Jeffries Point resident Andrew Pike knows that if he is not in a resident parking spot by 5:30 p.m. on any given day, the next few hours will be spent circling the neighborhood looking for a place to leave his car.
Add on street sweeping, when spots are eliminated for hours at a time, and people “literally cannot find parking,” said Pike, who serves as the treasurer for the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association.
“You’re kind of screwed,” he told the Herald Friday afternoon. “You’re at least parking three blocks away from your house. You’re circling around trying to find something.”
It is an all too familiar feeling for drivers who need their cars in the city and cannot ditch them for public transportation options like the MBTA, which these days is often unreliable or experiencing service disruptions.
Finding a spot can feel like a chore, and even bring about frustration and rage. Annoying parking situations in the city are nothing new and neither are discussions about reforming or even somehow fixing resident parking in Boston.
Then-City Councilor Michelle Wu offered some reforms in 2019 to the resident parking permit process that would have put in place fees for parking permits, allowed for visitor parking permits, and required a number of parking-related reports from the city’s parking clerk.
City Councilors are returning to the issue in July after East Boston City Councilor Gabriela Coletta called for a hearing to discuss the digitization and tracking of parking regulations at the Boston Transportation Department.
“While BTD is currently experiencing understaffing, establishing a tracking system that allows the department to see gaps in service can ensure that residents who live in high-density areas can safely and reliably find parking near their homes,” Coletta wrote in a hearing order.
The city already tracks how many active parking permits have been issued in each of the neighborhoods — 125,561 stickers are in use, according to data last updated on Thursday.
But even with that limited understanding of how many people need places to leave their cars, resident street spots in downtown neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, the North End, or Back Bay fill up quickly after the workday ends.
And private parking solutions are expensive. The Boston Common garage charges $400 for a monthly space and it only goes up from there. A parking garage on Charles Street asks for upwards of $600 for a parking spot. Some even list spots for rent on real estate websites like Zillow.
Beacon Hill Civic Association Chair Meghan Awe said parking in the historic neighborhood is equally as tough as the Back Bay and the rest of downtown. But summers tend to offer better parking prospects than September to May when kids are in school, she said.
“There’s what feels like fewer spots than the people who would like to park in them. Lots of residents here wind up parking in various garages just because of the amount of time circling looking for things,” Awe said. “But I think it’s one of those things that sort of just become a part of city life.”
Even in larger neighborhoods like Allston-Brighton or Fenway-Kenmore, parking can be tough for residents without a driveway or off-street options.
Nearly 27,800 active resident parking permits are registered to the neighborhoods, where more than 109,000 people live, according to the city parking permit data and the U.S. Census Bureau.
And there is tension in Allston-Brighton between “good” public policy that calls for more pedestrian spaces or bike lanes and resident parking needs, said Anthony D’Isidoro, the president of the neighborhood’s civic association.
“How do you achieve that balance where you’re pursuing good public policy in terms of trying to get people out of cars, at the same time recognizing that, in a lot of cases, there are legitimate needs that need to be met,” D’Isidoro told the Herald. “How do you strike that balance?”
A Wu spokesperson said each neighborhood has different needs “when it comes to finding the right balance of multi-modal transportation.”
“As bike lanes and other updates are made in Boston’s neighborhoods, the Streets Cabinet works with local residents and business owners to address specific neighborhood concerns to best reflect how people use our streets,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The City of Boston is working proactively to best manage our curb space to ensure the most efficient use of parking, such as creating loading zones or changing the length of parking spots to ensure more people who need to park can do so.”
Curb-side drama has flared in neighborhoods like West Roxbury, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the North End, where conversations around bike lanes and the proper use of space have often spilled into the open.
A bike lane proposal on Berkeley and Beacon Streets to connect the South End to the Back Bay drew opposition from local groups. But alternative transit advocates argue most major bus or bike projects in Boston draw opposition regardless of their merits from groups who think it will increase congestion.
And solutions like building more parking spaces might actually make the problem worse, said LivableStreets Executive Director Stacy Thompson.
“We need to charge for parking, and we need to limit the number of cars households can have. That’s the way to do it and that doesn’t make people happy. But that’s the most effective way,” Thompson told the Herald.
The requirements to get a resident parking permit are straightforward.
A car needs to be registered and insured at the address where a resident wants to obtain a parking sticker. All overdue parking tickets must be paid off before applying or renewing. The permits are renewed on a two-year cycle but the city automatically renewed permits during the pandemic as their expiration date came up.
There is no cap on the number of parking permits the city can distribute, according to the Wu administration, which also said officials do not keep track of the exact number of resident parking spaces available in each neighborhood.
Wu called for an analysis of the number of parking spaces available in resident parking zones to help bring about reforms in 2019, “including a comparison of how many spaces are available relative to how many permits are issued,” according to the text of a hearing order from that year.
The proposal went nowhere. But it did start a conversation around resident parking in Boston.
Limiting the number of parking permits in certain high-density neighborhoods might be one answer, Thompson said.
“What … would be more effective is a better curbside management strategy for the city where high-density neighborhoods start to have escalating fees [for permits] and caps,” she said. “Neighborhoods that have businesses have more metered parking and timed parking.”
The lack of data on available parking spaces and caps on the number of permits in each neighborhood is not the main issue in East Boston, said Pike, the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association treasurer.
For Pike, the lack of parking enforcement creates the biggest headaches in East Boston.
“If there’s no enforcement, people are just going to do whatever the hell they want. And that’s what’s happening right now,” he said.