Councilor Wu Holds Hearing on Resident Permit-Parking

City Councilor Michelle Wu held a hearing regarding the resident permit-parking program in the city on June 28. On the panel were transportation experts from the city as well as members of organizations who have advocated for and researched better ways of managing parking in the city.

This hearing was the beginning of the process for reforming the parking program. It allowed advocates and people from the city to talk about their work on this issue and provided a space for residents to testify about their concerns.

“Overall, the push is to make sure that we’re having the conversation thinking about the opportunity to both improve the day-to-day experience in terms of our residential streets as well as the potential for resources that would go to fund much needed infrastructure improvements,” Councilor Wu said.

The hearing began with some background and statistics about car ownership in the city of Boston. Roughly 75 percent of all resident permit parking stickers are in one of six neighborhoods, said Chief of Streets Chris Osgood. Allston-Brighton has the most stickers, with around 17 percent, with South Boston, East Boston, the South End, Charlestown, and the Back Bay making up the five others.

On July 2, fines for resident permit parking increased from $40 to $60. Osgood said that they receive a lot of calls to 311 for resident permit parking to be enforced.

“We issue roughly 190,000 tickets every year to address these concerns that residents raise,” he said.

He also said that programs like the Drive Boston car share program and working to expand early morning and late night hours on the MBTA can help to prevent congestion from cars, cause fewer emissions, and save people money. In April, the MBTA began early morning bus service on some key bus routes to potentially reduce the number of cars on the streets, and according to Osgood, MassDOT is supporting efforts to extend late night service on select key routes as well.

Osgood also said that the transportation department is working to expand the bike share system by about 50 percent over the course of the next year to reach more areas of the city.

“Our current system for managing parking is not effectively serving our city,” said Andrew McFarland, Community Engagement Manager for LivableStreets Alliance. “When parking is free or undervalued, drivers still pay through congestion, frustration, and untold hours circling the block for a free space.”

McFarland pointed out the fact that there is no cap on how many parking permits the city issues, even though there are a limited number of parking spaces available. He said that the last time the city’s residential permit program was reformed was in the 1980s when the population was at around 563,000 residents, a “historic low.” The population has increased by around 100,000 residents since 1980, and by 2030, it is projected that 50,000 additional people will be added, he said.

McFarland said there is no equity-based parking for seniors or people with disabilities who need cars to get around. “In beginning to charge fees, we should create exemptions for seniors and people with disabilities,” he said.

There are a number of early action steps that McFarland recommended, including conducting a parking census to see how many spaces are available and place a cap on the number of permits that are issued, establish policies regarding where residential permits zones should be, and establishing graduated fees for households with more than one car.

Kathryn Carlson, Director of Transportation at A Better City, agreed with McFarland and said that parking fees should be higher for households with more than one car, with the fee increasing for each car. She also recommended that surplus revenue from permit fees and funds be used for things like street repairs, snow removal, and rewards for carless households.

Mark Chase, a professor at Tufts University, said that creating off-street parking increases the price of housing, so by addressing the issues with on-street parking, developers can build less off-street parking.

Enforcement of the on-street permit parking rules was a big topic of discussion which many said was a huge step in reforming the program. Osgood said that through the new budget, there will be an additional manager which will allow for a close to 24/7 parking enforcement structure.

Osgood also said that the process has been started for conducting an on-street parking census. He said they have worked with a partner who’s able to accurately identify where signs with parking rules exist, which could help create a permanent accurate atlas. “We are hard at work at this; we don’t need to fund something new at this point,” he said, but additional funding might be needed in the future as the on-street survey is expanded. They are currently working on this “rules engine,” and Osgood said they hope to finish this piece between now and spring of next year.

Councilor Ed Flynn said that his constituents come to him wanting more enforcement of the rules and are upset because they have to drive around for up to an hour to find a parking spot. “The frustration is very real throughout my district,” he said.

Flynn said that public safety is also huge concern for him. “South Boston especially has had unregulated development for almost 30 years. We just have so many cars on the street. There’s no place for them,” he said.

But he said he’s most concerned about the elderly people and the parents with young children who are trying to cross the streets, which is a common issue in neighborhoods across the city.

“I think we need a comprehensive plan from the transportation department to address public safety issues,” he said.

Martyn Roetter, Chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, said that he agrees that a cap should be placed on the number of permits issued, as well as some sort of fee to have one. He also thinks that street signs should say what the fine is for violating the parking rules.

Several other residents also provided testimony about their issues with parking and their suggestions for how the city should move forward with the permit parking program, including a South End mother who expressed her concern with having to circle around and around with a baby in the back of her car to look for a parking spot.

Councilor Wu said that “there is no specific proposal on the table now,” but she knows that people within the neighborhoods are interested in providing feedback.

Based on this hearing, she said that there are a lot of things to consider going forward, including potential fees, number of permits issued per household, possible exemptions, and possible programs, such as a visitor parking program, where the revenue might be used.

Wu said, “My goal I think will be to understand neighborhood by neighborhood what the situation is as the citywide parking census is being completed and to talk about what does the right package look like in each neighborhood?”

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