Residential parking can be a puzzle for drivers and a nightmare for would-be-visitors to Boston neighborhoods. Unlike neighboring municipalities like Somerville and Cambridge, the city charges no fees for resident parking permits, does not have visitor parking permits, and does not cap the number of parking permits per household.
City Councillor Michelle Wu hopes to change that with a graduated resident parking fee that would start at $25 and increase by $25 for each subsequent car. So, a household’s first permit would be $25, second $50, third $75, and so on.
“What’s clear is our resident parking system isn’t working now for residents,” she said in a conversation with the Reporter, describing drivers circling blocks for over an hour looking for spaces. A change in permitting could lead to people valuing on-street parking differently, she said, as well as generate revenue for roadway improvements like signage and crosswalks.
Wu has talked about this issue with the Walsh administration for about three years, she estimates, and she filed a hearing order last term to discuss the residential parking pickle.
One of the most-raised topics from those hearings involved visitor permits, Wu said. The ordinance proposes a $10 visitor parking permit that can be issued for households. Cars with these permits would have to be moved at least every day and expire after 72 hours. Low-income residents, seniors, and home-healthcare and certain school workers would be exempt.
“This is the starting point to the conversation,” she said. “There will be lots of hearings and public meetings, because every family situation is different and the parking situation in each neighborhood or sub-neighborhood is different.”
As things stand now, residential parking restrictions can be added to a street if 51 percent of residents petition the city and go through a small community process. Anyone with a neighborhood parking sticker can park anywhere else in the neighborhood, even if they live on a non-resident-parking street or on the opposite end of the neighborhood.
Wu said that her office first considered trying out a pilot program in small areas and rolling it out more broadly later, but thought a general and consistent plan would be a better way to go. What the city needs first and foremost, Wu said, is good data.
There is no central list of resident-only parking streets, or a map of Boston neighborhoods marking them. Some villages produce makeshift hyper-local maps, as the Greater Ashmont Main Streets organization did, but that relies on neighbors informing a central mapper about any changes to the surrounding streets.
The city has been working on its Boston Parking Atlas and Rules Census (BPARC) for a few years now. In 2017, during its early stages, Boston Transportation Department spokesperson Tracey Ganiatsos said the census is meant to “build a comprehensive, accurate, easily updatable database of parking regulations on City of Boston streets. The purpose of the project is to collect data to be used as a decision-making tool in managing existing programs and designing new parking plans.”
More than two years later, there is still no publicly available sense of where the resident-only streets are clustered or how heavily their parking spots are used. Boston Transportation says there is no information on BPARC's completion.
Wu’s ordinance includes a requirement that the city complete the census and provide yearly reports to the council, including the number of permits issued by neighborhood, the number of cars and visitor permits registered per household, and the amount and allocation of fees generated through permits.
“We do need detailed information and the data on the parking census,” Wu said. “Where do the street designations exist currently? How many spots exist on all of those streets? Is there a gap between permits issued and spots by neighborhood?
“But to a larger point: When we don’t put any value on our streets as public spaces, for people to be able to use them in different ways, and only let them be a storage space for cars, it does change how people think about their cars and how they travel around the city.”Cambridge charges $40 for a residential permit.
City transportation chief Gina Fiandaca— who is leaving Boston next month for a new post in Texas— said at a budget roundtable this month that her agency is not presently looking at any changes to resident parking.
Mayor Martin Walsh, whose proposed operating budget proposes a flat $2 commercial parking fee that would rise in the busiest areas, noted that the city is already looking to raise money for transportation through parking fees, like more meters and increased fines for illegal parking.
“We’re asking homeowners and residents that pay taxes, that pay mortgages, that pay rents, we’re going to charge you now to park on the street in front of the house that you pay for?” he said. “I just think we need to take a little bit of vetting of what we mean there.”
The mayor said he has already heard from people upset about the idea that they have to pay for a parking sticker. “I just get a little concerned about what level do we over-tax, and over-fee, the residents of the city.“
To the commercial fee point, Wu said, “They are raising metered parking because it has been working — it better matches the value of spots with the demand for them.”
Her ordinance, she said, would attempt to do the same on a residential block.