in the South End, but this stretch of Washington Street is much tighter. In some future enlightened world, the City will remove parking on both sides of Washington Street to provide separate dedicated bike and bus lanes for the public good, but short term this project makes imperative the rapid funding and construction of the Roslindale Gateway Path as a completely off-street alternative. We’re also intent on making sure the bus drivers on this route are well-trained and sensitized to the shared use with cyclists to maximize peaceful coexistence.

Finally, any loss of on-street parking will inevitably touch a nerve with some. A critical upside of the trial run is that we’ll then have data to inform this discussion: if we can move 20,000 or more people in half the time it currently takes, is that worth sacrificing real estate that is currently dedicated to a few dozen vehicles for free?

Moreover, last year the Metropolitan Area Planning Council researched the corridor’s parking patterns, including by analyzing license plate registration of parked cars. They found that “the Washington Street corridor between Forest Hills station and Roslindale Square has the highest rates of bus utilization in the entire MBTA service district, with 60% of travelers utilizing an MBTA bus during the AM and PM peak hours.” The report also documented low parking usage during the peak travel times, especially during the early morning, and that over 80% of parked cars were from outside the neighborhood driven in by people heading to the Forest Hills T-station. If these spots go away, these people from outside the neighborhood (and presumably most from outside the city) will have to find an alternate commute–perhaps this will stimulate a virtuous circle where these people opt for commuter rail closer to their home once their “free” parking alternative is limited. That’s an outcome we at WalkUP Roslindale can support.

If you want to help make this happen, spread the word to you neighbors and reach out to your City Councilors and the Mayor to express your support. We’re optimistic there will be good news about the trial run soon.

Press coverage and more information:

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Unless those single-occupant vehicles happen to all be bicycles. That would be fortunate!

A brief recap of the abutters’ meeting on 874-878 South Street (South/Walter)

We brought everyone’s attention to this meeting about a week ago and gave our thoughts about ways the revised 9-unit, 18-space proposal could be improved, based largely on the reaction from the group at the LANA meeting earlier in the month. Seems like the development team was listening.

And now to our report, very briefly: This was, all in all, a downright cordial meeting, well run by Dan Murphy from the Mayor’s ONS. I would say that the overall sense in the room was:

  • that 9 residential units was more or less going to work for this location,
  • that at 13 the number of parking spaces seemed tight to some and more than ample to others (your correspondent felt it was more than necessary, didn’t take full advantage of the location’s close proximity to the Commuter Rail/Roslindale Square/Washington Street Bus Corridor, and would both drive up the cost of the units and encourage more vehicular traffic), and
  • that the reduction in vehicle spaces was allowing for bicycle parking for 13 bicycles and some buffering green space between the surface parking and the property to the rear.

Certainly some attention still needs to be paid to the overall design, which feels too by-the-book (and from not that great a book), and the vehicular access could use some thinking about how to better manage the exiting and entering of vehicles. The discussion at the end focused on further process – it sounds like the developer will file revised plans with ISD soon and start the Board of Appeal’s zoning relief process, which will likely take on the order of 3 to 6 months to get through, to be followed by BPDA Design Review. WalkUP Roslindale will look to submit a comment letter in connection with the Board of Appeal hearing. We will share it when we have it ready. In the meantime, thoughts are more than welcome in the comments.

874-878 South Street Installment 2 – Finally back with revised proposal for public consideration – 6:30 pm, 28 March 2017, at the RCC

874 South Street Meeting Flyer

874 South Street Meeting Flyer

It’s been almost 2 years, but the 874-878 South Street proposal that was the subject of a WUR long-form blog post in July 2015 is finally returning with a revised proposal.

The meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 28, at 6:30 pm at the Roslindale Community Center. Flyer for meeting here.

Based on what was said by the property owner and his attorney at the LANA meeting a week or so ago, it sounds like the proposal will be for 9 residential units with 18 off-street parking spaces. For those keeping score at home, that’s a reduction from the original proposal of 6 residential units and an increase of 3 off-street parking spaces. Revised plans were not available at the LANA meeting, though they will reportedly be available this coming Tuesday.

For the record, I continue to live 2 blocks from this location. From my own perspective and given this location within walking distance of the commuter rail station and Roslindale Square, the revised unit count is lower than it should be and the number of off-street parking spaces is at least 4 spaces too many. I would really prefer a 1-to-1 space to unit ratio at this location. While I recognize some neighbors see this issue differently, on-street parking issues at this location and along the stretch of South Street and the intersecting streets toward the commuter rail are relatively minimal, except on Sunday mornings. Increasing the parking space count here may prevent there ever being an issue from this development related to on-street parking, but it will tend to increase vehicle traffic by encouraging car ownership by development residents and, to the extent automatically included with each unit, will increase the cost of each unit in the development. Accordingly, in addition to wanting to see the revised design, I will be interested in a discussion of the parking space count, how the revised plans locate those spaces on the site, what kind of space is left over, and how much consideration is or isn’t being given to bicycle parking and encouraging bicycling and walking as well as zipcar and transit use.

Boston City Council Transportation Policy Briefings

Let's talk transportation policyWe are delighted that the Boston City Council’s Committee on Parks, Recreation & Transportation has announced a series of public discussions, in partnership with Northeastern University Professor Peter G. Furth, on several critical topics. These discussions will be held in the Iannella Chamber on the 5th Floor of City Hall, and also livestreamed at Come in person to be part of the conversation, and please spread the word! Kudos to City Council President Michelle Wu for taking the major leadership role to make this happen.

  • Tues, Nov. 15th, 12-1:30pm — Low-Stress Bicycle Network
  • Tues, Dec. 6th, 4-5:30pm — Pedestrian Service and Safety
  • Thurs, Jan. 5th, 4-5:30pm — Systematic Safety — European Vision Zero Principles Applied to Boston
  • Thursday, Feb. 2nd, 4-5:30pm — Transit Signal Priority
  • Thurs, Mar. 2nd, 4-5:30pm — Parking Management

See also this flyer for these events. Questions or comments to Henry Cohen at 617-635-3115.

WalkUP Testimony at City Parking Hearing

WalkUP Rozzie Founder Matt Lawlor Testifying on Parking Before Boston City Council

WalkUP Rozzie Founder Matt Lawlor Testifying on Parking Before Boston City Council

Earlier this week, we offered testimony at a Boston City Council hearing on parking issues. Although the connection between walkability and parking policy may not be immediately obvious, because parking uses up billions of dollars of some of our most valuable urban real estate and has a substantial cascading effect on all forms of transportation, it stands at the core of any effort to move our neighborhood and our city toward walkability and sustainability.

Our comments were also sent by letter; the text is reproduced below, full version available as a PDF.

Continue reading

4 Minutes for Walkability — What is it, how is it achieved, and what’s it good for?

If you have time to click on this link at grist:

The key to fighting climate change and mortality? Walkable cities.

read the intro, and then watch the short video — I believe that’s a 4 minute time commitment in total — you’ll find it worth your while. An excellent summary of what makes a place walkable, how it’s achieved, and what it’s good for. Enjoy and then get out there and get to it!