Boston Announces Results of Back Bay Parking Pilot Program to Mixed Results

Finding street parking in the city can be difficult if not frustrating at times for those who drive in the city. Often times, drivers can circle around blocks for what seems like forever, before finally nailing down a spot.

Last year, the city started a performance parking pilot-program to lessen the circling time, and make it easier for those trying to find a spot in the Back Bay and Seaport neighborhoods. Now, a year later the results are in.

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, Mayor Martin Walsh announced the outcome of the yearlong parking pilot program, saying it was successful in the Back Bay and not conclusive in the Seaport.

“Our goal in Boston is to create streets that work for everyone – whether you walk, bike, take public transportation or drive in our city,” said Walsh in a statement. “The 2017 performance parking pilot has shown it’s possible to adjust meter prices and change our roads for the better, leading to less congestion, and more parking spaces for our residents and businesses, helping neighborhoods thrive.”

The parking pilot, which adjusted parking meter rates in order to reduce congestion, increase roadway safety and make finding an on-street parking spot easier for drivers, was proven to open up more parking spaces for residents and business customers, and reduce congestion caused by illegal parking.

The Boston Transportation Department will analyze the results and determine whether the program should be expanded to other parking meters throughout Boston. As the results are analyzed, the pilot will continue in Back Bay and the Seaport.

“The Back Bay parking pilot program model worked really well and wielded changes in drivers behavior,” said At-Large City Councilor Michelle Wu. “There were more vacant spots and less crowding and congestion.”

Wu noted, that when the average price of the meter went up in the Back Bay it made a big difference for both residents and visitors to the area.

“It really goes into the issue of resident parking and who has the right to the curb space,” said Wu. “Right now, the parking pilot program is giving opportunities to open up more spaces in the neighborhood and creating a better quality of life for residents while also creating more opportunities for small business. In addition, it is creating more infrastructure funding. There are a number of opportunities where we can get extra funds that we are currently missing out of.”

The parking pilot tested two approaches to parking management through 2017 calendar year. In the Back Bay, the City priced the entire neighborhood as $3.75 per hour, up from the base rate of $1.25 per hour.

In the Seaport, the city priced each block independently and changed the price every two months based on the number of available spaces, varying in price from $1 to $4 per hour.

All additional revenue as a result of the program will be reinvested into street, sidewalk, and transportation infrastructure projects in those neighborhoods and around the City.

In the Back Bay, there was an 11 percent increase in available metered spaces, and a 14 percent decrease in double parking and illegal parking in a loading zone decreased by 33 percent.

The average stay at a meter decreased from one hour and 22 minutes in 2016 to 1 hour and eight minutes in 2017.

The report found that the pilot polices had different effects in the commercial area of the Back Bay versus in the residential area. In the commercial area (Stuart Street to Commonwealth Avenue including all ladder streets), there were more open spots. It moved from zero spaces per block available in 2016 to about one-in-10 spaces available per block in 2017.

In the residential Back Bay (Commonwealth Avenue to Beacon Street including all ladder streets), there are now one to two spaces open per block. This is an increase from less than one space open per block in 2016.

The performance-parking pilot also increased parking availability for neighborhood residents, as illegal parking in a resident spot declined by 12 percent in the Back Bay.

Over the course of the pilot, the data collected revealed that the approach taken in the Back Bay was more successful at opening parking spaces and reducing congestion.

But not all Back Bay residents are convinced that the pilot program is successful.

“As an observer, it seems to be working better on the busier commercial streets and it looks like cars are still filling most of the spaces,” said District 8 Councilor Josh Zakim. “But as a resident and someone who works and lives in the neighborhood the residential spots are being underutilized.”

During the day, Zakim said he sees many metered spots in the residential left empty due to the higher price.

Zakim said he looks forward to having conversations on this ongoing program with residents, the Boston Transportation Department and civic organizations in the weeks to come.

In the report, it stated that Back Bay residents voiced concern that the pilot created financial hardships for volunteers, home healthcare aides, and other service employees working in Back Bay residences. There were also complaints about construction contractors passing on the higher costs to residents.

Back Bay residents mentioned that there were not adequate permit parking spaces for permitted residents’ vehicles. Because of this, some residents said they were forced to park in metered spaces until the meters turned off at 6 p.m. The City found that, on average, resident parking permit holders parked in 14-metered spaces per day. This represents less than one-half percent of total Back Bay permit holders.

The City also received positive feedback from both residents and business owners who supported the program, stating they have noticed a decrease in congestion, double parking, and even honking. Some business owners outlined the benefit of their customers being able to find a parking space outside their businesses.

According to Martyn Roetter, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB), the city has reached out to the civic organization to schedule a meeting.

Roetter said there are some questions surrounding the $3.75 per hour rate and whether this rate will become permanent. In addition there are concerns over the enforcement (or not) of parking rules, particularly surrounding no enforcement days on Sunday, when non-residents can take up resident-only parking spaces with no consequences.

Also in recent months the parking along Beacon Street has brought a lot of confusion to both residents and visitors to the area.

The constant digging up by utilities has left the street in shambles an the introduction of the bike lane has reconfigured the parking spaces, leaving many people unsure of where to park. The bike lane introduction is still a “work in progress.”

Roetter said he anticipates that among the parking related issues they would want to discuss with the City drop off/pick up zones, visitor passes, and the impact of Uber/Lyft on the overall traffic growth in the neighborhood and throughout the City.

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