Smith Construction Poses Parking Challenges in Square

Smith Campus Center Construction
Scaffolding, fences, and trailers surround the Smith Campus Center, located at 1350 Massachusetts Ave. Construction on the building is expected to last until 2018.

The fierce battle for parking spaces, a regular part of Cantabrigians’ daily routine, has intensified as Smith Campus Center construction has ramped up.

Construction on the Smith Campus Center renovation began in early 2016 and is slated to continue through fall 2018. Long-term street closures of Holyoke St. and Dunster St., compounded with noise and dust from the construction site and diminished foot traffic, have put a strain on local businesses.

A major side effect of the street closures has been the loss of parking spaces, including four handicap spots which have been relocated, though Dunster St. and Mt. Auburn St. will open again in the coming months. In addition to the closed parking spaces, some business owners have observed construction workers parking in the remaining available spots, making parking more difficult to find.

Lawrence D. Mahoney, a long-time salesman at the Andover Shop, a formalwear shop adjacent to the Smith Campus Center on Holyoke Street, said that remaining parking spaces near the Smith Campus Center that could be used by local businesses are instead taken up by construction workers.

“That’s a space that could be used by the public to make up for some of the spaces that have been taken by the parking closures due to the construction,” Mahoney said, referring to the triangular median at the intersection of Mt. Auburn and Bow Streets. “However, the only one that’s parked there are construction vehicles.”

Harvard has tried to reduce the impact of construction on parking by allowing construction workers to take Harvard shuttles for free and by fining subcontractors who park in residential and metered spaces.

“Construction mitigation personnel monitor parking in the area of each construction site and if contractors are found to be inappropriately parking in metered or residential spaces, there are contractual based fines that can be levied against the offenders,” Brigid O’Rourke, a University spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Still, the loss of parking spaces has taken a toll on local businesses. Panja Lymswan, co-owner of Spice Thai Cuisine on Holyoke St., described how consequential the construction has been to his employees who drive to work everyday.

“It was difficult to find parking before and now there’s even less parking,” said Lymswan. “Usually my employees have to park about two to three or four to five blocks away, about a quarter mile. It takes about a half hour to find a spot.”

The loss of parking has affected more than just Lymswan’s employees. Customers, he says, do not come into the restaurant like they did before the construction began.

“Before at night time we had a lot of parking and people out of town could park. But now there isn’t any parking anywhere so not too many people travel from other towns to eat here,” Lymswan said.

On the other side of the Smith Center, businesses along Dunster St. are experiencing many of the same problems. George Papalimberis, owner of La Flamme Barber Shop, says that his customers have been most affected.

“Many of my customers come from the surrounding suburbs such as Watertown, Belmont, Lexington, Lincoln, Somerville, Medford,” said Papalimberis. “With the construction it can take thirty minutes to walk to and from my shop. Many of them don’t have the time for that.”

In an email to The Crimson, O’Rourke wrote that one of the purposes of closing the streets adjacent to the Smith Campus Center has been to ensure the safety of pedestrians and drivers in the area.

“When construction activity occurs on constrained sites in any urban location, the use of parking spaces may be required to ensure safe construction methods,” O’Rourke wrote. “Sometimes this can impact the availability of parking. Harvard will continue to work with both local businesses and residents to address any questions or concerns they may have regarding parking.”

While the completion of the Smith Campus Center is still a year away, local businesses may soon feel a reprieve from the dearth of parking spaces.

“The metered parking spaces located on Mt. Auburn and Dunster Streets that are being utilized for construction activities are scheduled to become available in the coming months, which should alleviate some stress on the availability of parking in that area of Harvard Square,” O’Rourke wrote.

—Staff writer Madeleine R. Nakada can be reached at madeleine.nakada@thecrimson.com.

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