By Beth Treffeisen
Starting on January 3, 2017 the City of Boston will adjust meter rates in the Back Bay and Seaport neighborhoods to study how parking meter rates can reduce the search time for parking and reduce street congestion.
Last week, Mayor Martin Walsh along with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, The Boston Transportation Department (BTD), and the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) announced a one-year pilot program to study the relationship between parking price and demand.
“This parking pilot will help us manage parking spots more efficiently, reducing congestion, gridlock and distracted behavior by drivers,” said Mayor Walsh in a statement. “We look forward to working with drivers, residents and businesses to provide the best quality of life for all in our City.”
The goal of the parking pilot is to better allocate curb spaces. At the end of the pilot experiment, a portion of any increase in revenue will be reinvested locally.
Parking meter prices have not been adjusted in Boston since 2011, when they were raised to $1.25 per hour, which is the current price for all metered spots throughout the City.
The Performance Parking Pilot will test two different models to adjust parking demand. In the Back Bay, meter prices will be raised to $3.75 per hour, bringing prices in line with street parking in other major cities.
The Back Bay has a mix of multi-space and single-space meters, and approximately 1,650 spaces will be impacted. In Boston there are about 8,000-metered spaces total.
The area that will be impacted will include streets from Massachusetts Avenue to Arlington Street including Newbury and Boylston Streets. Over the course of the pilot program , the City will collect data on parking patterns on each block of the pilot area to measure how parking occupancy changes with this adjustment in price.
City officials have been meeting with community businesses groups such as the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB), throughout the year after announcing plans to start the pilot program in 2015.
“If we’re going to do this, let’s look at the big picture,” said Vicki Smith the Chair of NABB. “I agree you don’t want lots of people circling around in search for a pot but families and friends should be able to come and visit you without paying $4 dollars an hour.”
Smith continued by saying that for people such as electricians or nannies that come do work in people’s home, paying for street parking will soon add up on top having to move the car once every two hours.
She stated that this will be the first time that parking has been looked at in 30 years in the Back Bay and lot has changed since then. Smith asked how this new policy would affect commercial streets such as Newbury Street versus more residential streets like Marlborough.
“It’s complicated – if you’re really going to change it you’re going to need to look at the whole thing,” said Smith.
Currently, Back Bay street parking is at 90 percent occupancy rates each day. The goal of this change is to make drivers less inclined to park at a meter all day and instead utilizes off-street garages and parking lots or shift to another mode of transportation.
By encouraging all-day meter parkers to seek alternatives, there is projected to be more turnover in the parking pilot areas, increasing access for those short-term visitors who wish to park for quick trips visiting shops, businesses or restaurants.
The pilot was developed alongside a larger study to be released by A Better City, a non-profit dedicated to improving Boston’s economic health and quality of life.
“Drivers searching for a parking spot are distracted drivers, and we know that around 30 percent of street traffic is made up of drivers searching for street parking,” said Gina Fiandaca, Commissioner of the BTD in a statement. “A key goal of this pilot is to open up more spaces and cut down on drivers looking for spots, creating safer streets for all.”
In the Seaport pilot area, the demand for on street parking changes throughout the day. For this reason, the Seaport will employ parking meter sensors to adjust parking prices based on parking occupancy, and parking spot location. Prices will re-set every two months.
The minimum price will be $1 per hour, and the maximum price will be $4 per hour.
Both of these pilots will run through the end of 2017. Prices will be posted on meter, available online, and through the Park Boston app.
“With Performance Parking, Boston drivers should be able to park easier and circle less,” said Chris Osgood, Chief of Streets in statement. “Less time spent each trip searching for parking can mean less congestion on our streets, less emissions in our air and more time spent where we want to be – at our final destinations.”
Meg-Mainzer-Cohen the executive director of the Back Bay Association did not respond for comment to several phone calls from The Boston Sun staff.