Some Harvard Square Businesses Concerned About New Parking Fees, Bike Lane

By Jonathan Chang and Prithvi G. Tikhe
BU News Service

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – If you parked your car in a metered parking spot in Harvard Square on a Wednesday afternoon, you may have received a bright red ticket.

At present, the neighborhood is among the busiest areas for enforcement officers, and while the city of Cambridge has brought changes to its transportation system over the past year to help fix the issue, the changes have been met with varied opinions.

According to officials in the Cambridge Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department, the changes are attempts to encourage “alternative modes” of transportation in the neighborhood, but local businesses have expressed their disappointment.

“I don’t think [the city is] taking everything into consideration,” said Chris Kotelly, owner of Crimson Corner. “There’s a lot of small businesses that need customers to survive, and a lot of what they’ve done in the last month or so is kind of counteractive to small businesses’ surviving.”

Among the changes is an increase in parking meter rates, the city’s first since 2008. On July 24, 2017, the citywide base rate in Cambridge increased from $1 to $1.25 per hour. While the rate of meters in lower-use areas remains $1 per hour, the rate in places deemed “hot spots” – the most ticketed areas – jumped to $1.50 per hour.

Ned VerPlanck, owner of Dickson Bros. Hardware Co. said, “I get why they’re doing it. They want people to rotate in and out. But I still think it’s too high, and it keeps people away.”

In contrast, Josh Goldman, a Dorchester resident, and employee at Raven Used Books on Church Street, said he supports the change and finds it fair.

“What can you do these days with $1.25?” Goldman said.

Cambridge Parking Director Joseph Barr told WBUR News in July that the rate hike would raise revenue for the city.

“The reality is [that] it is partly about trying to keep up with a lot of the new initiatives we’re doing – whether that’s looking at bike lanes, or whether that’s looking at changes to pedestrian facilities,” the parking chief said. “As we look forward, all those things cost money.”

While city officials hope the increased rate can boost the local economy by promoting faster turnover of the parking spaces to provide access to businesses in the area, Denise Jillson, the executive director of Harvard Square Business Association sees the situation differently.

“Increasing the parking [cost] in a business district that’s already feeling the effects of online purchasing in a very big way – it’s impactful,” Jillson said. “The city continues to do things that are antithetical in some ways to creating or maintaining a robust business district.”

By raising parking rates, Cambridge may lose money, said Mark Chase, a lecturer in urban transportation planning at Tufts University. People will tend to comply more with the law, decreasing the number of parking meter violations and at the same time increasing available space, he said in a phone interview.

“When San Francisco priced parking based on demand, they saw ticket revenues decrease overall,” he said.

Cambridge generated about $10.2 million in parking fines last year and projects to collect $10.6 million in 2017.  This amount represents about 1.78 percent of the city’s total projected revenue for this year.  

A review of Cambridge parking ticket data from January to May of this year showed that 74,332 out of nearly 105,000 parking violation tickets were due to parking meter violations. Commercial streets around Harvard Square, such as Brattle, John F. Kennedy, Mt. Auburn, and Massachusetts Avenue, which are famous for shops and restaurants are hot spots for parking meter violations.

Chase suggested that Harvard Square should have two prices – a “premium” and an “economy” – to better reflect the higher demands of particular spaces. The entire area currently is set at the highest possible rate of $1.50 per hour.

City data suggest some ways drivers might avoid parking tickets. Citywide, drivers are most likely to receive a parking meter ticket from Tuesday through Friday, when parking enforcement is at its peak. Fewer tickets are issued on Mondays and Saturdays, in part because there are fewer staff members on duty. Sunday remains a day of rest for parking enforcement, and data show minimal meter tickets issued by the city.

The data also show that the time of day influences the risk of getting a ticket. The maximum number of parking tickets are issued from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. when most parking spaces are occupied and the most enforcement officers are on duty. The fewest tickets are given out before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m. when the meters are not in effect.

Parking has not been the only issue for local businesses. While changes are occurring all across Cambridge, a new bike lane system on Brattle Street has been a major concern for Harvard Square. The new system is a two-way bike lane with parking in the middle of the street.

“The bike lane on Brattle Street has created a lot of anxiety and has had an adverse economic impact on our businesses,” Jillson said. “It feels unsafe for everybody.”

Jillson said businesses are concerned and want to accommodate everyone.

“We want to accommodate every kind of lifestyle,” Jillson said. “We want to be as welcoming as we possibly can, because at the end of the day, our goal is unchanged, and that is to promote commerce in Harvard Square.”

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