The following message was shared with Village 14 by City Councilors Andreae Downs (ward 5 at-large), Jake Auchincloss (ward 2 at-large), and Andrea Kelley (ward 3 at-large)

Mid-day on Friday, Julia Malakie sent every member of City Council a survey on the library parking lot project. We have chosen to self-publish our answers here.

First, some history:

  • The library lot has not been maintained since its creation in 1991. It is clearly in need of it.
  • The Library Trustees voted to accept solar car ports over the lot on condition that the lot be expanded from its current state of 181 spaces, as peak demand at the library is high. The lot is shared by City Hall visitors, and vice versa.
  • The expanded lot would be between 206 – 217 spaces, depending on whether pedestrian walkways are included.

So, whether or not solar carports come to the library, the lot needs maintenance and the Trustees want more car spaces.

The city’s Capital Improvement Plan estimates the changes to the library lot will cost from $750–800,000. At this week’s Finance Committee meeting, the city asked for an additional $175,000 for the lot’s design.

Ms Malakie asked councilors: “Is there an upper limit to how much additional spending you will vote to approve in order to actually build it? If so, what is that amount?”

She further stated that our answers should be a matter of “opinion” that would not require research, i.e., calling city employees for background information.

But our approach is first to do our homework as best we can. Here’s what we found in an afternoon of calling city officials and online research:

Currently, surface parking spaces cost between $5,000–$10,000 each, including the cost of the land. For a lot of 217 spaces, this pencils out to $2.17 million (upper limit, budgeting conservatively). Given that the lot is currently graded and owned by the city, perhaps the lower number is better—$1.1 million. Remember, the city’s estimate ranges up to $800,000.

But there are other considerations. Ms. Malakie’s second question refers to this: “What is the maximum amount of additional spending you would approve for a plan that does not eliminate flooding risk?”

The lot did flood in the 1990s during intense rain. The cause, according to city engineering, was the city’s deferral of needed dredging of the City Hall and Bullough’s ponds. When the ponds fill with silt, the water will back up to the parking lot. It is one reason that the CIP now includes dredging these ponds every decade or so.

The design funds voted out of Finance, and pending before the Council Monday night, include impervious pavement and bioswales, which would mitigate rainwater flowing off the lot and into the ponds. In other words, city engineers are already thinking about how to lessen this risk. In the era of climate crisis, however, risk is always present.

Impervious pavement or blocks and bioswales are more expensive to construct and design than non-engineered green spaces and pavement. And we would expect our colleagues to also take that into account when assessing the cost of the expanded parking lot.

Finally, Ms. Malakie asked “If/when the additional parking spaces are no longer sufficient to satisfy increased demand, would you support some combination of free spaces and demand-sensitive metered spaces to promote turnover (e.g. something like the 85% occupancy/15% vacancy rate target considered optimal)?”

Council is currently considering delegating control of the price of parking at meters to city staff, while retaining control of parking policy. This is a commonly-used tool to allow the city to charge the lowest price possible to attain a policy goal—best practices are about 85% occupancy.

We are considering this tool for currently metered areas with high demand, like Newton Centre, as well as areas of low demand, like Upper Falls (where the price of the meters could be lower).

But there are other concerns with the library lot. First, there’s a lot across the street (City Hall). There’s also street parking, much of it in front of residences. Council to date has been reluctant to meter in front of homes. If we meter the library lot, but not the city lot—you see where this is going. Before weighing in on metering one lot, we would need to have a larger discussion with our colleagues about metering or other parking restrictions in the entire area. It’s a conversation we would enjoy, and we’d hope that a fair outcome would be the result. But we haven’t heard all sides on this yet—and one reason for putting this discussion on Village 14 is to start to gather some information from the public.

Questions we need answers to include:

1. Given the number of elderly and very young visitors to the library, do people prefer walkways in the lot, or more spaces?

2. How do people feel about paying a meter to visit the parking clerk’s office? The treasurer? Elections?

3. Should city employees, who work in these buildings, also pay parking meter fees?

We will be looking for your responses in the comments.

By the way—we are governed by the Open Meeting Law. We cannot have sidebar conversations with our council colleagues on matters before us, except in groups smaller than a quorum (which the Law Department has set, for safety’s sake, at 4). So we will not be responding in the comments section to any colleague’s comments on this post.