Before we build a parking structure in Newton Centre (current vision is on the Cypress Street lot), the city should buy or lease as much private parking as it can.

At the League of Women Voter’s No Parking! forum last night, parking consultant Jason Schreiber described how one city (Medford?) had plans to build a parking structure to meet an urgent need for more parking capacity. They discovered they had enough capacity, they just needed to better use the capacity they had. They were able to do that by adjusting incentives to make the more remote spaces more desirable: charge more for the central spaces and eliminate barriers that make the less central spaces less attractive.

Charging more (but not too much) for the central spaces increases highly desirable turnover in those spaces and gives some parkers (employees, commuters, and other long-term parkers) an incentive to seek out other, less-central spaces. The less-central spaces should be priced enough cheaper to provide the incentive. Barriers can include difficult-to-navigate intersections which make walking to and from the less-central spaces enough of burden to offset the cost savings.

The problem is that you need to have enough parking overall to meet demand. (That itself is not such a simple determination, but let’s leave it aside for today.) And, Newton Centre might not have enough public parking to meet demand. Hence the plans to build a parking garage.

But, parking structures are expensive ($25K+ per space). And, there is plenty of unused capacity in Newton Centre, albeit capacity on private lots.Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy or lease existing, underused private parking spaces from the private owners?

The Walgreen’s lot is rarely more than half- or even a quarter-full. Here’s a four-step plan to convert Walgreen’s underused capacity to cure some of Newton Centre’s parking woes:

  • Raise the meter rates along Langley to $2 or 3 per hour
  • Lease the lot from Walgreen’s (actually the property owner)
  • Add $1 per hour meters
  • Put up big public parking signs to guide drivers to the lot

(The exact rates are not important, the differential is.)

Whatever the acquisition cost of those spaces is, it’s almost certainly less than the cost of the equivalent number of spaces in a new parking garage. More underused spaces: behind the Staples/Post Office building, behind the bank that used to be Brueggers, the church lots. The church lots are an interesting opportunity. Put in the lease terms that the churches have the right (for free) to use the lots on an as needed basis for weddings, funerals, and holiday services.

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