Parking IS an issue. A big, fat, giant issue!
On Monday, Garrett Quinn from Boston Magazine wrote a piece about South Boston and our crazy obsession with parking . Actually he wrote “a mind-numbingly dumb obsession with parking.” (Yes, Southie, he called us dumb.) He went on to call out the group of “miracle-workers” who banned together to form a real estate development group that purchased Mary’s Garden on Old Harbor Street to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. He also called out yours truly and scoffed at my outrage in the post I wrote about the city reserving public spots for car-sharing companies like Zip Car.
It’s easy for outsiders to refer to us as dumb and use a condescending tone like, “Do you believe these people and complaints about parking? Cleary, they haven’t read Shoup.” And why is it always the people who are concerned with NIMBYism, never seem to live in that neighborhood?
What is this Shoup they speak of? For those of you who have a life and don’t know what Shoup is, Donald Shoup is a 77 year-old professor of urban planning at UCLA and is evidently a parking guru. He argues that free or overly-cheap parking is actually bad for cities because it encourages more people to drive, making it difficult to find a space. Therefore, you should charge a higher price for more desirable/busier parking spots/blocks. If you recall, Mayor Marty Walsh is considering using this method with metered spots in busy areas like Newbury Street and Kenmore Square. I must admit, I do agree that South Boston’s business districts would benefit from this theory. If it costs $20 an hour to park in front of the Paramount, you might walk instead. Another great aspect of his theory, is all money raised from those meters would go directly to city services like power washing sidewalks and snow removal in these business districts. Makes complete sense.
Shoup’s Utopian view for residential parking is where I’m still skeptical. His theory is, charge more for a resident permit. Currently, we pay $0. By comparison, San Francisco pays $110 (evidently San Francisco still has major parking problems). People argue that our extremely high real estate taxes pay for this free permit. Shoup would argue, charge as much as people will pay. It’s called supply and demand. Makes sense, right? But until we actually implement a parking policy that has been “Shoup-tified” – then Southie is still left with a parking crisis.
The city has a hard enough time enforcing non-resident/out of state plates for violating resident only parking rules. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a Vermont plate on my block for a week without ANY tickets. Without enforcement, how do we expect people to purchase an expensive resident permit when they are not even bothering to get a free one. So until something is done, our parking spots will be filled with cars and we will remain in the grips of a very serious parking situation. End of story.
It is naively optimistic to think that people will just give up their cars. The hope is people will give up their cars – maybe out of sure frustration at this rate but there has been no evidence presented in our neighborhood. Just theories. Less cars means less traffic, more parking, and it’s better for the environment. Sure, there are people that will give up their cars. My father Richie Dahill, a 70 year old life long resident and retired State Trooper gave up his car a few years back. I would love to give up my car. I have kids – kids who play hockey and have after school actives in other neighborhoods across the city and beyond. I believe a family in the city needs a car.
People will not give up their cars with a broken down system like the MBTA, either. If it can’t handle the current population of commuters waiting in crowds for the #7, then how do we expect it to handle more people. The buses are full sometimes by the second stop. Not to mention, the bus schedule is completely unreliable with some buses not showing up at all. At a recent community meeting, the MBTA was asked if there could be more buses to which they replied, “No. There physically aren’t enough buses.”
But the city continues to develop more condos, which equals more residents, more cars, more traffic, more people taking the MBTA and less parking. Yes, I’ll admit, we South Bostonians like to complain about parking. It’s because it’s a quality of life issue that affects most of us daily. Lack of parking spots is the direct result of development and an area becoming too densely populated. So until these cars start vanishing, this parking crisis is a reality and even Shoup’s theories can’t change what we all see.
Before we approve more large scale developments, before we take away parking spots for Zip Car, maybe we should work on fixing the MBTA and solving our current parking situation. Reserving public spots for Zip Car, is sort of like putting the cart before the horse. How about trying angled parking and enforcement of parking scofflaws and handicapped placard abusers? Let’s start there and see if that helps.
You can spout off your facts, show me data from different cities, quote Shoup in a snarky tone and try and convince me that this parking crisis is all in my head, but it isn’t going to change the fact that I’m going to have to search for 45 minutes for a parking spot tonight after my boys’ hockey practice.