Boston Endorses Parking Reform as Key Green Policy

Boston_Climate_Recs.pngAn illustration of how Boston will make its transportation system greener. Image: City of Boston

"Folks, you ain’t seen nothing yet," Mayor Bloomberg told an Earth Day crowd yesterday. "The best and greenest days are yet to come." The PlaNYC update coming in 2011, he implied, would have a slew of new initiatives to make our city more sustainable, and he’s taking suggestions. 

He could get some good ones from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Released on Earth Day, "Sparking Boston’s Climate Revolution" [PDF], is that city’s answer to the greenhouse gas reduction targets in PlaNYC. Many of the ideas — green buildings, new bike infrastructure — will look familiar to New Yorkers. But on one crucial green measure, Boston could be poised to leap ahead of New York: using parking policy to reduce driving. 

Boston’s plan calls for charging more for on-street parking. In commercial areas, meters would charge higher rates and stay in effect longer. In residential neighborhoods, Boston intends to start charging for residential parking permits for the first time. Over just the last two years, the city distributed 100,000 permits for free. The Boston plan also calls for charging much higher rates for every additional permit given to each household. So owning a second car will come at a higher price.

The higher meter rates and permit fees would not just disincentivize
driving, but also raise revenue that Boston intends to use to fund
pedestrian and bike improvements.

For years, Boston has had a freeze on building off-street parking in three neighborhoods, similar to Manhattan’s Clean Air Act-driven zone below 60th Street. As in Manhattan, however, developers can obtain permits to skirt the restrictions. The Earth Day report calls for cracking down on those permits and looking into the possibility of expanding the parking freeze in new neighborhoods.  

In contrast, PlaNYC contains almost nothing about parking policy: just a promise to increase the use of muni-meters and reduce the impact of surface lots on water quality. While DOT’s pilot ParkSmart program has experimented with pricing on-street parking more efficiently in a handful of neighborhoods, the planning department and NYCEDC promote driving through zoning rules and RFPs that demand large amounts of off-street parking. Rather than try to expand the zones where parking restrictions are strongest, New York has fought in court to evade its existing regulations. (To be fair, Bloomberg would need Albany to pass legislation in order to enact a residential parking permit program like they have in Boston.)

In the race to have the "greenest, greatest" city, Menino is making Boston a contender.

  • Shemp

    This doc says it’s recommendations from a committee, not a mayoral policy. Do you have any evidence the parking policy is adopted City of Boston policy?

  • “Bloomberg would need Albany to pass legislation in order to enact a residential parking permit program”

    This is already in the works. State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman have both been moving this exact legislation forward. Streetsglog, I’d say check in with their officers for a full update and broader picture on this topic.

  • ex-driver

    It’s amazing that you can park for free on nearly any side street (often pock-marked and pot-holed) in Manhattan with no limitations. The city is losing so much revenue over this. Collect the money and fix the streets!

    When I lived in Toronto you paid to park. A permit on a residential street was $120 a year, more if you had access to off-street parking, and streets in commercial districts or lined with apartment buildings were metered seven days a week. Not only that, but the city limited the number of permits it would sell on each block to prevent over-subscription. Guess what? You could almost always find a spot. No driving around and around forever.

  • check out how the car is driving in the bike lane.

    the illustration should be fixed.

    i’m a big believer that illustrations are uber-important to planning — that, though written off by many (most?) as ‘just pictures’, they are not — they are much more meaningful — they are indicative of the current intellectual culture about “what should be (in an ideal world)” wrt the particular plan it’s illustrating — so it is what city planners/engineers/citizens/construction firms/voters will expect and aspire to — in this case, a street where cyclists’ space, and thus their dignity, are not respected.

    i believe that any/all ‘crappy’ illustrations should be challenged and fixed.

    sometimes, words get completely overpowered by pictures — and even if Complete Streets policy doesn’t actually guarantee a safe and comfortable place for most citizens to walk and bike, any illustrations should not shortchange even that minimal version of safety and comfort that Complete Streets policy _does_ promise to provide. that illustration doesn’t cut it — it should be fixed.

  • Noah Kazis

    Shemp, as I understand it, the committee was tasked by the mayor in a 2007 executive order with preparing the city’s official climate change policies (more about that at Menino’s been touting the report enthusiastically (for example,

    This isn’t “adopted City of Boston policy” in the sense that it is now in effect; that will take a series of legislative and executive actions. But neither were most parts of PlaNYC three Earth Days ago.

  • Shemp

    PlaNYC was written by city staff and presented by the Mayor as an initiative of city gov’t. Very different model than this.

  • Boris

    “But [PlaNYC] is still the mayor’s plan and not the city’s plan and could easily change or disappear under the next mayor.”

    “The bulk of [PlaNYC] was done by McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, under contract with the city’s Economic Development Corp.”

  • Rachel Weinberger

    Sorry Boris,

    If it is Tom Angotti’s claim that the bulk of PlaNYC was done by McKinsey & Company then he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. McKinsey & Company certainly contributed to the plan but the bulk of the plan, for better or worse, was written by the Mayor’s staff under the close supervision of then Deputy Mayor Doctoroff.

    Someone needs to check the facts and if it’s not Tom it has to be his readers. You can start by asking those of us who actually worked on and wrote the plan.

  • Mary Arrr

    Hurrah! The student-driven housing market in Boston makes this especially necessary. There are so many two bedroom apartments with four or five people living in them, each with a car. Also, people will put a utility bill in a girl- or boyfriend’s name so that they can get a parking permit too. Many of these cars are just used for driving back and forth to “home” a few times a year. Charging for parking so that roommates start thinking about how much they really need a car, or renting one for trips home would make a great deal of sense.

    The shared cars, like Zipcars, are allowed to park in resident parking (at least where I am), but the fact that there is NO parking on the street makes that a far less attractive option.

  • Tacony Palmyra

    Not sure about Boston, but in NYC, the cost of renting a car for a weekend per month is basically the same cost as owning a car (provided the insurance is registered to the “home” address, which it usually is).

  • Stephanie Pollack

    I was a member of the leadership committee that made the recommendations and specifically the transportation working group — I’ve been a transit and alternative transportation advocate here for decades. While it’s true that these recommendations have to be adopted by the City, senior staff from both the transportation and environment departments are on board. The full report (which has now been posted at articulates the policy objective as discouraging car use and ownership in the City of Boston. The target is to take VMT, already growing at a modest clip of .25%/year and actually get to a sustained decline so that VMT (total, not per capita) drops .75%/year annually from now through 2020. In addition to the parking policy pieces, as the home of Zipcar the report also includes a set of recommendations around car sharing including a goal that “every Boston resident lives within 1/4 mile of a shared car by 2020.” Yes, we still have to get all of this implemented. But Boston has taken a big step toward acknowledging the centrality of progressive transportation policies to its climate agenda and that’s a pretty amazing to those of us who’ve been at this for a long time here in Boston.


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