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Early steps to change Center parking taking shape

New parking meter at Rusell Common lotNew parking meter at the Russell Common lot.

UPDATED, Oct. 1: Nearly a year after favoring a plan to make major changes to parking in the Center, selectmen voted Monday, Sept. 21, to support a proposal to put into effect the new approach, called "demand pricing."

Some change is already here, and some is not.

Board of Selectmen logo, Jan. 23, 2013

New multispace meters, all credit-card accessible, have replaced those "infernal machines" removed in June at Russell Common and Water Street lots. Once the new meters are activated -- perhaps by next week -- the fee will be 50 cents hour, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. As of now, spaces are free for three hours. [A check Sept. 30 at Russell Common showed the new meters still not activated.] 

The board voted, 4-0 (Kevin Greeley was absent on business), to adopt the recommendations of the Parking Implementation/Governance Committee, chaired by Selectmen Steven M. Byrne. A Sept. 17 memo by Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine summarizes some of the operational decisions:

"• Pay and Display has been chosen, because it is the lowest cost solution. Pay by space requires poles installed to mark each space, or frequent painting of numbers on pavement for each space. This decision can be re-evaluated and changed to Pay by Space at any time.

"• IPS Group was chosen as vendor for single-space meters on street. Fee is $1/hour, 4-hour limit, 8 am to 8 pm, as recommended by Nelson/Nygaard. Procurement of poles and installation is underway. We hope to be able to install the single space meters before winter.

"• Permits will continue to be sold, but permit designated spaces will be eliminated to provide more flexibility between permit and metered spaces. Businesses and their employees will be encouraged to buy permits and park in the Russell Common Lot.

"• New signs have been designed and will be fabricated by the DPW Sign Shop for the Russell Common Lot. All existing signs in the lot and on the street will be removed. New signs will be designed for nonmetered spaces in the Center (Academy, Maple and Pleasant streets, and others)

"• The committee decided that the designation of a 'Loading Zone' was not warranted at this time, but town staff is committed to working with Starbucks to manage its delivery schedule in coordination with abutting uses."

These changes stem from an Oct. 6, 2014, board vote to accept the recommendations in the Arlington Center Parking Management Study, conducted for the town by consultant Nelson/Nygaard. The study recommended a paid parking strategy for on- and off-street parking in Arlington Center in order to improve parking availability. The parking committee has been meeting about twice a month since April.

Taxi stands, handicapped access

The Sept. 21 vote also supported the following recommendations:

Proposed map of part of parking district that includes Arlington Center.Proposed 2014 map of parking district, including Arlington Center. Full map here >>

• Two taxi stands on Medford Street in front of the Regent are be moved to the Russell Common Lot, and those spaces are to become metered parking. The two taxi stands on Mass. Ave. approaching Medford Street will remain taxi stands for the time being, to be reevaluated in the future. Selectmen Diane Mahon, serving as chair, thanked Byrne's committee for this "compromise." An earlier recommendation would have moved them.

• Addition of a handicapped-accessible space on Medford Street, on the left side near Leader Bank.

• Additions and changes the Russell Common Lot:

o An electric-vehicle charging station with one designated space and one optional space, to be made clear via signs; and
o An additional Zipcar space (there are now two).

Some disappointment, public comment

Apart from these details, Selectmen Joseph Curro Jr. expressed some disappointment that those using meters at Russell Common and Water Street lots would have to return to their vehicles to display a purchased ticket, as they had in the past.

Chapdelaine said the IPS meters have the technology to get around this, including the ability for a customer to enter a license plate number, and that it is one option that officials would continue to review.

During public participation, Bob Radochia, a Precinct 11 Town Meeting member, had many questions about the new parking plan.

He asked: "How does this improve parking availability?"

He agreed the plan, which includes Mass. Ave. metering in the Center, would increase revenue, and he said he agreed with that.

"But how will this fill vacancies [of business spaces] ... or promote turnover?" he asked.

He said that letting employees get parking permits would result "all spaces taken before 10 a.m."

He also wanted to know how many more traffic officers would be needed to enforce the new plan.

Selectmen do not respond immediately to comments made at public participation, but, under the agenda item, Byrne said he does expect the new plan to increase turnover. Under demand pricing, parkers are expected to go where they must pay less.

As to the number of new traffic officers needed, Chapdelaine said no decision had yet been made.

Radochia asked how many street meters would be installed and was told 500. That is 50 more than reported last October.

Issues to be monitored

Chapdelaine's Sept. 17 memo says the parking committee plans to monitor and re-evaluate all issues ion the plan over the next six to 12 months. These include:

• Taxi stands;

• Pay and Display vs. Pay by Space;

• Permit spaces not designated;

• 15 minutes free (Byrne said this proposal did not fly because it would have cost $50 more per meter);

• Rates and time of regulation;

• Turnover goal: The committee will determine whether increased parking availability has been achieved and make follow-up recommendations accordingly.

Chapdelaine told selectmen that a main goal is to alleviate ambiguity in Russell Common, but the proposed plan now taking some shape goes beyond that lot and could face changes. Laura Wiener of the town Planning Department, which played in active role in researching the issues involved, can expect further work.

Asked after the meeting whether the plan is a "work in progress," the manager said: "Isn't it always?'

Key links in Center parking study

June 30, 2015: Town parking meters suspended
Oct. 8, 2014: Fresh focus on Center parking draws unanimous selectmen support
Nelson\Nygaard final report
April 9, 2014: Variety of fixes proposed
The project summary presented April 7 (town website)
Full report following the March 5 presentation (town website)

An estimated 30 business people met the morning of Thursday, Feb. 27, in a session that participants termed "good." Chapdelaine's April 3 memo says that "response to the preliminary recommendations thus far has been largely positive, including feedback from the merchants."

Jan. 9, 2014, presentation (town website)

To see some ways that Nelson Nygaard has addressed parking issues in other communities, including Medford and Salem, read Jacobson’s 2011 report titled "Parking Management: A Key to Revitalizing Massachusetts Downtowns."

This story was published Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, and updated Oct. 1, to add copy.

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