Somerville, MA rebels against minimum parking requirements

In a city where people can spend hours searching for parking, Boston officials are pursuing a strategy that seems as galling as it is counterintuitive: They are deliberately discouraging construction of new spaces.

The policy shift — which comes even as thousands of new residents flock into its neighborhoods — is being implemented across the city, with officials relaxing once inflexible requirements that parking be built with every new residence. The goal is to encourage the use of public transportation, and to devote more land and money to affordable housing, open spaces, and other amenities. Officials also say the city’s youthful population is becoming more accustomed to life without a car.

“We don’t need a parking space for every bedroom in every new building,” Peter Meade, head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said in a recent interview. He cited US census data showing that one in three Boston residents is between 20 and 35, and most bike, walk, or use public transportation to get to work.

Residents are complaining the new policy will make matters worse in the short run, even if there is a longer-run substitution away from cars.  By the way, this is not causally connected but there is evidence Boston has reached “peak car”:

The number of registered vehicles in the city has dropped by nearly 14 percent in the last five years, from 362,288 in 2008 to 311,943 today, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

The full story is here, and my earlier column on minimum parking requirements is here.


“We don’t need a parking space for every bedroom in every new building,” Peter Meade, head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said in a recent interview."

The royal we, from one of the local princes.

I love this website because it is so inconsistent and the comments just amplify the inconsistency. WooHoo.

Think about this quote from the post above:

".....with officials relaxing once inflexible requirements that parking be built with every new residence."

In other words, the government was changing its policy to NOT REQUIRING that builders construct parking.

And, then the comments: removing restrictions is now the heavy hand of government made by a Prince speaking the royal we.

Made my morning.

It's perfectly consistent. Public transportation--or worse: bikes!--are things that liberals like. We don't like liberals, so any policy change that they might like must be bad.

Um, posts on this website, including the linked article in this post, have consistently sought to relax minimum parking requirements. Wake up and read!

Clearly the reference is to the comments section of this website, not your posts.

Unless you think the comments are as high quality as your post, in which case you should probably get out of the business. Luckily most everyone rightly considers your posts thoughtful and interesting, and your comments section a sewer of teenage libertarianism, white supremacy, and climate change denial.

Conversely, some posters seem to think the city is imposing a parking maximum.

Hey, how about you get on the bus in Philly? I'm waiting, Internet Tough Guy.

@ Rich Berger
“We don’t need a parking space for every bedroom in every new building,” Peter Meade, head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said in a recent interview.”

The royal we, from one of the local princes.

No, this is letting the market demand determine if residents want to pay for parking or not. Ideally it would be a is a step toward charging for street use whether for parking or vehicular movement.

BRA: Mr. Developer, your application has too many parking spaces for us to accept.
Mr. Developer: But this is the ratio that has been acceptable for years.
BRA: That was then. Why don't you cut those spaces down by 50%? It would be a shame if this lovely project didn't get built
Mr. Developer: Done.
BRA: Approved!

Mayor Carmine De Pasto: If you want this year's homecoming parade in my town, you have to pay for it.
Dean Vernon Wormer: Carmine, I don't think it's right that you should extort money from the college.
Mayor Carmine De Pasto: Look, these parades you throw are very expensive. You using my police, my sanitation people, and my Oldsmobiles free of charge. So, if you mention extortion again, I'll have your legs broken.

That was gratuitous, but it's got the same flavor.

You do realize that developers consider parking space to be undesirable, compared to using some of that space for more square footage to rent/sell, right?

In other words, developers needed to be forced, through regulation, to lower their potential profit by providing parking.

But don't take my word on it - my brother-in-law is currently developing a 300 million euro project in a city center (Primark will probably be a major tenant - which might provide a bit of information to EU readers about the scale of this shopping center, its annual revenues, and the fact that a lot of its intended customers are most definitely not old enough to drive), and he would be thrilled to convert some of the mandated parking spaces into more store space - which pays a much higher rent.

Though this remains one of the better comment sections to read when looking at the divergence between commenter visions of how things work compared with the actual reality of people involved in that work.

And government regulation mandating parking? Why yes, that was an explicit legally enforced goal of American building codes for generations. So for those who welcome the lifting of government regulation, this is what it looks like, in a specific case - developers choosing profits over your personal comfort, without government interfering with market transactions.

Get used to it - why do you think this web site exists?

Your comment once again illustrates the irony. Externalities seldom lend themselves to solutions without a third party, and in this case, the third party, the City, owns the street, so you could even argue it has the right to ration access to it for parking. The irony here is that you criticize the city for regulations going up, and regulations going down, and totally ignore the externalities, as if they did not exist. The other irony, of course, is that the comments below talk about the externalities, and prefer tighter regulation, or wish to impose the cost of the externality (need for parking) on new entrants who will have to purchase a building that includes parking, presumably at a higher cost, but at least they bore the cost of the externality.

Bill, have you ever lived in Boston? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between "local government" and "organized crime." It's not quite Connecticut, but it's pretty bad.

I'm happy to see a regulatory requirement dropped when it doesn't make sense, but I doubt the implementation will be nice and corruption free. I think that's the worry you see expressed in the comments above.

Finch, C'mon, you can't get away with calling government corrupt as an answer to something. If it is corrupt, you can go to to report civil corruption. They even take down a Spitzer. Or, the head of the CIA. What you gave was an unpersuasive non-answer. I have visited Boston, and it is just as bad, in terms of congestion, as NYC, DC, Chicago, and SF.

What is the externality here?

There aren't enough street parking spaces because the price is too low. Then more customers show up trying to get the cheap parking spaces. In a normal market the price would go up with demand resulting in a pecuniary externality, which is never considered a problem that needs to be fixed, but since the price doesn't adjust (by choice!) there is just a worse shortage. I don't see how the worse shortage needs to be fixed since it is evidently preferable to high prices.

Steve, The externality is: my presence, from building a new building, increases your costs. Would you like a link to a definition of externality?

Here is a Wiki reference:

"In economics, an externality is a cost or benefit which results from an activity or transaction and which affects an otherwise uninvolved party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit."

As someone with a disability, I struggle with this all the time. It has meant I have been late for work just searching for a space for an hour. The pendulum against cards has swung too far. And the T is just not reliable enough yet to be a realistic alternative.

But isn't the solution just to charge market price for spaces, let the market determine the allocation of parking construction, and provide discounts or credits for people, like you, who have a pronounced need for convenient parking? Or better yet, just give you a cash benefit and let you decide whether you want to spend it on parking.

I suppose there are elements who are really anti-car, I personally just want a sane solution that gives people what they actually want subject to resource constraints.

Once stores are built without parking lots and the "market" decides they would rather have parking lots, what do you do, tear down the stores? There's a lot more that goes into decision making than just letting an abstract "market" do whatever and calling it a sane solution. It's obvious they're trying to solve congestion by pushing residents towards using public transportation at the expense of the convenience of using one's own car.

Is that good or bad?

In Boston, they do price parking spaces on the free market.

Greater Boston (or Beat the Press?), a WGBH production mentioned the new on national TV for the "highest price for a parking space" on the left coast at something like half a million, pointing out that was far below the price in Boston, showing a photo of six outside parking spaces of which two sold for $1.5 million, which they did point out was large enough for two cars nose to tail, nose to building - getting the one next to the building out requires moving the other.

Stores get torn down all the time.

Stores are built called "K-MART" and the "market" decides they would rather have Targets, what do they do, tear down the K-marts?

Um, yes actually.

So tearing down stores for a parking lot is the same as tearing down a K-Mart for a Target? I stand corrected.

The core MBTA service, the subway or the "T", is reliable enough for the tens or hundreds of thousands who commute on it daily.

One option for those with disabilities that you probably already know about is THE RIDE. It will supposedly take you anywhere you want to do. I've never used this MBTA service, so I don't know how reliable it is.

But between these two T services, and taxis, it maybe you could easily avoid hour-long delays spent looking for parking -- by simply not driving.

The simple fact is that in Boston it's easier to find parking, on average, than to rely on the MBTA. The article exaggerates how hard it is to find parking. What's hard is finding very very cheap parking. The T, on the other hand, is terribly unreliable, with delay whenever the weather is slightly inclement. I remember a few years ago there were signs put up at South Station advertising how the commuter rail had achieved 85% on time service. Achieved!

I disagree that your "simple fact" is true. Do you have any data? What does it mean to "rely on the MBTA"? Doesn't the answer depend quite strongly on where you live?

I can only remember about 5 times in the last year where my T route (Green to Red to Silver -- that's two transfers!) was delayed by more than 30-45 minutes. Several of those occasions were major snow storms which many drivers certainly used as an excuse to stay home too.

It depends on where in Boston you're going. Some neighborhoods are flush with parking, but downtown near the convention center or the financial district? No way you're going to find parking unless you're prepared to pay a lot.

The T is actually pretty reliable. I took it work and school nearly every day for 4 years. I literally don't remember every being late because of it. All I did was build 20 extra minutes into my commute and was fine. And depending on your job, it is likely that any day you are delayed a good chunk of your colleagues will be as well, so it isn't the end of the world.

For years I took the commuter rail from West Natick 3-5 times a week, then the bus down towards Castle Island to my office. Going home there were two bus options (7 or 9 I think) and I could ride the bus to South Station, jump on the red line at Broadway, or walk back to South Station depending on traffic and weather. On a perfect day the car would be faster, but the advantages of the T were: 1 - less stress 2 - less variance in travel time 3 - less expensive after counting parking and fares on one side and tolls, gas, and wear and tear on the other. If I had to pay for parking in the city it wouldn't have been close.

I don't ever recall being late for work due to delays on the T, I'm sure I was late less often than I would have been working through the tolls at 128 & Brighton.

If anyone ever wants to see (what I think would be) a realization of Tyler Cowen's America, they should visit Somerville: one of the most densely populated places in America; filled with immigrants from across the globe (although heavy on Brazillians); lots of great ethnic food; a truly cosmopolitan place with little patriotism (although it is the home to several important Revolutionary War battle sites--Washington's troops holed up on Prospect Hill!).

Although, the prolific murderer Whitey Bulger is associate with South Boston, his "Winter Hill Gang" was based, er, in Winter Hill, Somerville.

Here's a book: Citizen Somerville.

Little patriotism? I think you mean that as a compliment. Anyway, Somerville prides itself on its Memorial Day parade (even though Boston has a bigger one next door) and its 4th of July fireworks display (even though Boston has a bigger one next door). Every intersection is given an honorary name of the "[Local Fallen Veteran] Square" variety. I see MIA/POW flags everywhere. There is high voter turnout. Somerville is patriotic. But yes, it is cosmopolitan and no, it is not chauvinist.

i think by "patriotic" , he meant "republican"


More likely he means the kind of people who think "little patriotism" is a compliment.

We're agreeing with different verbiage. (Most likely this is my fault; I offer you and other readers my apologies.)

Somerville and Cambridge are two of my favorite places in the whole USA. No joke.

Also, you forgot to mention the city's awesome motto: Municipal Freedom Gives National Strength.

But you're right: I meant to say that Somerville is non-chauvinist rather than that it lacked patriotism. It's my fucking screen-name, I tell you. :(

that was a nugget of gold

The public high school is also 71% free lunch and less than 40% white. If white urban professionals are living there they are either giving up having children or are paying for private schools in addition to private parking spaces. Somehow all of the open border types love to skip over the massive negative impact all that immigration has on the local public schools.

I'm a white urban professional who lives in Somerville and has a school-age child. Among my demographic and wholly anecdotally, I'm seeing a mix of people who move out when their kids turn 5 (or when they have a second kid); people who send their kids to private schools; people who send their kids to public schools (including charters); and homeschoolers. Actually most families I know have employed more than one of these approaches as their family finances and their kids' needs change. There are some good things about the local public schools (e.g. citywide school choice) and I'm getting the impression that people are more willing to consider them than they were five years ago (although most of my friends' kids are elementary age, so I'm curious how this will turn out over the next ten years).

Oh, and the two off-street parking places (three if you're willing to play car tetris) came with my two-family house. The four adults and one child who live here collectively own two cars, a motor scooter, and a lot of bikes. I can't see any of us needing, or wanting, to acquire more cars.

"I’m seeing a mix of people who move out when their kids turn 5 (or when they have a second kid); people who send their kids to private schools; people who send their kids to public schools (including charters); and homeschoolers."

That suggests that the public schools in town suck. Assuming the choices in that mix you describe are roughly evenly split, that means that only one in four of your peers find the public schools (including charters) are able to provide their children with an adequate education. Even if not evenly split, unless it's grossly weighted towards parents selecting public schools, than it means that at least a plurality and probably a majority of parents in your circle don't consider your city's public schools to be an adequate choice for educating their children. Why aren't you outraged about this?

I'm gleefully child-free, so I'll admit to not following these issues as closely as a parent would, but am I that out of touch? I was kinda shocked not so much by the content of your comment, as the tone -- it seemed like you took the notion that your city's public schools are an unacceptable option for a majority of families to be the natural state of things, not some huge f@!k up that needs to get fixed and now.

I had a sufficiently bad experience in public school (in a different state and decade) that I *do* take that to be the natural state of things, honestly, and it surprises me that others do not (though I see empirically this is sometimes the case).

I think if you had asked people in my demographic ten years ago whether Somerville schools were acceptable, you would have heard a much more universal "no", and the current state of affairs represents progress. My tone was intended as cautiously positive, honestly. But I guess it all depends on where you're starting from.

Why exactly is less than 40% white in the schools bad? And why do you assume they're all (possibly illegal) immigrants stealing our* money?

Amazingly, blatantly racist.

*"our" refers to us white people, of course

Try to find a public school that is less than 40% white and over 70% free lunch that is a good school.

As was argued in front of the Supreme Court in the Louisville and Seattle forced busing law suit that if a school became less than 50% white and acutally was not majority white that the culture of school would decline and students would suffer. Translation is that is a school is majority Latino or black, then the culture of the school will be Latino or black and the white kids will suffer. If you search through the Department of Education databases, there have been very few studies on the effects on white kids in majority black or Latino schools and the few studies that have been done showed that the white kids performance suffered.

Incidentally--and everyone who has lived in Somerville for any period of time will tell you this--Parking Enforcement in Somerville is run by an elite team of Terrorist Ninjas. When your parking meter is expired by even 40 seconds, they are teleported to your car war they slap down a hefty ticket. If you're parked overnight in the wrong spot on a Sunday they will find you, fine you, and threaten grievous bodily harm against the women and babies in your family.

Seriously, though, I once got ticketed in Somerville for being parked within 20 feet of the end of the sidewalk. I think it's literally impossible to get fined for that in any other municipality; no non-Somervillean even knows it's a violation!

For anyone familiar with DC's parking enforcement, it sounds like Somerville needs to run a tighter ship.

In DC, my wife recently got a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot. Except she was actually a good 8 feet away from the spot in a totally legit space in front of our apartment. We spent a whole afternoon at the adjudication center to get out of it, and that only happened because of a technical error on the ticket (they miswrote the block number, which we had not even noticed).

Coincidentally, I had my car towed from a legal spot in DC by the local authorities. The Parking spot was forbidden between 7am and 9pm; when I went to retrieve my car @ 6:45am; it had been relocated across town.

Makes me angee.

So this is what it's come to. Not requiring parking is referred to as "actively discouraging" parking.

I find the parking debate great fun along party lines. Will the right-wingers take the "government shouldn't meddle in parking requirements anyways" stand or typically a pro-car-owner stand? i.e. "Incentivising buses and public transport is a left fantasy"

Will the left rant that policymakers are favoring rich developers? Or will the left rejoice at the environment-friendly reduction in cars?

The leftist "rant" is to charge make vehicle owners pay for the streets they use. The "right" (Keep the government out of my Medicare) position seems to be that parking should be provided free as a socialized municipal service or through a mandate on the private sector.

Not many people can survive without either a car or public transportation. So it's more than a little douchey for users of government created and subsidized public transportation to sneer at car users for asking for a little subsidy for the kind of transportation they prefer.

Yes, automobile transportation is entirely unsubsidized.

(you're an idiot)

mike, you're back! I am so glad you decided not to end it all and will continue with us New Yorkers and Californians.

BTW, you might want to check into how the roads are paid for. Hint: it ain't gas taxes.

Hint: it ain’t gas taxes .
If I walk to the store I will pay no gas taxes. How do the products get to the store? HINT: It's gas taxes.

And this will (natch) be accompanied by no expansion of T service...

Well, you are probably right, but its not for a lack of official government plans. A green line expansion into Somerville, through Union Square and beyond, has been in planning stages for at least a decade. It supposedly will be in place by 2017.

Even in Boston, most people will find they need a car sometimes. I lived there during grad school without a car, but I often borrowed other people's rides. But that doesn't mean those who want off-street parking shouldn't pay for it. Do they include parking spaces in property tax? If not, they should. An apartment building that chooses to include a spot for every unit will build that into what they charge.

Mandating a certain proportion of spaces to housing units -- except in cases of handicapped parking -- seems unnecessary. Let the people who want a car, but aren't interested paying for the spot, fight it out. Parking on the street is a huge pain the in ass in Boston, especially in the winter when snow and orange cones can reduce the number of spots by a third. That's why car share services like ZipCar make a lot of sense in those areas.

This strikes me as rent seeking by people in Boston who own parking spaces. A deeded space in Boston can go for over $100,000. By restricting new spaces, the current owners guarantee the value of their spaces.

About ten years ago, a colleague of mine crowed that her town voted to preserve conservation land. I saw it as simply a way to restrict the supply of houses in the town, keeping the price high. A perfect baptists and bootleggers scenario.

Bootleggers and Baptists. And this being New England, Puritans gonna Puritan.

Is there no difference in your eyes between "developers will not be forced to put in parking spaces" and "restricting new spaces"?

I think the Libertarians here might stridently disagree.

I'm trying to understand how this discourages the construction of new parking. If parking is desirable, shouldn't we assume that the local market will deliver it?

It depends on how easy it is to get approval to build parking garages in the same community. This is the missing piece of information.

No. That's the short answer.

The long answer: desirable is different from profitable. If customers can c ome without their own car, and they can using public transportation, then there's no need for parking spaces even if they'd prefer to drive their own cars. That's how the real market works, contrarily as opposed to what's in textbooks. People don't get what they want, they get what they get based on the limited choices they're offered.

Also, once a store is built without parking spots, the space that would have been used for parking is utilized for something else.

How many business can survive by selling to people who can walk to their place of business. Outside of NYC and Maybe SF, how many places can that business model work. In DC, I am always amazed that in the neighborhoods build to be walkable that almost all street level business are either restaurants or personal services such as hair, nails, or gyms. Trying to purchase something as simple as batteries comes a huge hassle.

Agreed, but Somerville is one of those communities (at least the parts experiencing the surge in development). And again the question is whether to plan for 2 or 1 cars per household. Right now it's set closer to 2 and it's being reduced closer to 1.

Somerville has almost 80,000 people in 4 square miles, plus a couple of subway stops in or very close to the town, and several bus routes. An awful lot of businesses can survive on foot traffic alone.

We didn't own a car for the first few years we lived here, and after that were fine on a Zipcar membership right up until we had the kid (using it mostly for things we COULD walk to but didn't want to carry, like big bags of cat food). And there are people who are carfree with kids here. I can walk to a half-dozen drugstores, a supermarket, and a hardware store -- batteries are no problem.

Like Erik says, Somerville is one of those communities.

You have clearly never spent time in Somersville.

Where has the market ever made open land in a city or town hemmed in on all sides?

Other than by "creatively destroying" the entire city, a la Philly, Detroit, Cleveland, ....

But once the market creates the open land, no one is willing to buy it because the market does not like open land.

Don't forget St. Louis (population 1960 865,000 population 2010 319,000). Use goggle maps and street view, north St. Louis is depopulated. Lots of open land(and boarded-up buildings)!

"Where has the market ever made open land in a city or town hemmed in on all sides?

Other than by “creatively destroying” the entire city, a la Philly, Detroit, Cleveland, …."

Is 'the market' a new euphemism for African-Americans?

Actually, Yes. Circa 1965 the west end ghetto and the north side ghetto grew together and north St. Louis has been emptying-out ever since. South St. Louis, ethnic Polish, Italian, and Slavic is as always. No vacant land in south St, Louis.

I completely agree. It also allows the remaining parking garages to charge exorbitant prices. And then only the wealthy can go somewhere by car. This already occurs in parts of Cambridge that are far from any T stop.

Housing policy allows sellers to charge exorbitant prices. And then only the wealthy can live in big houses. This already occurs.

Jewelry policy allows sellers to charge exorbitant prices. And then only the wealthy can buy nice jewelry. This already occurs.

Etc., etc.

I just hate it when people force me to confront reality when contemplating policy implementation. I know they only bring that stuff up because they hate me and they are evil and not because such considerations are enormously important to any policy discussion.

There is a substantial difference between implementing regulations in a new system as opposed to an existing one. Such considerations are a big deal- if you want to have a credible policy discussion- even when you don't want them to be.

I agree with your earlier column on minimum parking requirements. Why should everyone effectively pay to subsidize drivers? Let the market decide.

"If we don’t give away cars, why give away parking spaces?"

“Who pays for free parking? Everyone but the motorist.”

Question: If today on third of the population is between 20 and 35, what happens to those people as time goes by? Is the hope such individuals will move out to the suburbs as their lives change by having kids, disability, etc.?

As to the residents, it is quite noble to depend on bikes and public transportation, but as the people of New Orleans learned, when disaster strikes, those who depend on public conveyance are left to die.

I would say in 10 years, there will be a push to stick parking places ever which where so that people can deal with kids, etc. But by all means, in a time of declining births, urban plan for a youth population.

The smallmindedness - the idea that there's no way to have a family life that doesn't resemble the dominant suburban mode of the latter half of the 20th century - is pretty amazing.

The boundless ability of bigminded people to ignore reality and demonstrated preferences in favor of forced social engineering to satisfy their ideological and aesthetic pretensions, more so.

So, requiring builders of buildings to build a certain number of parking spaces is the glorious free market

Not requiring them to do so is "social engineering"

Please keep going!

Creating policies that allowed people to build their preferred lifestyle and then suddenly abolishing them and expecting those people to just "deal with it", you know, get over their old-fashioned "hangups" about single family homes and stable communities and "get with the program" of the modern transient anonymous urban hipster faggot lifestyle... is utopian blank slate thinking, the most murderous ideology in the history of humanity.


Not every place has to be all things to all people, at all times.

I am most familiar with this in Chicago. Post-collegiates get small apartments or roommates in Lincoln Park, along side rich people in $2M single family mansions. They pair up and get their own condos in Lakeview. They have their first child in their condo, then buy a single family - in West Lakeview if they are dual income professionals, or the suburbs if they are not. They raise their kids, then move to the Gold Coast or Old Town as empty nesters.

What a Commonwealth: all that fuss and nonsense over Boston's Big Dig, the incessant delays, the $15 or 20 billion in cost overruns, the leaking tunnels, the falling tiles, ALL THAT PLANNING to make automotive transport in and around Boston fit for the 21st century! BUT NOW--"our citizens can walk, bike, take public transport" . . . so who NEEDED the Big Dig in the first place? (Shhh!)

And why did the Federal government pay one dime for it, if now the Commonwealth snorts at the very notion of automobile ownership? What's next: the Commonwealth's Congressional delegation extracts another $10 or 15 billion from the Feds to build high-rise parking garages across all of Boston's suburbs? dredging the Charles to accommodate yacht and barge traffic ("guess what? we need new bridges, too!")

With ALL THOSE BRAINS parked at Harvard and MIT, et cetera: THIS is what Massachusetts perpetrates with a straight face?

There is nothing that I love more than listening to libertarians rant about parking. Please, keep going.

One thousand and two pardons:

"And why did the Federal government pay one dime beyond the ORIGINAL cost projections + 10% for contingencies and cost overruns . . . ?"

In all fairness, I can't imagine anyone calling themselves Libertarian who demand government intervention only when it suited their lifestyles.

I've got a *lot* of disagreement with Libertarianism, but I think that level of hypocrisy is pretty rare. Most Libertarians I know are so hyper-aware of the potential for hypocrisy, so they are usually most strident about government regulation when they know such deregulation would hurt their personal interest (sort of like teachers marking their own child the hardest).

Is there *anyone* here arguing for parking regulations who considers themselves a Libertarian?

In some ways, it makes sense for a city to push out people who rely on cars -- they're more likely to be families with children and/or aging parents and are more likely to use schools and other services. It's simply much cheaper for the city when the population is dominated young childless hipsters....

Working parents with kids and/or aging parents -- who can't move every time they change jobs, who take young children to daycare and school in the morning, who pick up older kids from different activities in the evening, who handle all the errands and shopping and doctor and dentist appointments, who are helping aging parents with cleaning, shopping and appointments, and who have to do all these things (as well as have a job) reliably and in any weather -- these people really need cars. They also have high demands for schools, hospitals, street safety, playgrounds, elder-care and other expensive services. They also tend to be long-term invested in their neighborhoods, so they're more likely to complain, rather than just move in a few months...

Of course, it only works as a strategy for one generation.....

The premise of your second paragraph is wrong. I don't have a family, but most people in my building have kids, and most of them don't own cars. They bike, take public transportation, or walk to their various obligations. Sometimes they'll take a Zipcar. And I don't even live in NYC!

But regardless, according to the magic of the free market, if "working parents with kids" who need cars make up a substantial portion of a neighborhood, the invisible hand will create more spaces under schemes like Somerville's. Right?

I doubt you even know the name of anyone in your building.

"you didn't build that" ... gets real in Somerville, nice.

Number of registered vehicles does not equal number of vehicles.

Sadly it appears that parking/driving has become part of the culture wars in which many on the right check their brains at the door. Yesterday conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby, in response to this same article tweeted against the "elitists' war against drivers" and that "Boston needs *more* parking spaces, not fewer." In other words, Jacoby was upset over deregulation and apparently subscribes to the belief that central planning rather than markets are the best way to establish how many parking spaces Boston should have. The intellectual incoherence is astonishing, and can only be explained by a knee-jerk reaction against anything supported by urban leftists, even when they adopt market principles. Depressing as hell.

Free Market Principles = "the government already massively subsidizes my preferred mode of transportation, why should it subsidize yours too"

Subsidizing both would be a bit silly, wouldn't it?

Not any more silly than subsidizing both a state liberal arts college and a state engineering college.

"The intellectual incoherence is astonishing, and can only be explained by a knee-jerk reaction against anything supported by urban leftists, even when they adopt market principles."

It's perfectly logically coherent if you remember that "free markets" are not an actual philosophy but a piece of rhetoric that serves to advance a certain culture at the expense of others. That explains the sputtering anger and seeming incoherence of Jacoby and his less-eloquent compatriots in this thread - once "free markets" achieve aims that conflict with those characteristic of white suburban conservative men, "free markets" have to go.

Again, the missing piece of information is just how hard does the local government make it to build parking at all- especially that disconnected from housing? It is one thing to support the elimination of of minimum parking requirements, which I do, but I also support the elimination of restrictions on maximum parking supply. I am not sure that position is shared by many of the commenters above.

I am a resident of Somerville. Allow me to clear up some of the gaps in information here.

The city is not prohibiting developers from including parking. Currently the requirements to include parking are prohibitively HIGH and they are lowering them at the request of developers.

Somerville is very much like Brooklyn in that 15 years ago it was undesirable and now it's very popular due to its density of construction, proximity to the urban core of Boston / Cambridge, and relative cost compared to neighboring communities such as Cambridge and Charlestown.

The changing preferences of people 25-40 are benefitting Somerville. It's a very popular locale with "knowledge workers" with young families who may have moved out to the suburbs a generation ago. The biggest difference is not owning a car vs. not owning a car, it's ONE car households vs. TWO car households, and that is the big question of development. Somerville is going through a residential building boom and much of it is coming in the form of industrial buildings being converted to dense residential developments. People want to live in these new developments, but the #1 building restraint is the parking requirement. The square footage at street level simply isn't there. In the past 10 years this has resulting in larger developers building cookie-cutter large buildings, clustering them together very closely, and building a free-standing parking garage to serve all the buildings, and believe it or not these garages are largely empty. The development rules regarding parking are actually quite a market laggard in this case. Loosening the requirement will actually open the door to smaller developers and more interesting development.

There are still neighborhoods of Somerville that are primarily immigrant. Developers in those neighborhoods would want to include more than the new minimal parking requirements because the per capita car ownership is higher in those areas and land is less expensive there. Absolutely nothing precludes them from doing so, and they absolutely do their homework in terms of what it will take to sell their developments.

Finally, in the next 5 years Somerville will get a huge boon in public transportation. While it's already well served by MBTA buses, there is only one T/subway stop in Somerville. T stops in Cambridge and Charlestown are a 15-20 minute walk at a minimum. However a new stop on the Orange line opens this year within Somerville and two new branches of the green line will be opening within the next few years. The Hubway bike share program has also been a huge success here in terms of making Somerville more desirable because it cuts a 20 minute walk to the train down to a 5 minute ride.

With regards to the "hypocrisy" of this in relation to the Big Dig, a big driver of the new transit development is requirements that were included in the Big Dig. The new bridge basically dumps drivers on Somerville's doorstep, so the transit development was offered as an offset to the increased car emissions brought to the city. And if you think the purpose of the Big Dig was to encourage MORE driving, you're wrong. The purpose of the Big Dig was to unwind a few layers of insane poor road design that had accumulated since the 1950s and make the whole system more workable. And I must tell you that it did it's job. Compared to the 1990s Boston is much easier to drive in AND more pleasant to walk in. I was recently in Berlin and it was amazing how similar the Berlin Wall zone near the Postdammerplatz to the Rose Kennedy Greenway (not to mention that the cobble stone path that they put in the wall's former location is reminiscent of the Freedom Trail). My point is that it really got me thinking about how much the North End and waterfront used to be cut off by the elevated expressway, and when that roadway needed to be replaced, it was a wise decision to get rid of it.

All in all, the proposed new parking requirements are reasonable and reflect where Somerville already is, not even where it will be in a few years. Anyone trying to make political hay out of all this is barking up the wrong tree. The city isn't trying to CHANGE things, it's trying to react to the way things have already changed and prepare for future changes.

Great post. So much ignorance here, from people who don't even live in Somerville. (I'm near Davis.)

Thanks for this very informative post! Erik, do you have any "links for further information"? (I'm a Somerville resident who would doesn't know enough about local news.)

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+1, best comment in the thread

I think I tentatively welcome this small regulatory change, but it is worrying that transit reformers are going forward with this set of generational changes even in the face of still have marked trouble in securing sufficient state and local funding for MBTA funding (mainly the subway and buses). I would like to much more frequently and consistently use the subway and buses (I'm not the biking type), but they are not as frequent and dependable as I would like. People will only openly embrace them once they see that they are being run well and are clearly adequately funded.

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Reminds me of the comment that Boston Legal and similar shows present a fantasy version of Boston - where it looks like Oxford or Cambridge, a snowy British village-city - when the reality is that half of it is parking.

self driving cars, which can either orbit till needed, continue to search for nearby space, remove themselves to distant lots for extended periods, or even put themselves out for hire until recalled by their owners, will solve much of this problem

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