Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bad parking policy, in one picture


On one side of the street, BTD has installed parking meters at the "usual rate" of $1.25/hour. On the other side of the street, the curb is left largely unregulated except for street cleaning. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out which side is which.

What you are seeing here is a case of poorly designed parking policy. The metered spaces have a price that is too high, and are therefore going wasted. The unmetered spaces have a price that is too low, and are therefore overcrowded. The correct price is somewhere in between, where "correct" means: achieves a reasonable level of utilization that still leaves a few spaces open for new arrivals. Prof. Donald Shoup's rule of thumb is that prices should be set to achieve approximately 85% utilization, which ensures that there will be at least 1-2 parking spaces available on every block, at almost all times.

BTD's bad parking policy and refusal to consider reform means that people continue to suffer unnecessary headaches, and they make claims of parking "shortages" even while most of our neighborhood is covered in asphalt. Although I don't own a car, I still find it important to fix. For one thing, it's the right thing to do. For another, bad policy in one area tends to infect other areas. Much of our land use policy, for instance, is dictated by the supposed "shortage" of parking. Even though about half the residents of this neighborhood don't have access to a car, they are forced by zoning rules to subsidize other people's parking. Those regulations came about because the on-street commons is managed improperly, creating an overcrowding problem. And then, instead of solving that problem the correct way, politics dictated bad ideas like "minimum parking quotas" which dump the burden onto the people who are least able to afford it, and also least able to oppose it.

This goes beyond just rent, and home prices. Economic development in this neighborhood is artificially depressed because of regressive policies like minimum parking quotas. The suburban-style space requirements of that many automobiles are too much for a compact city neighborhood. The net effect of this heavy-handed government regulation, to force more cars on us, is to squelch normal, healthy, incremental growth. Instead, we get almost nothing, and hardly any changes, for decades. That's a lot of lost jobs, lost opportunity, a heavy price to pay, all because of an irrational fear of parking "shortages" caused by broken policies that do not make sense in urban areas.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Help make the Cambridge Street overpass safer and better

MassDOT has called a second public meeting on the Cambridge Street overpass replacement with some updates. They intend to issue the notice to proceed in the early winter.


Despite some changes, the plan still calls for a fence down the middle of the street, blocking pedestrian crossing for over a quarter-mile. The plan does not address any of the existing ADA incompatibility issues, and it still calls for mixing of walkers and multiple streams of bikers by the Franklin Street pedestrian overpass.

Several advocates and community members have written a new public letter to the agency calling for more changes to the design. I encourage everyone to check it out and sign it, particularly if you live in the area. I also encourage everyone to come to the public meeting on November 19th, at 6 p.m., in the Jackson Mann school's auditorium.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What does the election of Marty Walsh mean for walking in Boston?

The most significant local Boston election of my adult lifetime, to date, has come and gone. The new mayor will be Marty Walsh. So let's take a look at some of the things he said in forums and questionnaires gone by:

With one exception, I thought that his response to the Transportation Forum questionnaire was pretty good:
To me, livability means the ability to leave your house and have things to do outside. In my neighborhood in Savin Hill, I can go out and walk down my street feeling safe knowing that a few minutes away I have a park or coffee shop to go to or a T station that can take me into town. Livability means access to things that make life enjoyable, like amenities, recreation and transportation, among others. This city has so much to offer and we need to make all of those offerings accessible to everyone.
Simple and clear. And something that he has lived. Boston will have a mayor who lives in a walkable neighborhood, within 5 minutes of a rapid transit station.
[...] "Walk audits" performed by advocates are a good mechanism for getting concrete details about the safety, spacing, and timing of our street intersections and traffic signals, among other details. Boston's transportation planning should not only incorporate, but actively solicit this level of feedback. In addition to holding regular community meetings around planning, and scheduled walks, we can market and develop the city's digital tools to ensure that transportation input is easy, detailed, documented, and sufficient. Boston's next mayor can build a safer city where residents feel comfortable in their own communities. Meeting the needs of walkers throughout all areas of the city is important for many reasons. We need to make sure pedestrians are safe everywhere. Boston's Complete Streets is doing great work around making the streets safe for everyone.
[...] I think a Boston Walks Director is a good idea. However, that person will need to focus on the whole city and not just Downtown. It is a big task but I believe pedestrians will have a much easier time under my Administration.
If he follows through on this idea of "walk audits" and continues to support the Boston Complete Streets effort, then I think we are in pretty good shape. And he is right that a Boston Walks Director should focus on the entire city.
I would work with the MBTA to explore dedicated bus lanes on high-density, underserved routes and work to implement an Urban Ring service. I would also work to reach out, listen to, and incorporate the ideas of Bostonians in all transportation planning. This can be accomplished through annual neighborhood meetings with the Mayor and regular communication with residents through Little City Halls. I would also add targeted outreach to non-English speakers and communities of color to make sure all Bostonians are being heard. I would also make it easy for people to comment on transit problems through platforms like Citizen's Connect, mobile apps, and other technological means. Things get done when people's voices are heard, and as mayor I will make sure the MBTA runs as efficiently as possible.
The mayor does not have direct control over the T, as Marty has pointed out on other occasions, but he does have control over the streets. So creating dedicated bus lanes would be one way the city could improve bus service directly. Admittedly, he just talks about "exploring" it, not really a commitment of any sort. For what it's worth, his responses to this questionnaire do match up with his campaign platform.

The one exception, if you are still wondering, is his stated support for the Casey Overpass. However, this position was walked back in a later interview. I think he genuinely does care about process, and bridge-favoring activists may have led him to believe that it was insufficient in this case, a misconception that was later cleared up.

From the Boston Globe's questionnaire:
I am a strong proponent of expanded late ­night T service, and, as mayor, would coordinate with the MBTA and MassDOT and work with businesses (24­ hour businesses, restaurants/bars) and colleges and universities to assess demand. The most realistic funding approach is probably a mix of state aid and creative public­ private partnerships here in the city. Having represented Boston for 16 years on Beacon Hill, I am the candidate best positioned to win the necessary support from the Legislature. Beyond that, I would work with private institutions, especially universities whose students are likely to be major users, to fully fund the extended service.
Okay, sounds reasonable. More on this in the future.
Different policies should apply to different areas of the city depending on local parking situations. Minimum off­-street parking requirements should be required for new residential development in neighborhoods where parking is at a premium. Incentives could be provided for those developers to promote transit ­oriented development which would require less parking.
Not the greatest answer, but not terrible either. As long as transit oriented development means parking quotas are significantly lowered or eliminated, then it will work out. I find the hint of "incentives" to promote transit oriented development intriguing, though it should be unnecessary.
An ideal “cycle track” is safe and allows easy access for bikers to get through the city quickly. “Cycle tracks” can only be implemented where there is adequate right­-of­-way. There are many additional factors involved in choosing appropriate locations, such as parking and connections to other bike lanes and/or facilities.
I know this isn't quite about walking, but I find this a fairly uninspiring answer to a question about cycle-tracks, which is disappointing because he has given decent answers in other places, such as the Boston Cyclists Union questionnaire:
Yes. Biking is becoming more popular in Boston and we are not keeping up with the need for proper infrastructure that will keep our bikers safe. As Mayor, I will work to bring more cycle tracks and bike lanes to Boston, especially in busy areas where accidents are common. Bikers need to feel safe on our streets, and that means more bike infrastructure, more cycle tracks and bike lanes, and better transportation planning throughout the city. A Walsh Administration will make biking a priority because it is a safety issue, and all Bostonians deserve to feel safe in our city.
Now, from an interview about housing development from the Globe:
Ideally, increasing the overall supply of housing should help to meet demand and moderate rent increases. The demand is so strong, however, that even as new apartments are built, rents continue to increase. As a result, the city is increasingly unaffordable for many of its residents.
I'm glad to see that he understands the basic structure of the problem. Some self-styled "progressives" mistakenly think that building more housing results in higher prices, because they get confused when the strong demand outstrips the small increase in supply.
We must proceed with caution with relation to reducing parking in our residential neighborhoods because we must take into account the many young families with children who need access to a car as well as residents in our southwest corridor neighborhoods who don’t work downtown. I support policies that make it easier for people to get around Boston without a car. I want to make sure every resident of Boston lives no more than a five minute walk from an accessible form of alternate transportation, by extending HubWay and Zipcar into our neighborhoods, installing new car charging stations for electric cares out in the neighborhoods and modernizing the MBTA system.
An answer that's trying to have it all ways, and one that obfuscates the question, which did not ask about reducing parking, but rather, about reducing parking quotas. At some point, there will be an unavoidable conflict between livable, walkable neighborhoods vs minimum parking quotas. To which side his policies will lean towards is still an open question.

Marty wasn't my first choice, but I did ultimately end up voting for him. Both of the remaining candidates after the preliminary election had plenty of nice things to say about improving walkability, bicycling conditions, public transit, development of housing, jobs, and a host of other important issues. But that's just words, and campaign promises are cheap. I didn't have anything more solid to base my vote upon, so I had to go with my gut. I felt that Walsh would be more likely to follow through, so he got my vote. In the coming months, it'll be important to continue to advocate and make sure that the good parts of the Menino era are continued, such as Boston Complete Streets and Boston Bikes. There's been a lot of hard-won progress in the last few years. I don't think we're going to regress, but it's always important to keep pushing and reminding politicians of the value of walkable neighborhoods.