Sidewalk Superintendent Series: Parking Spaces or Public Places?

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A unwelcome phenomena in Boston is the use of public space for parking of vehicles on seemingly ‘official’ business. In a city where I’ve seen homeowners struggle for years to get approval for modest curb cuts, I marvel at the ability of these parkers to convert sidewalks and plazas into personal spots.

Exhibit 1 is the John Adams Courthouse. Recently refurbished at an expense of $150 million, the redone courthouse has injected some liveliness into the previous moribund plaza between it and Government Center Plaza. New restaurants and outdoor seating have also helped.

So what was the next logical step? Turn the brick plaza in front of the courthouse into a parking lot. Now diners get to sit next to vehicles and a privileged few get to use the plaza for parking:

Photos by Steve Poftak

Exhibit 2 is City Hall Plaza. To the Menino administration’s credit, this space has come a long way — the addition of food trucks, farmers markets, and regular event programming has brought a sense of vitality to much of the space. So, it’s a mystery why that vitality is interspersed with vehicle parking:


There appear to be a few personal vehicles tucked into the crevices of City Hall, while contractor and city vehicles make up much of the rest:



An aside: On a positive note, the City does seem to have markedly improved the pedestrian aspect of Downtown Crossing — see the scrum of state, local, commercial, and contractor vehicles from a year ago and then look at now:


Exhibt 3 is Forest Hills MBTA station. Its one of the busiest stations in the system, serving as a nexus of subway, multiple buses, and commuter rail. The station is surrounded by brick plazas that have become de facto parking lots. One particular area, the north facing entranceway, is designated as “No Parking – Police Personnel Only”, but it’s puzzling that only personal vehicles utilize the space, not police vehicles:






I know parking is a pain in many areas of the city. But these public spaces were not intended to be parking spaces (ever seen a bricked-in parking lot?). Parking rules should be clear and fair. These spaces were built and paid for as public spaces, not personal property.