The Changing Times

August 21, 2012
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Among public officials who are dealing with increasingly tricky density issues in cities across the land, there is the trend in belief about the future of our neighborhood shopping areas that automobiles are going to become a thing of the past.

In most older American cities like Boston, where density has been an issue for a century, the new reality about parking and automobile traffic in highly congested shopping areas like Charles Street, Newbury Street and Hanover Street, points to the likelihood that someday in the future automobile traffic will be suspended and pedestrian interests concomitant with public transportation will be heightened dramatically.

Boston City Hall officials are now studying and reading everything all of us can access on the Internet having to do with transportation, parking and economic growth.

Mayor Menino declared quite some time ago that the “car is no longer king in Boston.”

And he is right.

A Saturday afternoon drive around of Charles Street, Newbury Street and Hanover Street, important business districts in what are arguably Boston’s finest and most visited neighborhoods, revealed heavy visitation and foot traffic and automobile traffic that rivaled it.

On  a hot August weekend – parking spaces, as usual, were at a stingy premium. Four passes around Charles Street with our automobile produced not the hint of a space. Weekdays are no better and frankly, whether you are a resident or a visitor, parking is a near impossibility upon demand.

The same situation existed on Newbury Street. Huge crowds walked the sidewalks on both sides of the street while double parkers brought automobile traffic to a near stop at every intersection. Three trips down Newbury Street produced not the possibility of a space.

In the North End on Hanover Street, there was an enormous crush of people on the sidewalks, a feast going on and traffic trying to squeeze its way down the street. Parking on Hanover Street Saturday was an absolute impossibility made all the more difficult by huge crowds and all sorts of economic activity.

Ticketing possibilities were abundant in all three places named above. Meter maids could be seen writing expensive tickets to those who parked illegally.

A recent report released by the city of Cambridge revealed that car counts in Kendall Square had dropped substantially (14%) while retail and commercial space expanded by 4 million square feet.

Kendall Square is not Charles Street nor is it Newbury Street or Hanover Street.

However Kendall Square is a place filled with people and profound economic expansion with automobile numbers dropping and street parking near to impossible to find.

Some Boston city officials have been privately talking about beginning weekend periods of car-free business districts.

This is good thinking. The harsh reality is the disruption for residents of these areas who own cars and for business owners.

The future however is dimming for increased car parking and street traffic. If business expansion is to take place in the future, rapid transit, public parking and fewer automobile trips downtown are the way to go.

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