Parking fee hike to help pay for public works rehabs

A citywide parking fee hike is on the table in Mayor Martin Walsh’s new budget plan, which would bring the toll up to at least $2 an hour on the average block and topping out at $3.75 in the city’s highest demand areas.

The $5 million that the city hopes to gain from the boosts and the $3 million gained from ridesharing revenue would be used to back a series of initiatives around better streets and smoother commutes, officials told reporters at a roundtable discussion last week.

Boston is in its second year of collecting 10 cents per ride from ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber. The mayor’s legislative package calls for updating that policy with lower assessments for shared trips and higher assessments for solo trips as a way to encourage shared rides and dis-incentivizing taking rideshares alone and contributing to congestion.

“We are heavily dependent on property taxes, something we talk about every single year at this time of year,” said Emme Handy, the city’s chief financial officer. “And so, when we make this form of investment in areas of the city, we have to be looking for what new revenue sources we might have.”

Investments would be channeled into sidewalk upgrades, with $4 million dedicated to the Walkable Streets Program that targets areas in “the worst condition” and with “the highest use,” said Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of streets and transportation. The city highlights corridors near the Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury and the Mather School in Glover’s Corner that are set for fixes and reconstruction. Drawing from Main Streets districts, four new “tactical plazas” are on the menu and slated for $500,000.

For bicyclists, about $1 million will go toward “accelerating the design and construction of Boston’s major bike corridors,” the mayor’s office said in a release. Bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue would extend to Columbia Road and the Columbus Avenue bike lanes would extend north to downtown. Another $1 million would go to expanding the Bluebikes bike share program. The target is 268 stations by 2022 and everyone in the city living within a 10-minute walk of a bike share, Osgood said, adding, “we’re making pretty good progress.”

Some $200,000 would be dedicated to Boston’s ongoing bus lane program, including repainting the Washington Street and Essex Street corridors that serve the Silver Line 4 and Silver Line 5, and investing in a plan for improvements to Blue Hill Avenue.

“What is clear to us is that [the Blue Hill Avenue] corridor is one that is essential to the city of Boston from just a usability perspective,” Osgood said. “When we map out what neighborhood in Boston has the longest commutes, Mattapan has the highest percentage of people who have a one-way commute of over an hour… we know that the Blue Hill Avenue corridor is just a key corridor to move a lot of folks who right now are having a really long commute to get to job opportunities in places like the Longwood Medical Area or Downtown.”

They plan to go out to the community this fall to identify “what are the needs along those corridors,” he said. This might be walking, biking, or driving, or general improvements to signalization.

The newest Fairmount Line station on Blue Hill Avenue was a significant boost for the area, Osgood said. The city is a strong supporter of moving the Fairmount line up to “urban rail” standards, with about 15-minute commutes. They are also exploring a pilot in the near term with existing trains, he said.

“Those are a set of ongoing conversations that we’ve been having very recently with MassDOT to see what is actually feasible to do with just repurposing existing trains along the Fairmount corridor,” Osgood said.

Additional funds will be dedicated to the Vision Zero project, which includes the Neighborhood Slow Streets program. With two zones completed and five more under way, Osgood said the city is looking to have 12 of the 15 total slow streets zones identified in this fiscal year.

No overhaul is in store at the moment for resident parking, said Gina Fiandaca, commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department. The city does not charge for resident parking stickers, nor is there a limit on how many stickers can be registered to a single household.