Thursday, April 9, 2015

Boston in the news

Lots of news about Boston recently. First, it turns out that our Beantown is one of the most walkable large cities in the U.S. That shouldn't be surprising - many Midwestern U.S. cities were pretty much built for cars, while Boston, being one of the oldest cities in America, still maintains its XVIII-XIX century layout.
Walk score for 10 the most walkable U.S. large cities (Source:
Next, apparently there is a chance that Boston could become America's first car-free city. To be honest, I have difficulty believing that this could happen by 2034, as the article predicts. But I would welcome kicking out cars from Newbury St in Back Bay and Hanover St in North End as soon as possible. These streets see a heavy foot traffic on daily basis and really there is little reason not to give them back to people.
Becoming car-free would obviously have to be a gradual process. Could it start now? In some places in Boston citizens already realized that not catering to cars in the middle of the city makes everyone's like easier. The temporary one way streets that were created this (very) snowy winter may stay here for good. Not only they improved traffic flow, reduced congestion, but also now there seem to be more space left for on-street parking and bike lanes.
Parking in Boston is, in general, a major problem. That's because it's... too cheap. At least according to Donald Shoup, who spent his life studying parking problems in large urban areas in America. He states it firmly - we have problems finding parking spaces in Boston because we pay too little: $1.25 per hour.
Cost of parking in Boston compared to other large U.S. cities
But the cost of metered on-street spaced is only one part of the problem. The other one is number of residential parking permits. Not only they are free in Boston (compared to $110/year or just $0.30/day in San Francisco) but the city issues too many of them. More than the parking spaces available!
To solve this problem Boston could introduce tiered residential parking permits (you pay e.g. $150/year for the first car but $500 for the second one and third one is not even allowed). But according to Shoup the best way to solve the general parking problem in the city is surge pricing. Thanks to intelligent meters price for on-street parking could be adjusted on hourly basis - it would go up when demand is high, motivating drivers to park for a shorter time and go down when demand drops. As a result, parking spaces are more efficiently utilized and drivers spend less time hunting for a free spot. It should also help eliminating some cars from the city - those that are rarely used but camp out in free spaces today.
This all means that if Boston really wants to become a car-free city some day, it should start with its parking spaces.
Meanwhile, just outside of Boston in my town of Arlington, police announced that this spring they will roll out "Operation Safe Streets". It's supposed to be an initiative to "focus on speeding, drivers who disregard traffic signals and stop signs, drivers who endanger pedestrians, distracted motorists, and those with an affinity for texting behind the wheel". That's nice, but isn't it what they are supposed to do anyway?

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