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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mayor Tripping...

In his Op-Ed gracing today’s Somerville News, Mayor Joe Curtatone announced that he is putting together a Transportation Committee to, as he put it, “take a look at potential technological and administrative enhancements that can take Somerville to the next level in transportation practice. The TRIP (Transportation Research, Innovation and Planning) Team will explore everything from extending the duration of visitor permits (beyond the current 48 hours) to setting up demand management with variable parking hours and pricing to optimize availability and usage.

With the dissolution of the Parking Solutions Task Force and no word from SPARC (Somerville Parking Advocacy Reform Coalition) lately, this committee should come as no surprise. Pilot programs featuring “pay by credit card” kiosks and vast changes to the Traffic and Parking Department all feature one thing in common: making it easier for people to pay for parking in the city. Research of new technologies and strategies cannot be completed by Matt Dias alone.

In a desperate effort to keep the O in my last name for ‘optimist,’ I do have high hopes for this committee, but have to mention a few things first…

We are not going to get the meters reverted back to 6pm like they were before. Not in Magoun, not in Ball, no where. They are currently set for 8:30pm and, depending on the players added to this committee, could very possibly go to 10pm in municipal lots, at the least.

We are also not going to get the meter rates decreased. Because of the mention of “demand management” in the Mayor’s description, anticipate demand-priced parking that sets meters closest to establishments higher and meters further away lower. I don’t foresee a cost decrease in meters further away, I see the meters closer being dramatically increased.

Along with price increases, there will probably be time increases. Meaning, there will be an opportunity to park at a meter for 3 or 4 hours, but it will cost you more, most likely, between the third and fourth hour. This was recently done in Brookline to combat Red Sox fans who occupied parking spaces around businesses for the entirety of a game causing business loss. However, Somerville is nowhere near Fenway Park, but we sure will be priced like we are!

With that said, my desire to remain an optimist may seem like a long shot, but it isn’t. I’ve been playing this game long enough to know the battles I’m able to win and the ones I should just not fight. What I would like to see is more of an efficient approach to parking solutions and enforcement.

Currently, the parking meters in Magoun Square are significantly separated from one another. Moving the meters closer together (while still allowing enough room for an SUV) can increase the amount of spaces in the square, thus, increase the amount of meters resulting in an increase of revenue. Adding time frames to loading zones, decreasing the amount of space from a sidewalk bump-out to an abutting parking spot, adding 15 minute parking signs in front of certain businesses, putting zip car spaces in other locations, and admitting to the elimination of the rumored "parking ticket quota" for PCOs are some ways to keep that pendulum swinging evenly towards both sides.

Also, Somerville has a significant amount of bus stops throughout the city with a bunch surrounding Magoun alone. This is going to make demand parking challenging as we don’t have a lot of on-street spaces that would justify a significant price increase. I would hate to see the loss of the free 2-hour parking on Broadway and in front of Trum Field, but it may be inevitable.

If this is the case, are we gaining enough revenue to justify meters starting at 8am? According to some observers-no-and, according to some abutters, the ticketing at meters is only encouraging patrons to stop in the bus lane, park in front of driveways, and park in fire lanes. If meters were not in effect until 9am or 10am, this may alleviate the morning coffee rush that has some drivers parking illegally to avoid putting a quarter in the meter.

On a positive note, the Mayor did mention that all recommendations from this committee with be subject to approval by the Traffic Commission and the general public. This is very different from the sweeping changes to the parking regulations from a few years ago as most of the tweaks to those were reactionary to public complaint after implementation. Hopefully, he is serious when he hints that we can work together and bring the “brightest local experts and toughest community critics” together.

“Toughest community critics," you write, Joe?

I’ll be waiting for my phone call.

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