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Parking Crunch in Boston

In a city where car ownership has increased in recent years and where ridership on mass transit has decreased for much of the last decade, Boston can ill afford losing a single parking spot.

But in the coming years, it's going to lose thousands. As, WBUR's Kevin Donovan reports, that will make one of the nation's fiercest parking crunches even tighter.TEXT OF STORY

KEVIN DONOVAN: More than 4-thousand spaces. That's what downtown Boston stands to lose in the coming years as, one after another, parking garages are torn down, and replaced with office buildings, storefronts and condos.

With only around 25-thousand public parking spots downtown, and federal clean air laws prohibiting more from opening up, losing those garages means losing up to one in every six existing downtown public parking spaces.

That wouldn't be a problem in most other cities, but Eric Feder, who has ranked the worst US cities for parking at his web site "wheretofindparking.com" says Boston is in rare company.

ERIC FEDER: Manhattan came up as the number one worst city to park in America, and Boston's number 2.

DONOVAN: And now it's getting worse.

Here's the tally: The city's largest downtown garage, which straddles Congress street in government center, has 23-hundred spaces, and has been bought for redevelopment.

Another garage at the New England aquarium, with 14-hundred spaces, could also soon be demolished, and the city's last municipal garage, in Winthrop Square, is expected to be the site of a new skyscraper.

Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas Tinlin.says losing those spaces may exacerbate an existing problem.

THOMAS TINLIN: I would say there's a parking crunch now, and I would hope people would change their attitude and choose not to bring their cars into the city, and I think every city is going through the same thing.

DONOVAN: Boston may be a victim of its own success. While residential real estate has fallen into a downward spiral, the market for commercial real estate is booming. That means above ground garages are prime targets for redevelopment.

Ted Raymond, a Boston developer who just bought the sprawling One Congress Street garage, says there's no easy answer to this problem.

TED RAYMOND How can you carry out a development there and still ensure viable parking? Because there's 24 hundred spaces there and that's very important.

DONOVAN: Spaces that may be hard to recover once they go away. Raymond says, in considering plans for rebuilding the Congress street location, he wants the loss of parking to be as painless as possible.

RAYMOND: We've been looking at doing something where you tear down part of it, build part, but there's the ability to preserve spaces, build spaces. it's very fundamental so its quite a challenge.

DONOVAN: Losing the Congress St. garage alone would wipe out nearly 10 percent of downtown parking. But Commissioner Tinlin at the Transportation Dept. says people shouldn't be worried just yet.

TINLIN: Ten percent sounds like a huge number, but that will be offset by post construction available parking. I don't think its a matter of you're losing all these spaces.

DONOVAN: Even if the spaces are just gone temporarily, the city's demand for cars is only growing. A study by the Transportation Department finds employment downtown is rising faster than off-street parking...increasing the demand for spaces in garages. And though the number of residents in the city has been flat for decades, the number of cars they own has risen by 100-thousand.

Commissioner Tinlin says he hopes any further parking crunch will drive people back to mass transit.

TINLIN: I think any alternative mode of transportation whether it be your feet, the MBTA, your bicycle, is the way to go. When you're paying $3 a gallon of gas and if you have another means to get there, that's just smart.

DONOVAN: The issue of whether a parking shortage will mount is still years away. Each of these garage locations would need to go through an exhaustive permitting process before they are redeveloped.

In the meantime, web entrepreneurs are helping drivers find those increasingly rare parking spaces. Eric Feder's "wheretofindparking.com" launched in Boston just last night. It's a street-by-street search engine of parking regulations in the city. And a new Cambridge-based website called spotscout.com alerts drivers of freed up spaces on their cellphones. As downtown office and condo space only grows, and available parking shrinks year by year... drivers may need all the help they can get.

For WBUR, I'm Kevin Donovan

This program aired on July 25, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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