Keeping Neighborhoods Free of Unwanted Cars
If parking demand from a transit station or commercial area is spilling over into surrounding neighborhoods and preventing residents from parking there or making it impossible for invited guests to find parking, there may be a need to regulate who can use the on-street parking when. This is commonly done through the use of residential parking permits. Residential Permit Parking programs vary widely in their details, including:
- Permit fees;
- Limits on number of permits issued;
- Implementation criteria; and
- Visitor parking accommodation.
Most major cities in the US have some sort of residential permit parking program (a May 2006 parking study by Nelson-Nygaard conducted for the Downtown Brooklyn Council examines several: http://download.brooklynchamber.com/DBC/Brooklyn_Residential_Permit_Park…). In Massachusetts, a number of more urban communities have permit programs for residents in some or all of the community, including Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Brookline, and Amherst. (For more information on these programs and a comparison of their details, click here.) All of the programs are designed to give residents priority in parking in their community or their neighborhood where non-resident parking has been compromising resident access to on-street parking. The programs are either structured so that any resident of the community may obtain a permit that is valid for any permit parking area within the community, or so that only residents of a given neighborhood may obtain a permit to park in their neighborhood. None of the programs is intended to restrain demand for resident parking. The Town of Brookline’s permit parking program does not extend to overnight parking on the street, which is prohibited for all vehicles (with a 1-hour time limit). The Town has a separate resident overnight parking program that rents out parking spaces in town-owned parking lots and at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel to residents for a price of $100 a month, and a separate program to permit owners of private lots to rent their spaces for overnight parking. The relatively high cost of these overnight parking spaces may restrain demand for resident parking where off-street parking is not available.
The residential permit programs in Massachusetts all have quite low fees, from free to $20 for the year. Massachusetts state law regulates how much a municipality can charge for residential permits, limiting the price of the permit to a statutorily-defined amount or the cost of issuing the permit. This means that the permit price cannot be used to restrain demand for resident parking under current state law. In addition, the City of Cambridge (and likely others as well) has found it politically unpalatable to deal with demand for parking by increasing the price for existing residents. In other cities, permit fees can run as high as $60 a year (San Francisco) or over $100 for the year (Toronto, Canada). Some places structure fees so that 2nd and 3rd permits for a household are more expensive (Brookline actually charges less for subsequent permits to the same household), and/or so that those with off-street parking available pay more.  For example, in Alexandria, Virginia, residential parking permits cost $15 for the first vehicle, $20 for the second vehicle, and $50 for each additional vehicle (see http://alexandriava.gov/finance/info/default.aspx?id=1818 for more information). This discourages households from having many cars parked on the street.
Limits on Permits Issued
In Boston, residential parking permits essentially serve as a “hunting license” for parking, because there are many more cars with permits than residential permit spaces available. There are no limits on how many permits an individual or household may obtain – the only limit is that one permit is issued per eligible vehicle. The same is true in several of the other communities as well, though the discrepancy between permits issued and spaces available is less severe. Brookline does limit permits to 4 per address, but this is unlikely to actually constrain many households. Amherst allows one permit per resident, which again is unlikely to constrain the number issued significantly, if at all. By contrast, the City of Toronto limits the number of permits issued to the number of permit spaces in the district, and uses a waitlist to issue permits once the quota has been reached (residents with multiple permits may be forced to give up a permit to someone on the wait list who doesn’t have any). Washington D.C. is currently prevented from limiting the number of permits issued by legislation, but changes are actively being sought to that legislation. 
Residential Permit Parking programs are frequently initiated at the request of residents. In most cases, a certain number or percentage of the neighborhood or community residents must sign a petition or otherwise express support for a permit parking program. Boston, Somerville, and Brookline all have policies requiring 50-51% of residents or households to support the program. Brookline has additional criteria related to the size of the district proposed and the current occupancy level of on-street parking. Other American cities set higher thresholds for resident support: Seattle requires 60% of households’ support, Philadelphia requires 70%, Minneapolis 75%, and Chicago 80% .
Accommodating visitor parking on a temporary basis can benefit both residents with cars and those without, and may be instrumental in getting the support of residents without vehicles, who otherwise are inconvenienced more than benefited by a residential permit parking program. Residents without cars may occasionally rent or borrow cars, and need a place to park them. In addition, all residents may want parking for occasional invited guests. The City of Boston makes no provision for visitor parking, but it is one of few cities where that is true. Brookline also has no visitor permit for on-street parking, but anyone can park in the permit districts for up to 2 hours, and no one can park on the streets overnight; there are guest overnight parking passes that can be used for certain municipal off-street lots, and cost $10 per night. In Cambridge and Somerville, guest parking passes are available to residents for a nominal fee (or in some cases free with purchase of a resident permit), but have restrictions on how often or for how long they can be used. In Everett and Amherst, the cost of the guest pass depends on how many days are included, and there are maximum limits on the total number of days. (See comparison table for specifics.) For cities around the country, the cost of visitor passes ranges from nothing at all to $15 per week, and the limit for duration of use ranges from 1 day to 16 weeks, and some cities have no limit .
- Nelson-Nygaard Consulting Associates, “Downtown Brooklyn Residential Permit Parking Study”, prepared for the Downtown Brooklyn Council, May 2006. Available online at http://download.brooklynchamber.com/DBC/Brooklyn_Residential_Permit_Park….
- Local parking programs:
- Boston – http://www.cityofboston.gov/transportation/parkprogr.asp
- Cambridge – http://www.cambridgema.gov/traffic/RPP.cfm
- Somerville – http://www.ci.somerville.ma.us/section.cfm?org=traffic&page=138
- Everett – http://www.egovlink.com/public_documents300/everett/published_documents/…
- Brookline – http://www.town.brookline.ma.us/transportation/parking/residentparking.html
- Amherst – http://www.amherstma.gov/departments/Parking/Parking_regulations.pdf