Tagged: parking

When a bus stop stops being a bus stop

You may remember back in June when I reported that the MBTA was eliminating a couple of stops on the number 1 bus line, I wondered what would happen to the space freed up. Well, I’ve been watching those stops and seen no changes. Still no parking, still marked off, still signed as bus stops.

Sign's still there Street's still marked

Until last night, when I was riding the 1 bus back from Boston and asked the driver to let me off at one of those stops. The driver – operator 67743 – told me it wasn’t a stop anymore. I pointed out that I could see the bus stop sign and even a person waiting at that stop to get on.  Since Yom Kippur was nigh, she made an exception for us.

So, MBTA or Cambridge or whoever, what’s the deal? How are passengers who are not always-internet-connected otaku like myself supposed to know this change is coming up and that it has finally actually happened? (The stop is still shown on the interactive route map on mbta.com justsayin) And, since service to that stop has in fact stopped, why is the sign still up and what’s the plan for repurposing that real estate?

Here’s what I wrote almost three months ago, emphasis added.

…what will happen to the former bus stops? Will more (metered?) parking be created? Bike parking? Ghost stops where parking is prohibited but buses never stop? Pocket parks? Time will tell. 

This is not the way I like to be right. I’d say from the position of the fire hydrant that no more than one parking spot on the Clinton Street side could be created, but that would be something. Adding bike parking or something else more interesting would be something too. Not even bothering with a sign saying that the stop is no longer a stop, that’s the worst kind of business as usual around here.

Bus stop, T woes, stop goes, speed grows

Via the estimable newsmachers at UniversalHub, a report that the MBTA is eliminating some stops on 15 of the busiest bus lines in the city this summer. The idea is that snipping out some redundant stops and refurbishing others will reduce end-to-end trip time and cut back on bunching. One of the stops to be eliminated is right in front of limeduck world headquarters, but the T maps show it to be as little as 260 feet from the nearest stop, so I can hardly complain.

Kudos to the T for what seems to be a data-driven harvesting of low-hanging fruit. People close to the soon to be former stops will be inconvenienced, but probably only at one endpoint of their bus journey, and substantially all riders of these lines will reap benefits.

What the always entertaining comments at UHub don’t bring up (yet) is what will happen to the former bus stops? Will more (metered?) parking be created? Bike parking? Ghost stops where parking is prohibited but buses never stop? Pocket parks? Time will tell. Until then, watch this:

Free tree from a pocket park in a parking spot

In addition to National Poetry Month, April was also National Landscape Architecture Month. Who knew? Not I, that’s who, at least not until the very last day of the month when I noticed that two parking spaces on Portland street had been converted into a temporary park on the sunny side of the street.

Park in a parking spot Landscape Architecture Day

I parked myself on the bench and ate my lunch. I would happily have fed the meter if that were necessary, but the good folks at Stantec had done their permitting homework and the park was free and clear all day. And, they were giving away little pine tree seedlings!

People sitting in a public park that used to be a couple of parking spaces

This is not an isolated incident. There is a movement of a sort called park(ing) that temporarily (re)claims parking spaces as parks, and there’s even park(ing) day on the third Friday in September, so mark your calendar for 9/20/13 and stock up on quarters and astroturf.

Notice, by the way, what’s in this park, designed by landscape architects, that’s not in the North End pocket park I noted not too long ago: seating. Just a thought.

The meter price is too damn low

Today was Bunker Hill Day, and therefore Boston parking meters were “off,” meaning not that you could park all day for nothing, but rather that you could park for two hours at a time for nothing.  Parking was free but still time-limited.  I’m betting most motorists would have preferred to pay the going rate and get a holiday from the time limit.

That little nugget reminds me of one of my favorite transit policy rants: parking meters are too damn cheap.  (Apologies to Matt Yglesias and/or Jimmy McMillan)  This is not exactly new thinking – I saw it in the Boston Globe in 2007, The New York times in 2010, and on the excellent Marginal Revolution blog last year.

We all know parking meters are a lot cheaper than paid parking lots, but you don’t get a lot more value for your parking lot dollar, except perhaps in crummy weather. This is reflected in the well-known fact that an open metered parking space is rare in a desirable area, the easy to observe behavior of people driving around circling looking for parking, and in the not-uncommon practice of feeding a meter all day (in violation of the time limit) on the logic that the occasional ticket still works out cheaper than paying retail for parking. (The last suggests that parking tickets are too cheap or too sporadically enforced, or maybe both, but we’ll get back to that in a bit)

So what’s the harm?  The city is giving up revenue it might get by bringing parking meter prices up to market rates, but it’s providing a service to drivers and the businesses that depend on drivers for customers.  Maybe so, but all this circling around looking for a meter wastes time and fuel, adds to pollution, and increases congestion for all forms of traffic trying to use the streets in question.  That’s bad for the planet and bad for individual finances, health and safety.

Seems to me it’s just another way that those who drive get a free ride (sic) at the expense of both driving and non-driving taxpayers.   If cities were to charge market rates for metered parking – an ideal solution would probably also be time or congestion-based – drivers would bear more of the real cost driving.  Plus, maybe a few, knowing in advance the cost of parking, might switch to bikes or public transit. And maybe the rest would at least save a few loops around the block looking for parking, and save us all a few tons of carbon in the air. I couldn’t blame the city for using the extra parking meter money for car-centric services, but I’m thinking maybe some can also go to public transit and pedestrian and bike-centric improvements.  Just a thought.

Bonus round: what do you do when you get back to your car to feed the meter and discover you’re late and you’ve gotten a ticket?

I can say from experience that at least some people sheepishly pocket the ticket and feed the meter.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to just leave the ticket and keep your quarters?  I don’t think you’re likely to get another ticket within the hour.  I’m not even really sure if you could.  I mean, how many times can you be fined for the same offense?  Maybe it’s a new offense every two hours.   (I can say that in one incident I observed, a car left at a Cambridge meter for ten hours without paying once gathered only two tickets. Never you mind just how I observed that.)

Following the “meters are too damn cheap” logic, if the purpose of parking meters is to prevent “hoarding” and make the common resource available to more people, then shouldn’t tickets for going overtime or not paying be designed to keep that flow going?  Seems to me the fines should be steep enough to give scofflaws and gamblers pause, and also increasing over time, like overdue library book fines, so that even after you’ve gotten a ticket, you still have an incentive to get moving sooner rather than later.

It also puzzles me that the city would boot a car, essentially destroying a parking space for hours or days, when towing would liberate that space for others to use right away.  But that’s more than enough puzzlement for one Bunker Hill Day.  Be careful out there, whatever mode of transit you choose.

Can snooty waiters save independent cafes from iPads and city planners?

I went to check out the newish Dwelltime Coffeebar and Bakeshop in the newly-hopping Broadway zone of mid-Cambridge.  Whilst enjoying an americano, smooth and served with a glass of water like they do in civilized nations, and a whole wheat bacon scallion scone, not too large, crisp and savory, all for a bit more than $5, I took notice of two notices.

First, the are going to turn off their wifi during lunch hours to reduce, well, dwell time, and to avoid becoming a co-working space.  Second, they have a petition going to get the Peoples’ Republic City of Cambridge to allow them more than 20 seats, a number to which they are limited because they have no off-street parking.   Are these things related?

Item 2, crap anti-business elitist NIMBY zoning

There’s a bus stop out front and the place is 4 blocks from the red line, but somehow the city thinks that the business needs to provide parking.  And the penalty for not providing parking is to be restricted to perhaps half the seating capacity it could serve.  Certainly the last thing I want in my precious Cambridge neighborhood is a cafe full of people.  Ugh, the thought of it.  I’m sure the only reason the neighbors tolerate that school across the street, teeming with germy children and no doubt swamped with SUVs at dropoff and pickup times, is some kind of grandfathering.  Awesome pro-business stance there, Cambridge.  An empty storefront across the street from a school is a much better idea.

Item 1, people who sit in a cafe all day

Before Dwelltime opened, I remember hearing a piece on the radio in which the owner talked about reducing the number of electrical outlets to prevent people from setting up camp all day.  I laughed.  Maybe that will slow down some people with crummy computers, but you can easily go four hours on a modern laptop, all day with an iPad, and as long as your supply holds out with an actual book.  So now they’re throttling wifi to keep people moving?  Again, that’ll hold off some people, but it won’t hold off technological progress.  Tablets, phones and hotspot devices let you skip the cafe’s wifi, as I am doing right now with a personal hotspot from my phone connecting me to a 4G data network.

It’s a social, behavioral problem, and restricting the tech, even if it could really work, won’t do the job.  High unemployment, scads of students, cheap technology, and a sense of entitlement will keep people camping out all day at cafes.

So, what to do?

Obviously the need to turn over the tables faster is exacerbated by having fewer tables than you might “naturally” have in the space.  At the same time, having people move through quicker would mean parking spaces would also turn over faster. Most of the parking nearby is resident or metered with a two hour limit.  If metered parking really worked, it would probably cut back a little on the all-day cafe types, but I’m guessing many of them are walking or taking transit.  I’ll leave the zoning thing alone for now except to say that the city needs to price street parking appropriately and let the cafe live or die on its own merits. For the all-day cafe dwellers, I suggest…

A modest proposal: waiters

People sit in cafes all day because they can.  Passive-aggressive moves like restricting power outlets and internet won’t cut it.  You need to make those people pay up or move on, and I think table service is the way to do it.  If I get a single coffee at the counter and hunker down for six hours, nobody’s coming over and asking me to buy more stuff to earn the right to stay or telling me that another party is coming in and they need the table.  But that’s exactly what waiters do in restaurants.  The better ones are less obviously obnoxious about it, but they all do it. “Anything else for you sir?”  Subtly-yet-pointedly leaving the bill.  You know the drill.

They way I see it, a skilled waiter or two could increase the average revenue per seat per hour and keep the malingerers moving along.  Plus, despite the best efforts of city planners, it would create another job, and it would make the cafe a bit safer by having another set of eyes on the floor.

Your mileage may vary, but if you’re car-free in the area, you should drop by Dwelltime and sign their petition.