Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cambridge should eliminate its minimum parking requirements

A new café called Dwelltime opened up on Broadway next to a 68 bus stop, just a few blocks from the Central Square T station. It seems to be doing quite well, but there is a curiously large amount of empty space inside, with few chairs. The reason is that they are limited in seating as a "fast food licensee" and they cannot upgrade because they do not own an off-street parking lot. They are currently petitioning the city of Cambridge for a special permit. If you are in the area, I recommend stopping by for a drink and signing the petition -- and don't forget to mark off that you got there by walking!

There are two ludicrous facts about this situation: first, that zoning cares about the distinction between fast and fine dining; and second that the supposedly progressive city of Cambridge is forcing business owners to supply parking.

Cambridge is notable because they added parking maximums to their zoning code, and sought to limit the number of spaces. However, they did not remove minimum parking requirements, only reduced them. But that is still bad for small businesses like Dwelltime, which thrive on local residents and passing pedestrians. What are they supposed to do? Buy another building, raze it to the ground, and cover it in asphalt, so that they can satisfy some ridiculous requirement? That would be an incredibly destructive and perverse outcome for the city to force on everyone.

This Article 6.000 requires development of adequate parking facilities to meet the reasonable needs of all building and land users without establishing regulations which unnecessarily encourage automobile usage.  The parking standards contained herein are intended to encourage public transit, bicycle usage and walking in lieu of automobiles where a choice of travel mode exists.

Perhaps this café will be able to acquire a special permit, but this should not have been an issue in the first place. It is time for Cambridge to actually live up to the intent stated in Article 6.000 and take the step of eliminating all minimum parking requirements, and letting small businesses flourish.


  1. I guess I'm surprised Cambridge does not have a parking exemption for businesses under a certain size, or at least a fee-in-lieu of parking program, both of which I've seen adopted in much car-friendlier cities to accommodate small restaurants and cafes. Having to beg for a special permit in order to add a few additional tables does seem ludicrous, as you said, even in comparison to the typical zoning absurdities we are accustomed to.

  2. Random anecdote: I am currently planning a LARP in the area. A player who lives in deep suburbia said that I should avoid picking a location in Somerville because parking there is terrible, but Cambridge is better. Needless to say, not knowing anything about Boston-area parking I'd have thought the opposite, that residential Somerville is easier to find parking in than Cambridge. But then while scouting locations I came across places offering free parking to patrons, and a parking garage near Central Square for $2 an hour.

    1. They both use permits for residents, so it would be about finding meters/garages in commercial areas. I was just looking at a paper about this stuff, and it seems that Somerville has approx half the square kilometers devoted to parking that Cambridge does. So maybe there's something to that.

      There's Alewife too -- as long as it's not the middle of a working day, it should be available.

  3. How do all of the Inman sq spots skate by? Bc they are fine dining? I used to live near where Dwelltime is located and the area is crying out for more retail, and Dwelltime is always packed. Seems most folks are happy walking or biking. And maybe bikes could offer a "half-loaf compromise" if they put enough bike racks in front as parking spots, then that would cover parking spots.


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