A Parking Spot in Boston – The New Endangered Species

The Boston Globe recently ran an article, Spaced Out Downtown: Quest for parking in Boston worse than ever (October 4, 2014), observing that parking is becoming an endangered species in Boston, particularly in the Seaport.

It is very clear that the Seaport area is in the process of transitioning from servicing commuter parking for downtown Boston, to providing parking for its new residents and businesses. One of the culprits is the city’s parking freeze. With a parking inventory freeze in the Seaport, long-term availability of satellite surface parking is at odds with the construction of high-rise apartments and offices. As the amount of commuter parking diminishes, the stress on businesses in the downtown business district may get to the breaking point if employees find it difficult to find reasonably priced parking.

The most common reaction is that limiting parking will just accelerate the move to mass transit. If we had an effective, efficient transit system, that might be a reasonable answer. Unfortunately, the MBTA is operating at capacity during rush hours, satellite parking at transit stops is limited, and the condition of our trains and buses is questionable.

If we want to increase ridership and decrease vehicular commutes, let’s go “all in” and invest in a mass transit system that will be the envy of the rest of the country. However, in the meantime, let’s reevaluate the city’s parking freeze policy (one of the very few left in this country.)

Where Did All the Parking Go?

The city-owned Winthrop Square Parking Garage, at 240 Devonshire Street, recently closed due to serious structural problems. Built in the 1960s, this Boston garage accommodated 550 cars at discounted rates from the much higher priced private facilities.

This now further exacerbates the commuter parking problem, already destabilized by the continuing loss of surface parking spaces due to the heated development activities in the Seaport area. Employers may soon start to hear the complaints, as workers begin to personally absorb these increased costs.

The “dirty secret” is that the only reason the Financial District’s parking freeze has worked for so long was that there was a large surplus of low-cost parking nearby.  The same goes for the Seaport’s parking freeze.  As more buildings eat up the surface lots, fewer spaces will remain – as demand increases substantially.

Commercial parking freezes are an ineffective means of providing cleaner air, especially when they are targeted exclusively at a particular municipality.  An unintentional result of a parking freeze is its negative effect on economic development, limiting the ability of new businesses to create jobs, existing businesses to expand, and leading, in many cases, to shifting growth to areas without such restrictions.

Maybe now is the time to rethink this outdated method of controlling auto emissions.