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.