Parking, Zoning, Development. Those three items are probably the most reliably hot-button issues at the municipal level (OK, dog parks).

So forgive me if I think it’s great news that Newton is trying to manage one of them, parking, in a more comprehensive and rational way than most Massachusetts cities and towns.

The big item on the docket this week–besides the storm water and sewer stuff I mentioned last week–is the release of the Draft Parking Management Plan. Have a look. I think it’s pretty good. It’s a lot more comprehensive than what you’ll learn from reading the Austin Street update, which is also worth a read (but at 2 pp won’t take long).

My hope is that Newton can pilot parking management via meter rates, which treats time at a parking spot like other commodities, and prices by demand–the popular spaces would rent for a little more than the less popular ones. This will make the value-conscious (read: folks planning to park a longer time, like commuters or employees) think twice about filling prime spots in favor of the cheaper back-of-the-store (or back at home) spots, and leave the 15-minute spot in front of the pharmacy open more often.

This has been tried successfully in San Francisco, Boulder, and in some parts of Manhattan (we are willing to pay for a $7/hour spot in front of the Modern if we are only staying an hour. Since the prices rose, we always find a space in front of the Modern). More details here (scroll down to the Parking resources).

Right now, we are making too much parking “free” or very low-cost rather than making more parking available. When parking isn’t available, it hurts business. When parking is too cheap, it hurts the environment by creating more paved spaces, adding parking costs to all other services–including the rent on apartments, the cost of goods in stores & restaurants/ Maintaining public parking spaces while recouping too little of the cost to do so also means that tax dollars go into subsidizing parking.

Making parking more rational–and hiring a manager as the plan advocates–will also mean that the Aldermen can spend a lot less time discussing it, and can instead focus on bigger and more important issues.