Friday, October 28, 2016

Free Parking? Good in Monopoly. Bad on Memorial Drive

Cost to park: $0.
If you want to go to a Massachusetts State Park, you generally have to pay a parking fee. For $5 or $8 or more you have the privilege of parking on DCR-owned land. If you want to go to Kendall Square—where the going rate for parking is $25 to $30 per day—the DCR has a great deal for you! You can park in one of the 130-or-so parking spaces along Memorial Drive (and another 70 along Cambridge Parkway in East Cambridge) for free!

Does this make any sense?

Everywhere else in Cambridge is either metered parking or resident permit parking (and, yes, resident permits should cost more). The only free spaces in town are on DCR roadways: these spaces, and a few more along Memorial Drive up near Mount Auburn Hospital. The DCR is sitting on a bit of a gold mine: installing meters and charging for parking could bring in close to a million dollars per year.

Let's imagine that the DCR decided to charge market rate for parking in the area: $2 per hour with a maximum of $20 per day. The cost to install a dozen-or-so parking kiosks would probably run in to the range of $100,000. Enforcement would likely pay for itself with parking tickets. The revenue? Assuming an average of $20 per day on weekdays (through casual parking or charging a daily rate) for the 200 spaces would raise $4,000 per day. With 250 work days in a year (give or take) it adds up to one million dollars. (Even if it was charged at a $1 per hour rate commensurate with the too-low rate for meters along Mass Ave and Vassar Streets, it would bring in $500,000 per year.)

There would be benefits for users, too. Right now, MIT has precious little short-term visitor parking on campus other than a lot on the corner of Vassar and Mass Ave (Rates: $8 per hour, $26 daily). By properly pricing spaces on Memorial Drive, it would give the area a source of open short-term parking, not long term car storage where finding a spot during the day is all but impossible. It would also help to reduce the demand for parking along the adjacent portion of Mass Ave, which could be reused as room for transit lanes and protected bicycle facilities.

And the money? It could be earmarked for non-road projects in the area. The DCR often cries poor when it comes to building sufficient bicycle and pedestrian facilities, but they're all too happy to keep the roads in ship shape for cars. (There are too many examples including: 1. they refused to rebuild Greenough Boulevard until a private organization coughed up nearly half of the $1.2 million cost. 2. They get New Balance to sponsor the snow clearance of the bike paths along the Charles, yet they don't hold drivers hostage until Ford and GM pony up to plow Storrow Drive.) A million dollars a year could keep the paths clear of snow, and pay for sorely-needed upgrades. They have a master plan for the Charles River basin but haven't identified a source of funding. Uh, guys …

This is such a no-brainer that it's almost criminally negligent that the DCR hasn't been cashing in on parking fees on Memorial Drive for years. This could be implemented tomorrow (although the historical society would probably throw up a frivolous objection) and the money would start coming in immediately. The DCR has done a fine job rebuild the paths between the BU and Longfellow bridges. There are plenty more sections of the bike paths which could be improved.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's time to #FixMassAve

I should be doing reading right now for Fred's class, so forgive me, Fred, if my response this week is a little thin, but it's time to talk about fixing Massachusetts Avenue.

Mass Ave is the north-south thoroughfare for Boston and Cambridge. It may not have as many cars as some other roads, but with the Red Line, and cyclists, and especially tens of thousands (perhaps more than 100,000) bus passengers along much of it, it is the main drag. It connects Harvard, MIT, Berklee, Symphony Hall and Boston Medical Center and comes within a stone's throw of the MFA, the BPL, BU and Northeastern. It doesn't touch downtown Boston, but does touch some of the most important innovation, education and medical centers in the state, if not the world.

The level of human capital along Mass Ave may be unmatched by any single four-mile stretch of roadway in the world. Yet we accept a dangerous road choked with single-occupancy vehicles blocking transit vehicles and endangering the lives of everyone else. This must change.

In the last five years, there have three cycling fatalities on the street that I can think of off my head: One at Beacon, one at Vassar and the most recent one in Porter Square. All have involved large commercial vehicles. These have not been daredevil bike messenger types: they've been doctors, researchers, and engineers; the "second order" of cyclists: the people who are biking because there are better facilities and because there are more cyclists.

But the facilities we have are disconnected, and they are not good enough. There have been innumerable close calls. Buses transporting thousands cut in and out of stops across the bus lane because god forbid we would remove parking to build floating bus stops or separated lanes. The road was designed, mostly in the 1940s to 1960s, for throughput and parking, even though people in cars are the minority of users of the corridor.

It's high time for that to change.

This page (and its author) has spent a lot of time discussing Mass Ave and advocating strategies to make it a complete street, one built for safety of all users first, and then built for transit, bicycling and pedestrians before people in cars. (Deliveries are important, too; we should build loading zones where commercial vehicles can safely load and unload without impeding traffic.) It is time to stop talking about what we could do and start talking about what we will do. In many cases in Boston and Cambridge, street real estate makes such implementation quite hard: we're an old city with very narrow streets. But not on Mass Ave. In most cases, there's plenty of room to build something better. Parking on both sides: medians (I'm looking at you, highway north of Harvard Square), multiple lanes catering to people in cars at the expense of everyone else.

Mass Ave connects many some of the great institutions of the world. Technology? MIT and Kendall Square. Law, arts, sciences? Harvard. Contemporary Music? Berklee. Classical Music? Symphony Hall. Cities? Boston and Cambridge. Yet these institutions are linked by a thoroughly mediocre street, one which wouldn't pass muster in many of the world's great cities.

Here's what I have so far. Let's talk about this further. Let's meet and talk about the plusses and the minuses. Let's not leave anyone out, but let's remember that it's 2016, not 1966, and we're planning for a sustainable, mobile future, not one where everyone sits in a traffic jam:

Central Square
Harvard Bridge
Beacon Street

So here's my call to politicians and citizens: let's make that change. Let's rebuild a Mass Ave that works for everyone, not just people in cars. Let's create a street that says: "yes, this is a place I want to be, and a place I want to go." Let's #FixMassAve.

Now, back to my reading.