Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Parking v. Biking

I've been reflecting in silence for a while (like a Zen Buddhist monk?) and my reflections have led me to parking. The Walnut Street imbroglio was all about parking. Parking won. No surprise there, really. Pit a bike against a car, and the car wins.

But what if we pit other things against cars? One can reduce on-street parking demand by providing alternatives. In the case of Walnut Street, many of the parked cars seem to be commuters using the Highlands T stop. They arrive before 9 and leave after 5, at any rate.

Here are some alternatives to all day on-street parking (which are also alternatives to pitting bike lanes directly against on-street parking):

1. Employee parking cash-out. This has been used in, of course, California. Employers offer employees a cash-equivalent of real parking costs (parking is never genuinely "free" unless the land is free) in exchange for a parking space. (The employer could contribute to the employee's monthly mass transit pass.) The employer is then free to charge market rates to lease out the parking space to, say, commuters. Not a ton of parking behind businesses in Highlands, but there is some: I see cars parked back there, at any rate. Sample transaction: Employer cashes out an employee's space for $30/month. Employer then leases the space to a commuter for $60/month. Maybe Newton chips $5 as a little incentive to cover administrative costs. Another commuter's car off the street, $30 more in the employee's pocket, and $30 for the employer. Why would a commuter go for this? See item 6.

2. Shuttle bus. Theory: most people parking at Highlands live south of Boylston Street, and the walk to the T would be unpleasant. (I wouldn't want to cross under Boylston at Centre every day, myself.) Run a shuttle from a few points central to residents there (Parker & Dedham, Winchester & Dedham) to the Highlands T.

3. Walk-to-school shuttle: Run shuttle buses from elementary schools to the closest T stops daily, during drop-off time. Parents can walk kids to school, hop on the shuttle to the T, and avoid traffic, tolls, parking, and fuel costs. Same in the afternoon: shuttle from the T to the school, pick up kids at the after-care program and walk home. (Personally, I'd love to see a fleet of cycle-rikshaws handling this, but I'd settle for a van.)

4. Facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists: secure bike parking at Highlands (put that old station building to use!), better pedestrian access extending at least 1/2 mile in every direction (BPTF is working on the Centre/Boyston area), and safe bike route markings.

5. Bring back the Newton Bus!

6. If you can't beat 'em, charge 'em: Set up a muni-meter system extending up Walnut as far north as the commuters park. If they're going to park all day, they should pay. Likewise, enforce parking overstays more systematically, and consider increasing fines for overstays.

When a selection of these strategies are in place, parking problems in Highlands will decrease to the point that we can start talking about bike lanes beating out parking along Walnut.

1 comment:

susannah said...

Traffic Council (yes, Newton's own) has been talking about some of these ideas, too. They propose a permit system where the funds from commuter parking are split between the city & the neighbors on the block who allow it--the funds are put aside and can be "spent" by the neighborhood on street & sidewalk improvements (or burying underground wires)

On a related thread: Brookline is exploring wireless meters, which can be adjusted (and read) from a central office and will cover whole parking lots (or several blocks, at least). If they work out, they will be replacing all their individual coin-meters with a few of the new meters (and some meter maids will be reassigned, saving personnel costs).