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Variety of fixes proposed for 'broken' Center parking

June 5, 2014: Final report released

Is Arlington ready for what a consultant calls "customer-friendly parking" in the Center, which they see as "broken"?

Clues to answering that came Monday, April 7, as representatives of Nelson Nygaard offered draft recommendations about Arlington Center parking to selectmen.

Here's what may be coming when a final recomendations arrive in about a month:

    -- New meters for the Water Street and Russell Common lots;

    -- Meters added along Mass. Ave. at locations in and near the Center;

    -- Loosened restrictions on parking, including free parking, on streets neighboring Mass. Ave.; and

        -- Improved signs and lighting.

What will it cost?

Board of Selectmen logo, Jan. 23, 2013After presenting the draft goals and ideas, consultants Lisa Jacobson and Ralph De Nisco heard a basic question from Selectmen Kevin Greeley. "Cost?" he asked.

"Less than you think," because of lease options, De Nisco said. The wording was the same De Nisco provided at a Town Hall meeting on March 5. Pressed by audience members at the earlier meeting, De Nisco estimated new metering could cost $10,000 per unit. No number of units was suggested.

With regard to cost, Selectman Dan Dunn asked April 7, how many of the consultant's recommendations are "make or break"?

De Nisco said the consultants would answer that by first considering their top proposed goals, not by beginning with the governance structure of parking.

Board member Diane Mahon offered a number of questions and comments, including seeking:

-- To revive a plan for parking garage a Russell Common that might use state and federal funds because the garage would have a deck dedicated to the memory of Sam Whittemore, a Menotomy hero just before the Revolutionary War; and

-- To retain one of the taxi spots at and near Broadway Plaza and have the rest be for resident parking.

What are the aims?

Those goals, outlined by Jacobsen, are:

* Establish clear priorities for regulations: Don't chase away customers; let them pay to stay.

* Change pricing setup to create availability on-street: The consultants suggest "flipping" the current arrangement; that is, replacing free Mass. Ave. parking with metered spots, and free parking farther from the center.

* Create added long-term parking: At the same time, permits given for Russell Common parkers, now at 90, would shrink. Greeley suggested such permit holders not park directly behind the school, to give customers a break over students.  

* Support the system with technology: A variety of smart metering is available; see some options illustrated here >>

The consultants have been working with the selectmen's parking subcommittee, work that Jacobson described as "exhaustive." The contract with Nelson Nygaard is $29,000.

An April 3 memo to selectmen from Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine suggests the work that lies ahead. "In preparation for the meeting," he wrote, "please review the following policy considerations ....

    "1. Establishment of a parking availability goal

    "2. Implementation of a paid parking strategy for on and off street parking

    "3. Establishment of a parking governance structure

"Please be aware that we are not requesting adoption of any policy recommendations at Monday's meeting, but rather, we are interested in hearing your feedback and concerns prior to formulating policy recommendations for your consideration."

High points from 3 public meetings

Here are highlights from three public meetings about Center parking -- Jan. 9, Feb. 27 and March 5:

To try to find solutions to issues involved in parking -- which Jacobson termed "tricky, political, personal" -- consultants counted vehicles and spaces on two days last November.

Audience member Stephen Harrington said at the March 5 session that was insufficient. A. Michael Ruderman asked: "Did you count the illegally parked cars?"

A full inventory of Center parking yielded a total of 1,643 spaces -- 1,147 off-street and 496 on-street.

In an attempt to gauge public opinion, an online survey drew more than 1,000 responses. Among the findings:

-- A mix of one- and two-hour regulations do not welcome customers, but tells people: "Don’t stay long."

-- Signs are inconsistent signs.

-- Kiosks in Water Street and Russell Common lots are difficult to work with.

-- Employees are frustrated by "the shuffle," having to move cars every two hours.

-- Some say parking in the Center is inconvenient, yet the survey shows people generally park with one block of their destination.

-- Adjust metering times and adopt customer-friendly enforcement: Proposed are the first 15 to 30 minutes free, or having a first ticket waived?

In general, the consultants are working on a "suite of strategies," not a single bullet.

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."

Key links in Center parking study

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 presentation (town website)

This story was published Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Glenn Koenig contributed to it. Updated a link on April 16, as well as June 6.

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