Mark Chase is a Somerville resident and Parking Consultant for Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates, which specializes in transit and multimodal transportation planning. He recently authored an article, which he has asked me to share, with his thoughts and analysis regarding the proposal to remove some on-street parking from Beacon Street in Somerville in order to create room for cycle tracks.
Somerville Massachusetts: Cycletracks and Making Parking Work
By Mark Chase
January 22, 2013
The City of Somerville is proposing to reconstruct Beacon Street in the near future. One of the proposed features of the new street design is a cycle track that will serve a broader group of cyclists who are not comfortable riding in traditional bike lanes. The proposal is controversial because it would eliminate parking on one side of the street to accommodate the proposed cycle track. This has created conflict between those who feel there is not enough parking on Beacon Street and those who would like to see better bicycle facilities on the street.
Problems with parking on Beacon Street can easily be seen as simply not enough parking. The true picture is more complex than that. There are many different parking needs on the street. A simple way to categorize the needs would be by business or resident, but even this is an over-simplification. By looking at the resources and needs of these groups in more detail, we can see some important nuances that can help instruct what options are available to meet the parking needs of Beacon streets residents, business owners and customers.
On-street & Off-street
To begin, it’s necessary to distinguish between those businesses who have off-street parking and those whose customers must use street parking. On Beacon Street there are both types. For instance, Star Market—perhaps the largest business on Beacon Street—has an abundance of off-street parking, to the point that they may be willing to rent their excess parking to the City. On the other hand, there are several businesses on Beacon Street who rely on on-street parking to meet all their parking needs. But even among those businesses that rely entirely on street parking, their needs will vary based on the amount of time their customers need to park.
Short-term & Long-term Parking Needs
The businesses whose customers require only short-term parking pose markedly different challenges than the businesses who have longer term parking needs. One rule-of-thumb is that the longer a person is staying in a location, the further they will be willing to walk from a parking space to their destination. To illustrate, a customer who will be spending 3 or 4 hours over dinner at a restaurant would likely be willing to park further from his destination than a customer parking to pick up take-out food.
On Beacon Street there is very little short term parking. This favors businesses with long term parking needs as any available parking may not be directly in front of the store. Take for example two businesses on the western end of Beacon Street: Café Rustica and the Beacon Street Laundromat. Both have no off-street parking and have a mix of long and short term customers. Short term customers who drive to these businesses probably have some difficulty finding parking on Beacon Street at peak times. Therefore it is understandable that they are concerned about losing curb-side parking.
Furthermore, some businesses are more car-oriented than others. Whereas an auto-repair shop may have 100% of its customers arrive by car, other businesses may find that most of their customers arrive on foot or by bike. While there are several auto-only-oriented businesses on Beacon Street, all of them appear to have adequate off-street parking. Whether parking is removed from one side of the street or not, there remains a challenge for businesses with a substantial customer base who drive, but rely on short term on-street parking. Potential solutions to this are posed later on. First let us turn to residential parking.
While residents have different needs than businesses, many similar principles and challenges apply. Off-street residential parking on Beacon Street appears to be about average for Somerville in that some houses have abundant off street parking (they have paved their entire lot), while others have no parking or only tandem parking.
As in much of Somerville, many car-owners opt not to use their driveways when they can easily park on the street. After all, a City parking permit costs less than $3 a month, while off-street spaces on Craigslist retail for between $75 and $100 a month. In defense of those who use on-street spaces when they have off-street parking, on-street spaces are often the most convenient parking space to a resident’s front door.
One important item to note: Beacon Street has street sweeping twice a week every week from March 1st through December 31st. This rigorous sweeping schedule makes the very-long-term (2+ days) residential parking seen on other Somerville street (where cars need only be moved every two weeks) impossible on Beacon Street for most of the year.
Parking During Street Sweeping
There has been some discussion online about whether the City’s parking study adequately captured the student population or took into account the effects of street sweeping. Suffering from chronic insomnia, and having perhaps an unhealthy interest in my neighborhood’s parking problems, I conducted my own parking counts during street sweeping (midnight to 6AM) on four nights in November and early December. Given the cold weather and the fact that I was alone and on a bicycle, I only counted empty spaces on a block by block basis.
These are my results:
Street Sweeping / No-Parking North SideBetween And 11/13/2012 12:30 AM
Available Spaces 12/4/2012 5:30 AM
Available Spaces Roseland Oxford 2 3 Oxford Forest 2 5 Forest Prentiss 2 0 Prentiss Harris 1 0 Harris Eustis 1 0 Eustis Sacramento 2 1 Sacramento Museum 5 9 Museum Scott St/
Park St Too many to count Too many to count Scott St/
Park St Kirkland/ Washington Too many to count Too many to count Kirkland/ Washington Smith 2 8 Smith Coonet 2 5 Cooney Concord 5 7 Concord City Line 3 8
Street Sweeping / No Parking South SideBetween And 12/6/2012 3:00 AM
Available Spaces 12/13/2012 5:30 AM
Available Spaces Beacon Miller 1 1 Miller Sacramento 1 0 Sacramento Kent 3 3 Kent Ivaloo 9 100% Empty Ivaloo Morgan 100% Empty 100% Empty Morgan Park 100% Empty 100% Empty Park Properzi 5 1 car parked
& Washington Properzi Hanson 5 Hanson Washington 6 Washington Calvin 3 3 Calvin Waldo 3 5 Waldo Buckingham 4 5 Buckingham Concord 7 5 Concord City Line 8 5 City Line Inman Square/
Cambridge 4 4
As you can see, demand during arguably the most parking-constrained situation varies quite a bit over the entire length of Beacon Street. A quick glance shows that the highest demand on-street occurs at the Oxford Street end of Beacon. Thus whether or not you have any trouble finding parking during street-sweeping will depend greatly by which block you live on.
I did not have the time or energy to count off-street parking availability. That said, I could still easily observe that Star Market and most of the larger business lots were almost entirely empty. This is not surprising given that the businesses are closed in the middle of the night. Additionally, a quick glance at the driveways revealed that although many driveways were full, others had available capacity. In fact there were a few driveways that were completely empty.
Managing Parking on Beacon Street
In my consulting practice, it is common to hear from clients and the public that building a parking garage will solve a parking shortage. In a few cases this is true. In the majority of cases (and especially on Beacon Street), people are unwilling to pay the cost of a parking garage in either user fees or higher taxes. As noted above, even during street sweeping there is some available parking on Beacon Street. The problem is that there’s little incentive for healthy, able-bodied people to walk to it.
In order to get the most out of Beacon Street’s on- and off-street parking, I recommend trying a combination of well-designed regulations and judicious pricing to achieve the following goals:
● Encourage able-bodied, long-term parkers (2+ hours) to park in less desirable further-away parking spaces
● Make short term curb-side/ close to curb-side parking available for business owners during the hours that they need them
● Incentivize business owners and residents to make their under-utilized driveways and parking lots available to those who could use the parking.
● Fully inform and make clear to residents, businesses and customers the range of parking (and non-driving) options available
With large lots like Star Market, the City could rent a large number of spaces from the store and make them available for public use.
For smaller lots and driveways the City could specifically encourage rental of available spaces to Somerville businesses and residents.
The City could go further and require that all business lots be publicly available during non-business hours.
Raise the price of 2nd and 3rd car residential permits so that they more accurately reflect the cost of parking in Somerville.
This would encourage 2+ car households to use their driveways while not penalizing 1-car households.Fully inform residents, businesses and customers of the range of parking options available Include flyers in City correspondence to landlords and tenants on the range of options for parking. Develop clear signage which helps people locate parking appropriate to their abilities and needs.
This is in no way a comprehensive list. Rather, I hope you will consider them a catalyst for creativity in solving Beacon Streets parking challenge—one that’s not so very different from other streets in Somerville.