Today, we sent a comment letter to the BPDA on a proposed residential project at 59-63 Belgrade Avenue. We generally support this project as it is constant with our goals and mission, and also offer some suggestions for how the proposal could be improved. Our full letter is below, also available as a PDF.
For our first walk audit in a bit more than a year, we’ll team up with WalkBoston to take stock of existing conditions and think about street safety improvements on Poplar Street, all the way from Roslindale Square to the intersection with Hautevale Street. Everyone is welcome to come, learn about street safety, and help us think about ways to make our neighborhood a safer, more welcoming place for everyone who wants to use this critical neighborhood street.
Here’s the route we’re planning on auditing:
The walk will start with an intro presentation at WorkHub at the Substation (corner of Cummins & Washington) at 9 am. Please check out and sign up at our facebook event page so we can try to do at least a little of numbers planning. More to come soon. Thanks!
The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) conducted a long overdue parking study in Roslindale Square in October of last year, and earlier this month released a 22-page report with detailed findings. There’s a good deal to sort through here, but we hope this report will serve as a launching point for constructive community dialog around hot-button parking issues. We intend to play an active role in advocating for solutions that advance our goal of making Roslindale the most walkable neighborhood in the City of Boston.
It’s no secret that parking has been poorly managed for decades across the city and in our neighborhood, often leading to rancorous conflicts over spaces and, even more unfortunately, opposition to desperately-needed new housing based on fears that such actions will exacerbate parking problems. We are optimistic that, with this study as the backdrop, we’ve reached the cusp of a new era where parking policy can be informed by best management practices and a vision that recognizes the major changes in mobility coming around the corner and the need to balance the needs of all users of our roads and sidewalks.
First, the most important fact this report establishes is that Roslindale Square has enough parking, but there has been a failure to manage it. In particular, the report notes in its conclusions on page 21:
With on-street parking available within the overall study area during most times; with most parking demand concentrated around the ‘commercial core’ and Washington Street commercial corridor; and with an abundance of available off-street parking during most times – the solution is to better manage the parking resources that exist so they serve the needs of residents, businesses, and visitors.
In particular, the report notes that “most off-street parking lots had an abundance of unused parking.” A count on a Farmers Market Saturday found:
- 20 unused spaces in the Taft Hill Municipal Parking Lot
- 123 unused spaces in the MBTA Commuter Lots
- 119 unused spaces in privately-owned lots
A count on a Wednesday similarly found:
- 7 unused spaces in the Taft Hill Municipal Parking Lot
- 107 unused spaces in the MBTA Commuter Lots
- 106 unused spaces in privately-owned lots
This reinforces a view that we’ve been advocating for many years now. Dedicating more space to parking than we currently have won’t meaningfully help the issues but will insure increased traffic congestion and pollution, not only from vehicle emissions but also from the creation of additional impervious surfaces, even putting aside the cost of building and maintaining more parking. Managing what we already have, by contrast, will foster conditions where people who need to drive will be able to find parking easily, while avoiding inducing demand for more driving. What form that parking space management should take is something we’d like to see discussed with some urgency and then implemented as soon as BTD can make it happen.
Second, although many recent proposals for new housing in Roslindale near transit hubs have been shot down by a minority of members of the Zoning Board of Appeal on the basis of allegedly insufficient off-street parking, the report provides no basis to conclude that new nearby housing meaningfully impacts parking issues in the central business district. Indeed, the addition of nearby residential development should be a complete red herring as a parking issue: having more folks living within walking distance of the square will help the existing businesses and generate demand for businesses to open in the now-vacant storefronts. In and within walking distance of the square is the ideal place in the neighborhood to develop residences with no or comparatively few off-street parking spaces. It is also worth reiterating here our preference for using space and resources to build places for people, not motor vehicles. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimated in 2019 that each new structured parking space in our region costs $23,500 to build and each new surface parking space costs $6,000 (figures that must now be significantly higher due to inflation). Making new development provide parking on site both drives up the cost of each unit and takes space that could otherwise be used for more units.
As we find a path forward, we also want to keep an eye on other takeaways from the report:
- Better parking management will also improve vehicular traffic, since a substantial number of cars circle the square looking for parking. Parking spaces should be managed so there is generally a minimum availability of open spaces, thus avoiding endless circling as well as idling/double-parking and blocking of crosswalks. We would be a good candidate for dynamic pricing and smart meters so that space availability can be tuned more precisely.
- Prime storefront spaces should be metered to increase turnover. We could also use some very short term spaces to make it easy to run into a store like Sullivan’s Pharmacy or Solera Wine to grab an item and go.
- We should also consider enabling the option of paying for longer stays in the Taft Hill Municipal Lot. For example, for some spaces, parking could be free for an hour, but paid at a reasonable rate for longer stays. The newly-installed rapid electric chargers in the lot already allow the user to pay for more time than is necessary for a charge.
- It makes no sense for so many MBTA lot spaces to go empty and also for there to be no free or discounted after-hours parking in those lots. There is substantial demand for restaurant parking in the evenings and essentially zero demand for commuter rail user parking at that time. This should be an easy fix and could also be matched with implementing parking sharing of both lots during the daytime as well.
- Business owners should encourage and incentivize employee commuting by means other than driving (for example, we’re encouraged here by the decreased car use shown by a recent pilot program for providing subsidized BueBike memberships and T passes to employees in Main Street districts), and for those who do need to drive, encourage them to park a short distance away rather than occupy prime spaces. Store owners and employees taking up spaces in front of their own businesses makes it more difficult for potential customers to park. Formally opening up the MBTA lots to non-commuters as well as allowing a paid option for longer stays in the Municipal Lot could fix this problem entirely.
- Finally, the square has had nagging vacancy problems for many years. Fixing the vacancy issue is a real problem that could be solved (1) with better parking management as outlined above and (2) with a long-term vacancy tax to incentivize commercial landlords to find tenants rather than passively leverage their empty properties as a tax break.
For those interested in digging deeper into the relationship between parking policy and walkability, we must recommend the canonical book The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup (the first chapter of which is available free online), as well as Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step a Time (free summary here), by our nearby neighbor Jeff Speck.
Open Letter to Mayor Wu from WalkUP Roslindale
WalkUP Roslindale calls on Mayor Michelle Wu to appoint new members to the City of Boston Zoning Board of Appeal.
The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) membership is fundamentally opposed to the Mayor’s climate, transit, and housing justice agenda. In the past few months, the ZBA has rejected multiple new 4-story residential buildings proposed on Washington Street in or near Roslindale Square. This area has many existing 4-story buildings, is served by almost a dozen bus routes with dedicated rush hour lanes, and is less than a mile from the Forest Hills MBTA Station. In these rejections, ZBA members primarily insisted on additional car parking over more affordable units or improved commercial spaces for local businesses. These sorts of ZBA decisions are crippling the mayor’s stated agenda to incentivize developers to build affordable, mixed-use, transit-friendly projects in our neighborhood and across the city of Boston.
Forcing developers to dedicate more space to car storage exacerbates the housing crisis, makes new housing more expensive, and harms our community. Insisting on excessive off-street parking in new developments already well served by transit reduces the total possible number of housing units and particularly the number of income-restricted units built. In the most egregious recent example, we saw the ZBA reject a development at 4198 Washington Street which far exceeded the City’s mandated goals for income-restricted housing on site and would have provided new spaces to multiple small businesses owned by Asian-American proprietors. ZBA members wanted parking to replace both housing and commercial space on site. We have seen similar reasoning in other recent denials by the ZBA in Roslindale including, but not limited to, proposals at 4164 Washington Street and just last week at 4025 Washington Street. Some ZBA members demanded more parking on site and rejected the projects as too dense, an implausible assertion in a corridor full of similar three and four-story buildings.
These ZBA decisions are harming Roslindale, a neighborhood in desperate need of new housing. As active residents of this community, we have watched as housing prices and rents have continued to skyrocket in our neighborhood and across the city. We have participated in community processes for each of these proposed developments, attended meetings, submitted comment letters, and testified in support. These proposals have garnered strong support from the Boston Planning and Development Agency, local elected officials, and organizations. Nevertheless, all this work comes to a crashing halt once these proposals reach the ZBA. The ZBA is acting outside its scope, enforcing its own self-made transportation policy prioritizing vehicles over people, and at times seemingly acting with the individual interests of some members in mind. To that last point, we note that the ZBA chairwoman lives in Roslindale and has repeatedly voiced opposition to projects in Roslindale Square that, in her opinion, may adversely affect parking for unspecified members of the community. At this point, we cannot help but question these decisions and at times the motivations behind them.
The current decision-making process in this city for most development proposals is untenable. Rejection of such urgently needed mixed-use developments elevates the needs of cars above the needs of Boston’s residents — a 20th century view of development and the city that is out of step with the needs of today. By forcing developers to go back to the drawing board to add more parking to projects, we are sending the message that cars, and their associated human health, environmental, and social problems, still dominate over many more critical human priorities, most notably housing for people.
Mayor Wu has the power to appoint new members to the ZBA immediately, subject to City Council confirmation. Eleven of the thirteen members, including the chairwoman, are holdover appointments on expired terms from the prior mayoral administrations. While we understand the city has many pressing needs, surely the creation of new, transit-friendly housing must be high on that list. To that end, we call on Mayor Wu to nominate a new slate of ZBA members to the City Council who take a more holistic view of the city, understand its changing needs, and do not prioritize vehicle storage over homes for people.
Our current zoning regimen is fundamentally at odds with the needs of our city and neighborhood. The overly restrictive zoning effectively forces everything through a zoning relief process that is tilted toward preserving the status quo at a moment in time when the status quo desperately needs to be changed, especially as it relates to our relationship with individual motor vehicle use and ownership. Meanwhile, the cost of housing continues to skyrocket. We not only need a new ZBA, we need new zoning rules that facilitate by right the development of new, transit-friendly, and more affordable housing. We know and respect that the Mayor and city are undertaking a review of development processes and seeking a new Director of Planning for the city. While we support those efforts, we firmly believe a change in the makeup of the ZBA cannot wait for these processes to finish. Mayor Wu needs to act now to appoint new ZBA members who support her housing agenda and that of the voters who handed her a strong mandate to change the status quo in Boston.
WalkUP Roslindale Board of Directors
About WalkUP Roslindale:
WalkUP Roslindale, which takes its name from the international movement to foster “Walkable Urban Places,” is a collaborative group of Roslindale residents and business owners dedicated to making Roslindale the most walkable neighborhood in Boston. We advocate for a dynamic, livable streetscape and we support positive changes to our public and private built environment that strengthen walkability and other forms of active mobility as means toward better personal and public health, safety, social capital, economic development, and environmental sustainability. We are led by our board of directors and have over five hundred additional supporters. More information about WalkUP Roslindale and our initiatives can be found at walkuproslindale.org.
From time to time, specific street intersections come up for redesign and improvement to promote their safety. We understand that one such case is underway now for the intersection of South and Robert streets in the Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association‘s part of Roslindale, directly adjacent to Fallon Field. It’s an intersection that is used fairly frequently by folks on foot to access the playground and other facilities at Fallon, especially smaller children and their families. It also sports one of the more notorious slip lanes in the neighborhood, used by drivers to go from Robert onto South, with a stop sign that, based on this observer’s personal experience, is actually complied with less than 10% of the time. Thankfully, LANA have been advocating for many years for changes here and we understand that the Boston Transportation Department will be unveiling 25% design plans and seeking feedback this coming Monday evening, 14 March 2022, at LANA’s regular board meeting (which will also reportedly feature an appearance by new District 6 City Councilor Kendra Lara). You can sign up to attend the meeting HERE. Hope to see you there! mjl
Well, it appears that enough heavy, wet snow has fallen that we are once again calling on our Snow Clearance Collaborative friends and neighbors to pick up a shovel, find a nearby plowed in bus stop or crosswalk curb ramp, and clear it so that everyone who needs or wants to get around on foot or transit can do so safely and comfortably. Send pix of the before and afters to email@example.com and we’ll be happy to post them here and if you’d like, we will also send you $10 in Rozzie Bucks from our friends at Roslindale Village Main Street. Many thanks!
Well, the overall forecast was for 1″ to 3″, but the upper range seems to have been doubled and it looks like we’ve reached close to 6″ (15cm). We are accordingly calling out our forces to clear bus stops, crosswalk ramps, and any other pedestrian walkways that are looking in need of clearance from someone who cares. As a reminder, the way this works is that we accept photos of before and after (email them to firstname.lastname@example.org) and are happy to work with our friends at Roslindale Village Main Street to thank Collaborative participants with $10 in Rozzie Bucks. Many thanks in advance!
If the forecasters are even half right, tomorrow looks like a doozy around here, so we’re making the call now for all WalkUP Roslindale Snow Clearance Collaborative forces to be out, in force, shoveling bus stops and crosswalk curb ramps to help everyone get around more easily after the storm. As a refresher, we now have a fully distributed model where everyone in Roslindale is their own block captain with full power and authority vested in them by WalkUP Roslindale to clear their local crosswalk curb ramp and dig out their nearby bus stop, snapping pictures before and after and sending them to yours truly at email@example.com, to claim $10 in Rozzie Bucks from our good friends at Roslindale Village Main Street. Stay safe, stay warm, and we’ll see you out shoveling after the storm. (Yes, that is our old friend the Boston Yeti, looking to make a comeback again this year!)
Today we sent a letter to the Massachusetts State Legislature Joint Committee on Transportation supporting an act that would change the name of American Legion Highway to American Legion Parkway which we believe would send a better message about traffic safety, particularly when coupled with physical design changes and speed-limit enforcement. Our full letter is available as a PDF and reproduced below.