Does Boston Need Less Residential Parking?

August 2, 2016

Like many Boston neighborhoods, once humble Roslindale is going upscale.   Case in point:  a long vacant building is being transformed into a high end restaurant.  It's flanked on either side by a new apartment complex.  All 43 units were leased almost as soon as they were built, despite the fact many of them have no parking.

"We're seeing more folks saying, I would rather you not charge me a hundred bucks for the parking space," says developer Bev Gallo  "Save me the hundred bucks and I'll take the T."

Gallo says the Roslindale project was a gamble.  She put a trend to the test:  one that indicates a growing number of people are going car-free.

"There is a new environment, young and older - this is not just a millennial trend - that want to shed the car and really reinvent themselves in the urban areas," explains Galllo.  "But as a real estate developer, I have to take that with a grain of salt.  Is it real?  Can we sell units.  And we did."

"There is a new environment, young and older - this is not just  millennial trend - that want to shed the car and really reinvent themselves in the urban areas."

It gave her the confidence to break ground on her next project - an apartment complex next to the Ashmont T station in Dorchester, with parking for less than half the units.

In a city where people fight for residential street parking, the trend to build new housing with no parking begs a question:  won't it make things worse? 

Not necessarily. 

"The common perspective is you can never have too much parking, but times are changing.  People are changing," says Marc Draisen, the executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.  "And we are overbuilding our parking spaces all over greater Boston."

"The common perspective is you can never have too much parking, but times are changing.  People are changing.  We are overbuilding our parking spaces all over greater Boston."

He has gathered proof in the parking lots of more than one hundred apartment and condominium complexes in Malden, Everett, Chelsea, Melrose and Arlington.  His team surveyed residents and then -  during hours when most people are asleep -  counted the number of empty parking spaces. 

"What we find is about one quarter of all these parking spaces are underutilized," says Draisen.  "That didn't used to be the case."

Draisen's team is using data they collected to develop a "Parking Calculator", so planners can determine the optimal amount of residential parking for new developments.   Eliminate unneeded spaces and you can do what Bev Gallo did in Roslindale:  create more housing.

"We actually have units that could have been parking spaces," says Gallo. "But we turned them into two lofts that leased right away."

But not everyone applauds the move toward creating more housing with space for fewer cars.

"It's the concept that you can just skip parking that allows them to build monstrous rental cash cows that get inhabited only by transients," says Eva Webster, a longtime community activist.

"It's the concept that you can just skip parking that allows them to build monstrous rental cash cows that get inhabited only by transients."

Webster has been fighting a plan in Boston's Allston neighborhood to build an apartment complex with spaces for only about half the units.  She believes it will attract  short term residents to a neighborhood she says needs more stability.  She says people who are likely to put down roots - families and homeowners - are also likely to want a car.

"If you have people who are only here for a year or two living in a tiny studio not planning to spend their life here, they don't get engaged in civic issues," says Webster.  "It makes it much harder for the rest of us who are trying to hold the fort so to speak and make sure this is a real neighborhood."

She worries the trend to reduce parking will encourage an urban density that will make Allston more like downtown Boston, or even Manhatten.

"I don't want Boston to become New York City," says Webster.  " It should be a city with room for trees and little backyards for people."

As the city evolves amid unprecedented growth, the direction it takes may well be determined by whether or not there's a place to park.

 

 


WGBH News is supported by:
Back to top