The time has come: Let’s fix the parking in Roslindale Square!

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.

City-sponsored Open House on Roslindale Transportation and Housing – TOMORROW – 30 January 2020 – 6 to 8 pm – Roslindale Substation

We urge everyone who is able to make it to attend tomorrow night’s city-sponsored open house to learn more and share ideas about both transportation and housing issues in our neighborhood. Here’s the listing from the Department of Neighborhood Development’s webpage:

Latest Update

Join the City of Boston (Department of Neighborhood Development, Boston Transportation Department, Boston Planning & Development Agency and Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services) at an Open House community meeting for a conversation about how housing and transportation can work together in Roslindale.  This open house will explore the questions, concerns and ideas raised during a September 2019 community meeting regarding Housing with Public Assets at the Roslindale Municipal Parking Lot.

This open house will provide an opportunity to have smaller group discussions with residents, business owners and representatives from city departments responsible for housing production, transportation and neighborhood planning.

Date: Thursday, January 30, 2020
Time: 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Location: Roslindale Substation
Address: 4228 Washington Street, Roslindale, MA 02131

REMINDER: Cummins Highway Walk Audit – 7 December 2019 @ 9 am

On this group walk, we will cover the section of Cummins from Washington Street to Rowe Street, starting at 9:00 am at the RVMS office (4236 Washington Street). It should take us about 90 minutes to discuss the process (with a “Ped 101” slide presentation similar to the one we saw from our friends at WalkBoston in Decemeber 2015 for the Roslindale Square Walk Audit inside what is now the Distraction Brewing space, as pictured above) and then get out there identifying street safety issues and possible solutions that we can carry forward to our elected and appointed officials. RSVP and spread the word via our Facebook event page.

Where do the District 5 City Council Candidates stand on safe and equitable travel on our streets?

With the preliminary election for the Boston City Council now just two weeks away — on Tuesday, September 24 — we here at WalkUP Roslindale thought it might be helpful to do what we could to more broadly circulate the responses of the various candidates to the Vision Zero Coalition’s Candidate Questionnaire, which provides the best available yardstick for figuring out how closely the candidates come to supporting safe and equitable travel on our streets. We’re starting today with the District 5 candidates and intend to move on to the At-Large candidates and then the candidates for districts 4 and 6 as well.

And so, we’re off – there are a total of eight candidates running for the District 5 City Council seat. In alphabetical order, they are Ricardo Arroyo, Maria Esdale Farrell, Cecily Graham, Justin Murad, Alkia Powell, Jean-Claude Sanon, Mimi Turchinetz, and Yves Mary Jean. Of these eight, the four candidates in italics submitted responses to the questionnaire. Below we provide their full answers, without modification, to the top-line question of “How do you move around your community and get where you need to go?” along with links to pdfs with responses to all of the questions:

Ricardo Arroyo

“Previously I owned a hybrid, now I do not have a car and rely on
the MBTA and ride sharing.”

Full Questionnaire Responses

Cecily Graham

“In order to move around my community, I use a variety of transit
modes. I am a driver, therefore this is my main mode of
transportation to get to the market and laundromat. I also bike
within a 2 mile radius for short trips, in addition to walking and the
use of public transportation when visiting neighboring towns. Last
but not least, I will utilize ride-share services if I have to be
somewhere in a timely matter, especially if parking is not readily
available at my destination. All of these modes are important
because it is hard to depend on one to get around efficiently.”

Full Questionnaire Responses

Justin Murad

“MBTA bus and Orange Line mostly.”

Full Questionnaire Responses

Mimi Turchinetz

“I take the 32 Bus and the Orange Line when ever possible, I also
have a car.”

Full Questionnaire Responses

CONCLUDING NOTE: WalkUP Roslindale has a policy of not specifically supporting or opposing any candidate for elected office. In the interest of full disclosure, please note that the author of this post, Matt Lawlor, personally supports candidate Arroyo.

11 Taft Hill Terrace – Public Meeting on Proposed Redevelopment – 6 pm on Wednesday, 24 July 2019, Roslindale Community Center

Everyone interested in supporting the desperate need for more housing to support our city’s growing population while doing so in a way that reduces the demand for driving and provides for more affordable homeownership opportunities is encouraged to attend tomorrow evening’s meeting on the redevelopment proposal for 16 condominium units and 14 off-street vehicle storage spaces at 11 Taft Hill Terrace. WalkUP Roslindale members will be on hand to learn more about the proposal, provide feedback, and ultimately formulate our response. We hope to see you there!

Your 2018 WalkUP Roslindale year in review!

WITH 2018 having drawn to its inevitable close, now seems like a decent enough time to look back on another year in the life of WalkUP Roslindale, your neighborhood walk-bike-transit-Y/QIMBY (Yes/Quality in My Backyard) citizens advocacy group. In the opinion of one member of group management, here are the top 10 things that happened this year. Comments, corrections, and additions are always welcome!

  1. District City Councilor Forum – Although scheduling conflicts kept us from hosting this particular forum in 2017, we did manage to pull off a gathering of the three district councilors who represent various parts of Roslindale – Andrea Campbell (District 4), Tim McCarthy (District 5), and Matt O’Malley (District 6) – that resulted in a lively discussion on a wide range of topics hosted by our own Sarah Kurpiel Lee. You can read the post-mortem at Recap on District City Councilor January 2018 Forum.
  2. Washington Street Bus & Bike Lane – After the 2-day pilot at the end of 2017 and then a full 4-week pilot in May and June of this year, the Mayor announced that the Washington Street bus and bike lane improvement project – which allows for a bus and bike only lane northbound on weekday mornings (5 to 9 am) and has significantly improved travel times for riders on the 9 separate lines that run between Roslindale Square and Forest Hills – would be permanent. This was a big win for better transit in our neighborhood and a significant step forward for better bus service across the region. We were proud to partner with Livable Streets Alliance on surveying riders and building support for the project and reported on it in May in Give Washington Street Bus Lane Feedback and in October in WalkUP Comment Letter on Washington Street Bus Lane.
  3. Safer Walking and Cycling in Roslindale Square – Around the same time that the bus/bike pilot was going on and being made permanent, the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) planned and then the Public Works Department resurfaced the key loop of South/Belgrade/Corinth/Poplar in Roslindale Square and installed a targeted set of new crosswalks, daylighting areas, in-street bike lanes, and relocated bus stops. With this set of improvements, a significant majority of the changes we advocated for in our December 2015 Walk Audit with WalkBoston have now been implemented. You can find coverage at Recent Safety Improvements in Roslindale Square – An Explainer and Letter of Support for Pedestrian Safety and Traffic Calming Improvements in Roslindale Square.
  4. Significant Progress on the Roslindale Gateway Path – In late June, we teamed with the Arnold Arboretum and Horsley Witten to release the 25% design for the MBTA-owned section of the path, running from the commuter rail station to the Arboretum border. The meeting was well attended and led to the T’s relatively swift determination that the proposed path route was conceptually approved through its internal canvassing process. Mid-year also saw funding progress as the commonwealth’s legislative session drew to a close in July. First, future funding to the tune of $3 million for path construction was included in the statewide Environmental Bond Bill. Securing these particular funds will require more work going forward, but the good news was just getting started. The FY2019 budget also included $100,000 in earmarked funding to help complete the path’s overall design. And then, to top off the funding story for the year, the city, through BTD, was able to obtain $90,000 in federal grant funding to move to 100% design for the initial extension of the path from its current terminus at the end of the Blackwell Path to the Arboretum Road underpass. An application to the city’s Community Preservation Act committee to fund construction of this extension was submitted in September. Coverage can also be found at Major Step Forward for the Gateway Path.
  5. Y/QIMBY Support and YIMBYtown – We continued to support new projects and concepts that we believed make sense, including 3-7 Poplar (732 South) and RVMS’ Poplar Street Improvements and the possible redevelopment of the Taft Hill Parking Lot. We also participated on the host committee of YIMBYtown 2018, the third annual national YIMBY conference held here in Boston in September. Perhaps the emblematic moment at YIMBYtown was the demonstration by housing justice advocates led by City Life/Vida Urbana at the closing plenary of the conference, voicing concerns about displacement of poorer people and people of color from neighborhoods experiencing an influx of new residents. WalkUP Roslindale hopes to partner with the housing justice initiative at RISE in the coming year to find a unified way forward in our neighborhood. More to come on this topic.
  6. FY2019 BTD Budget – WalkUP Roslindale was truly excited about the passage of an expanded BTD budget for FY2019 that calls for hiring a slew of new planners and engineers focused on issues such as coordinating MBTA service in the city, implementing Vision Zero, and expanding our city’s bike network. While we are still awaiting these new hires, we hope that they will be made soon.
  7. Neighborhood Slow Streets in MHMC – Progress continued on our neighborhood’s winner of the 2017 NSS sweepstakes. Conceptual plans are anticipated to be released in late winter. More information can be found at “Mount Hope/Canterbury” on BTD’s vision zero site.
  8. Blue Bikes in Roslindale! – We finally got our first 4 Blue Bikes stations in Roslindale in late summer – 2 stations in the square, one Belgrade and Walworth, and a fourth at Washington and Archdale. Now, if we could only find a way to get the long-delayed-due-to-construction and now completely inexplicably delayed station slated for Forest Hills, we’d really be talking. You can read more at “New Hubway (Blue Bikes) Locations Announced in Roslindale” and “Blue Bikes Finally Come to Roslindale.”
  9. Walter Street Traffic Calming – After sustained advocacy over many years by members of the Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association, 3 new crosswalks were finally installed in the stretch of Walter Street running from Bussey to South. The crosswalks were also accompanied by daylighting and flexposts on Walter itself and on certain of the side streets on Peters Hill. This kind of treatment can and should be extended to all of our major streets.
  10. Roslindale Snow Clearance Collaborative 1.0+ – Finally, our volunteer snow clearance collaborative had plenty of chances to flex our muscles and get in a good work out shoveling out key bus stops in and around the square and at the key intersection of Hyde Park Avenue and Cummins Highway. The shoveling in the square even included the contested sidewalks surrounding the MBTA commuter rail station on Belgrade. We gave the last installment – Collaborative v. 1.5 – a lighthearted touch with a photo of the Boston yeti.

The time has come to consider a user fee for on-street resident parking permits

With the new Boston City Council term officially underway as of Wednesday, At-Large Councilor, Transportation Committee chair, and Rossident Michelle Wu has made good on her statement late last year to start the discussion on collecting a user fee for something that is currently given away — on-street residential parking permits. Universal Hub has a short summary of Michelle’s council-approved request to hold a hearing on the concept soon: “Time to start charging for Boston parking permits, some councilors say.” Many issues will be in the mix, including how much to charge, whether to limit the number of permits, and how to deal with visitors and critical home care providers. As the discussion gets going and the hearing date nears, we’ll look to make this space a place for discussion of the intersecting policy and community issues at stake. While WalkUP Roslindale’s steering group hasn’t yet formulated an official policy on the issue, I can personally state for the record my complete support for implementing a user fee plan with details tbd this year. The time has come. – Matt Lawlor

Let’s dedicate a bus lane!

Proposed Washington Street Dedicated Bus Lane
Proposed Washington Street Dedicated Bus Lane

For people who want to walk more and drive less in Roslindale, and encourage others to do so as well, the stretch of Washington Street from Rozzie Square to Forest Hills has long been an extreme pain point. The Commuter Rail makes the trip in less than five minutes but is infrequent and too expensive for many. We believe the cost for getting downtown from Roslindale should be the same, or nearly so, whether on Commuter Rail or bus/subway, but changing that will require political will at the state level and so far we’re not seeing much in that direction.

Meanwhile, this corridor is well served by buses — nearly ten different lines from points south and west converge here, so in theory the wait should always be short and the one-mile trip to the end of the Orange Line quick. But these buses share a single lane with traffic, making the entire route indistinguishable from a parking lot at rush hour. This isn’t right and it’s time to fix it.

The GoBoston 2030 study found that an average of 19,000 bus riders pass along this corridor every day, and more than half the people traveling along Washington Street between Forest Hills and Roslindale Square are in a bus. With heavy mixed use development going up around Forest Hills as well as a growing population in Roslindale and points south, this route is only going to become more well traveled, but it’s physically impossible to accommodate hundreds or thousands more people trying to make this trip in single-occupant vehicles[1]. Moreover, if the bus trip were faster and more convenient, it’s near certain that many more would opt for that mode, making it an overwhelming favorite.

A potential solution has been on the radar for years and it’s time to give it a try. Several groups, including the City of Boston itself, have proposed removing a lane of parking and turning it into a dedicated bus lane — inbound in the morning, and outbound in the evening. A similar experiment was quite successful last winter in Everett and we’d like to see how it works here. Community feedback on the idea has been overwhelmingly positive thus far and we’re hopeful to get a trial going soon to see how much it reduces the bus commute time, and to gather information on how it might impact other users of the road. Once we have real data in hand, we can have a well-informed conversation about the trade-offs involved in this sort of dedication of our street space.

One concern is the bus lane will likely have to be shared with the bike lane. This arrangement works well on the Silver Line route in the South End, but this stretch of Washington Street is much tighter. In some future enlightened world, the City will remove parking on both sides of Washington Street to provide separate dedicated bike and bus lanes for the public good, but short term this project makes imperative the rapid funding and construction of the Roslindale Gateway Path as a completely off-street alternative. We’re also intent on making sure the bus drivers on this route are well-trained and sensitized to the shared use with cyclists to maximize peaceful coexistence.

Finally, any loss of on-street parking will inevitably touch a nerve with some. A critical upside of the trial run is that we’ll then have data to inform this discussion: if we can move 20,000 or more people in half the time it currently takes, is that worth sacrificing real estate that is currently dedicated to a few dozen vehicles for free?

Moreover, last year the Metropolitan Area Planning Council researched the corridor’s parking patterns, including by analyzing license plate registration of parked cars. They found that “the Washington Street corridor between Forest Hills station and Roslindale Square has the highest rates of bus utilization in the entire MBTA service district, with 60% of travelers utilizing an MBTA bus during the AM and PM peak hours.” The report also documented low parking usage during the peak travel times, especially during the early morning, and that over 80% of parked cars were from outside the neighborhood driven in by people heading to the Forest Hills T-station. If these spots go away, these people from outside the neighborhood (and presumably most from outside the city) will have to find an alternate commute–perhaps this will stimulate a virtuous circle where these people opt for commuter rail closer to their home once their “free” parking alternative is limited. That’s an outcome we at WalkUP Roslindale can support.

If you want to help make this happen, spread the word to you neighbors and reach out to your City Councilors and the Mayor to express your support. We’re optimistic there will be good news about the trial run soon.

Press coverage and more information:

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Unless those single-occupant vehicles happen to all be bicycles. That would be fortunate!