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Overnight parking pilot raises host of issues

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Robert Kuhn and Darcy Devney of Arlington sent their letter to the Select Board:

This potential change to overnight parking will affect all residents of Arlington, yet there has been virtually no public outreach on this issue. Community feedback consisting of two meetings is grossly inadequate. Note that there hasn’t been a committee formed or any attempt to represent the diversity of views on this topic. There are many, many issues to be considered before going ahead.

Goals: What, specifically, are the reasons for doing this pilot? Removing the overnight parking ban will have several negative consequences: encouraging car ownership, overcrowding, decreasing quality of life, raising insurance costs, affecting crime and safety, and discouraging business customers (of Capitol Theatre, for example). What positive effects are you hoping for? The original Town Meeting article said: “waiver is intended to address the unique hardship faced by residents who experience significant delays and inconvenience during morning hours when trying to gain access to their vehicles blocked-in by those other residents.”

Evaluation: As residents suggested at the June Forum, a true “pilot” program must be carefully designed and evaluated. The pilot program must have a stated duration; yet anyone who buys a permit will view the end of the pilot as taking away their right to park overnight on-street -- and be angry about it. Goals must be specific and measurable. Data must be collected before, during and at the end of the pilot program. For example, in advance, compile the current statistics for overnight parking waivers and economic hardship waivers. Evaluation is crucial.

Surveys: Surveys of the pilot’s effects, especially online, will not garner an acceptable number of responses. A Pew Research Center study (2021) found that 39 percent of those 65 and over do not own a smartphone, and 25 percent don’t use the internet. Only 57 percent of households with income less than $30,000 have home broadband, and 24 percent don’t own a smartphone. Such an easy way to disenfranchise people.

Focus: Some of the concerns voiced at the Forum should be addressed directly. For example, it’s outrageous that landlords/realtors lie to prospective renters/owners about parking regulations. However, Steve Berczuk has already filed a Town Meeting article to finally fix this problem.

Likewise, the idea of one-side-only parking for narrower streets has safety merit and has been discussed for years by the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC). However, there are countervailing arguments, for example, the deleterious effect one-side-only parking on side streets would have on Mass. Ave. businesses. It’s not right to use the parking pilot as cover to subtly force this issue.

Eligibility: Capacity planning is so important, especially in areas that already have experienced problems according to police statistics. Criteria must be specific, fair and evenly applied. Given the number of tandem-parking arrangements (especially East Arlington), it would be completely inappropriate to grant overnight parking permits simply on the basis of that inconvenience. Likewise, people who have sufficient garage/driveway space, but don’t use it for vehicles, should not be granted waivers.

If landlords charge for off-street parking, barring economic hardship, renters should not be eligible for overnight parking on-street. Further, it is irrational public policy to let the Redevelopment Board and Town Meeting keep reducing on-site parking requirements to encourage car-less living, while the SB simultaneously sabotages sustainable transportation planning by loosening overnight parking restrictions.

Overnight: What will the definition of “overnight” be? Currently, parking is banned from 1 to 7 a.m. Will overnight parking permits simply become all-day parking, ignoring posted two-hour-parking-only signs? One of the major objections to overnight parking -- and one of the noticeable negative consequences -- is that residents will simply leave cars parked on the street overnight and during the day. In fact, some of those cars will rarely park in a driveway/parking lot again, narrowing street accessibility on a permanent basis.

Cambridge and other towns/cities deal with this by antistorage regulation, ticketing cars that haven’t moved in 24 or 48 hours. Anecdotally, in other cities, allowing long-term on-street parking results in some residents (who could park in driveway) parking in front of their own properties, to “save” spaces for their own visitors. How will this be avoided?

Neighborhood-based: Both East Arlington and Arlington Center have daytime parking restrictions to discourage commuters from using neighborhood streets as a parking lot. For example, in the Alewife area of East Arlington, many of the streets closest to the station and/or the bike path are designated as two-hour parking limit. These restrictions were put in place because, indeed, commuter cars (including from other areas of Arlington, according to TAC studies) were parked bumper-to-bumper. So permits must be restricted by neighborhood.

Location: On-street parking is public parking. But it’s a really bad idea to structure the parking pilot such that overnight parkers could park in front of nonrelated properties. Among other problems, how will that interact with the current system of 14-night visitor parking, which is tied to the address? Overnight parking must be limited to directly in front of the owner’s primary residence (or front and side for corner properties). But what should be done for car owners who live in apartment buildings?

Enforcement: What is the enforcement plan for the pilot and subsequent policy? How will more police time be paid for? Currently, enforcement is a very low priority, but at least it’s easy to tell when a car is violating the ban. Without additional resources and regulation enforcement, you are obviously just outright waiving the overnight parking ban throughout Arlington. Why would people pay for a permit if their chance of getting a ticket is essentially zero?

Thank you for your time and trouble. As we requested before, please keep us informed of this program, including any meetings.


This letter was published Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.

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