Tonight at its 7:00 meeting, Traffic Council is going to hear a proposal (TC33-18) to slow traffic on Waltham St. and Crafts St. by narrowing the travel lanes, adding bike lanes, and configuring parking to create chicanes — minor changes in the line of travel so that the travel lanes are not dead straight. The chicanes are achieved by alternating stretches of parking on one side and then switching parking to the other side.
Chicanes — or horizontal deflection as they are referred to by traffic engineers — slow traffic by causing drivers to have to make periodic small changes to their driving line.
It is a thoughtful plan that is not too radical. While chicanes can be created by changing the curb geometry, this plan doesn’t change the current curb line. It’s all paint and parked cars!
The plan has been presented to neighbors and has widespread support. It’s before Traffic Council because the plan reconfigures parking and removes spaces. The new configuration removes about half the spaces to create the chicanes, but even with the reduction should easily accommodate all the current parking demand.
I have every confidence that Traffic Council will adjudicate the requested change wisely and fairly. (I’ll be attending the meeting just to be sure!) But, is it right to put the burden for parking changes on those asking to reduce parking? Is it right that current parking capacity should be the starting point for discussion?
As a general matter, we have a massive oversupply of parking. Globally, nationally, and locally. And, the oversupply has terrible impacts. It creates sprawl, encourages driving, often requires driving, and contributes substantially to climate change.
But, given our woefully car-centric transportation infrastructure and land-use, it’s not realistic to eliminate parking wholesale. There will continue to be legitimate arguments for parking, including on-street parking. But, those arguments should be made on a case-by-case, block-by-block basis.
When we look at a wholesale redesign of a stretch of Newton roads, we should start from scratch. We should assume nothing by default. What kind of travel lanes do we need? What kind of bike accommodations? What are the real, legitimate parking needs? Where safety concerns like the desire to slow traffic on Waltham St. and Crafts St. or a need for bike lanes conflict with parking, we should give appropriate weight to all factors. But, the future supply of parking should not be based on current supply, but on actual demand.
Ideally, we’d have a formal process by which the Mayor’s office could identify a stretch of road for study and proposed redesign. By identifying such a project, all relevant current parking regulations would sunset within some reasonable period. The task going forward would be to consider all users, weighted by favored uses, and specify a design, including exactly the parking that would be needed.
There’s no reason to keep parking by default.