When I told friends years ago I was moving to Boston, most delighted in repeating that old joke about parhking the cahh in Hahvard Yahrd. The joke mocks the clichéd Boston accent, but having lived here for a while, I think it’s also a joke about parking.
Parking spaces are precious in this small big city. It’s always been jarring to me to see cars squeezed against the narrow curbs of Beacon Hill’s historic cobblestoned streets or the cow paths of the financial district. And who hasn’t circled the downtown blocks just one more time hoping to score a spot? Parking is scarce even on the wide metered thoroughfares. So I’m frustrated by Mayor Walsh’s plan to eliminate 73 parking spaces on busy Commonwealth Avenue, even though I understand the larger goal.
Removing the parking spaces is part of the mayor’s transportation reform plan, including the Vision Zero project, focused on preventing fatalities. The reforms include dedicated bike lanes modeled after designs used in Sweden. Lanes that provide a physical barrier between the cars and bikers. They are definitely a safer upgrade from the current bike lanes, which are often no more than drawn squiggly lines marking off the biker’s road space. Even the most diligent drivers can inadvertently cross over into those lanes. The result -- accidents and some deaths. In fact, the new Commonwealth bike lanes will be at the site where a Boston University student died several years ago.
You can already see this proposed innovative design up close on Western Avenue in Allston. The once wide section of the street is now considerably narrowed because the bikers ride next to the curb with the parked cars on the outside serving as a protective barrier. The street is wide enough to accommodate the significant encroachment into what was all driving space. But, here again street parking spaces had to be sacrificed to make it happen.
City Councilor Michael Flaherty says there is another reason to oppose the removal of the Commonwealth parking spaces. He asserts that removing the 73 spaces will cost the city more than 300 thousand in lost revenue. Ouch! That’s particularly hard to accept after a winter of millions in lost parking meter revenue.
With programs like the city’s own Hubway encouraging more bike riding, long term planning is essential. I’m not really opposed to more bike riding in the city, and I certainly can appreciate the benefits of less pollution. But can’t there also be a way to accommodate drivers in a city that has always had scarce available parking?
Boston maybe evolving into a biking city, but the car is still king. And good luck trying to park your car anywhere near Harvard Yard.