Thanks to Donald Shoup and those spreading his findings, we know that free parking constitutes an enormous subsidy to motorists, grossly mis-allocates a scarce resource, and leads to increased environmental damage.
So what does that mean in Newton?
It means decisions like leasing land to Whole Foods for free parking and then allowing Whole Foods to expand the number of spaces on adjacent land is bad policy and planning. But, that one's in the books.
It means that Newton needs to remove its minimum parking requirements for private development and replace it with a requirement for market-based parking fees.
And, it means that the city and relevant agencies need to rethink public parking areas.
Here's candidate number one: the free lot in West Newton on Washington Street across from Blue Ribbon BBQ, the one marked "Small free lot" in the picture above. (Click here for the Google Map view of the lot and environs.)
There are about 50 spaces in the lot, the vast majority of them used by commuters. Commuters (like Mrs. NS&S and occasionally even me) like the small free lot because it is relatively easy to get to and it is close to one of the two staircases to the commuter rail platform.
But, there is another option for commuters, the large free lot, which is not quite as convenient to get to, but just as close to the platform.
What if you made the small lot a pay lot, with thirty or so spaces available for long-term use at a nice premium (start at say $10) with the rest two-hour maximum, again at a nice premium (start at say $2 an hour)?
Here's what I think would happen:
- Some commuters would stop looking for spaces in the small free lot and head straight for the large free lot.
- Some commuters would spend the $10 for the convenience.
- There would not be a net loss of commuters because a) the large lot is large enough and b) only the earliest commuters can count on finding a space in the large lot. There cannot be that many commuters for whom charging in the small lot will change their commuting choice.
- There would be an additional twenty or so spaces available for patrons of the businesses on Washington Street.
- Those twenty spaces would have high turnover, which is good for businesses.
- There would be a lot of new money available for improvements and maintenance in the business district. (I'd earmark all meter revenue to be spent in the district collected.)
- There would be a lot fewer cars circling the small lot and not finding spaces.
- Each morning and afternoon, there would be twenty or so extra trips down Elm and Webster Street to the large lot.
Ideally, you'd also charge for the larger lot. But, that's trickier. You don't want to push commuters to the point where they reconsider driving.
So, let's start with the small lot.