Parking Reform in Greater Boston

(cc photo by gracefamily)

A number of readers have sent me Paul McMorrow’s article about parking reform in the Boston area and I’m glad you did:

When Boston development officials recently handed permits to the developers of Waterside Place, they did so despite neighborhood concerns that the developers wanted to build far more apartments than parking spots. On A Street, the Boston Redevelopment Authority is close to green-lighting a 21-story residential tower. The tower’s developer had originally planned to build one parking spot for every two residential units, an abnormally low supply; BRA officials are pushing the developer to push that ratio even lower by replacing a whole floor of parking with innovative workforce housing units.

These permitting decisions are not happening in a vacuum. Government-imposed floors on the number of parking spots required at new developments are falling across the city, and beyond. Somerville, for instance, is increasing zoning density and lowering parking requirements along the route of the planned Green Line extension, with an eye toward spurring new transit-oriented development. But the change is especially pronounced in the Seaport, where developers are working with as close to a blank canvas as you’ll find in any major American city.

Regulators pushing developers to build less parking than they want is much, much, much better than the near-universal practice of regulators mandating minimum levels of parking. But I do think the message is clearer and the potential political coalition bigger if parking reformers just stick to the idea that this should be left up to the market. Cars are useful, and people who have cars need to park them. So there’s nothing wrong with building parking. But urban space is expensive, and parking spaces take up space, so people should weigh the costs and benefits of building/buying more parking against other possibilities. Getting to market-determined levels of parking construction and parking space pricing would be a huge victory, and it’s not particularly necessary to go beyond that.