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Parking: Harvard's Perennial Problem

Solutions Have Been Proposed, But Not Miracles Are Likely

By Philip M. Boffey

Modern technology and assembly-line production methods may be fine things in their places, but for the hapless car owner they are creating a a nerve-wracking situation. As cars have become faster, he has had to worry about amateur Fangio's hurtling into him on the nation's highways. And as cars have become more numerous, he has faced the even greater problem of finding a parking space on the city streets.

Probably nowhere is the problem more severe than here in the greater Boston area. Those students who own cars have had first hand experience with it, but a few statistics are revealing.

Total Cambridge registration figures are well over 40,000, which amounts to more than one car of every three residents. Considering that a large number of these residents are unable to drive, this figure is astronomical. As an interesting comparison, it might be pointed out that two years ago China had an estimated one car per 8,000 population, Russia one car per 4,000, and England, Europe's leader, one car for every people.

But the problem is not one of mere numbers, it is one of steadily increasing numbers. In the decade from 1947 through 1956 the number of vehicles in the state of Massachusetts doubled--from 700,000 to 1,400,000. And the number of student-owned vehicles at the University has also grown alarmingly in recent years. Last year there was an increase of more than 1,000 in student registrations over the previous year. And already this year, 500 more students have registered than at a corresponding time last year.

situation has been complicated Cambridge's 25-year old ordinance prohibiting parking on city streets for more than one hour between the hours of two and six a.m., or, in effect, banning overnight parking the city streets.

The situation has been further complicated by the uncomfortably narrow, crooked character of many local streets. Over half of Cambridge's streets are 27 feet or less wide. On many of these parking on both sides and two way traffic is permitted. Assuming that the average car is six feet three inches wide, and that it is parked within one foot of the curb, this leaves about thirteen feet for two cars whose combined width is twelve and one half feet to pass.

Nor is the situation much better on those streets which are one way. For one of the real dangers of the parking problem lies in fire--it is virtually impossible to maneuver a large hook-and-ladder through a maze of parked cars on a narrow street. The fire threat is especially prevalent on some of the cluttered, crowded streets in the more run-down areas of the city, notably around Inman Square, but is also applies to the University. Last spring a grease fire broke out in the Lowell House kitchen, and it was only with the greatest amount of sweating and swearing that the fire engines could be coaxed down Mill Street between Lowell and Winthrop to the scene of the accident.

If Mill Street had not been lined with cars on both sides, the job would have been easier. And indeed, there are signs all along Lowell House prohibiting parking on that side of the street. But the practical facts of the situation have almost forced the students to ignore the ordinance.

A survey conducted for the University last year by the Parking Development Company of Boston indicated that the University had facilities to satisfy only 54 per cent of the present demand for parking. This meant that the only alternative for the other student car owners was to park on the city streets, generally illegally.

The survey went deeper and analyzed the University's problem with regard to four main areas: Area A, or the graduate school area, bounded by Massachusetts Avenue and Kirkland Street; Area B, or the Harvard Yard area, bounded by Kirkland Street and the portion of Mass. Ave. extending from the Common down through the Square and off towards Boston; Area C, or the River Area, bounded by Mass. Ave., Boylston Street, and Mem Drive; and Area D, or the Business School area across the river.

With regard to Area A, the survey discovered that the parking capacity at the time was only equal to 53 per cent of the parking demand--1031 car spaces being available as compared with a demand for 2074. (The demand figures were not a simple count of the number of cars which park in the area, but represented the number of spaces which would be required on the average day so that cars would not have to park on public streets.) The problem in this area was almost exclusively one of faculty and student commuters and employees, rather than of resident students.

In Area B, the capacity was less than 12 per cent of the demand. Although the problem was numerically the smallest in this area, there was little chance for any increase in capacity.

In Area C, the capacity was 18 per cent of the demand, but if the assigned spaces in Area D were considered, capacity became 54 per cent of demand. Residents were the chief problem in this area.

In Area D, there was almost no problem.

Short-Range Solutions

Several methods of increasing present capacity have been suggested by parties concerned with the problem. They can conveniently be grouped under short-range and long-range solutions, with the dividing line being whether or not there is any major encroachment on landscape areas.

The Parking Development Company advocated a centralized office to handle the registration and parking of all cars at the University. At the present time there is no general registration of employee and faculty cars, and parking is controlled on a decentralized basis, with the various schools and departments each issuing their own permits. In practice, most employees are unable to obtain parking permits, while faculty permits are being issued at the rate of nine for every five available spaces.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any immediate prospect of centralized control, for the various deans and departments heads are jealous of their permit rights.

A second short-range solution that has been suggested is "live parking, in which attendants are employed to supervise the lots. The advantages in this seem obvious, for the attendant can distribute his cars in the most efficient manner. If he knows, for example, that Professor X generally parks for about an hour, he can put his car near the front of a lot, and if he knows that Professor Y spends the whole day in his lab, he can put his car in some out-of-the-way nook.

But there are difficulties to this scheme not the least of which is the fact that those who have been assigned permanent parking spaces in favorable locations are extremely reluctant to give them up. As Arthur D. Trottenberg, Manager of Operating Services, observes: "We have not yet been able to sell the idea of live parking."

A third solution would solve the problem not by increasing the parking capacity, but by limiting the use of cars at the University. One method might be through the issuance of parking permits on priority basis according to need. But student cars will not be limited in the near future, and almost certainly not until a centralized control is set up.

There is always the possibility of reducing demand, rather than limiting it however. The Development Company suggested a clearing house to encourage and control car pools, and recommend that the University provide better facilities for bicycles and motor scooters.

A fourth solution involves the use of city streets for parking. On the portion of Oxford Street bounded by University land, for example, there are approximately 80 spaces on one side of the street. It seems likely that the city might agree to the University assigning these spaces for parking.

There is also the possibility of using streets not completely within the University's bounds. Alternate-side alternate-night parking has long been advocated as a partial solution of the no-parking-on-the-streets-at-night problem, for it would allow for street cleaning and snow removal, two of the reasons the present no-parking ordinance is in effect.

Any total solution must include the expansion of the University's own facilities, however. This year the undergraduate section of the Business School lot has been expanded by 50 per cent, and can handle 144 more cars. And the Andover lot has been increased by more spaces than were lost to the new electron accelerator in the same area.

One possibility lies in the construction of garage facilities within any new buildings. Tentative plans for the eighth house included parking, but the cost of such a project would be quite high.

Another possibility lies in the construction of multilevel garages, but the Development Company estimated that these would cost about $2,300 per car space to build.

The most feasible structure from a financial point of view appears to be an open parking deck, which could be constructed for as little as $1,000 per car according to the Development Company's estimates.

Unfortunately, no immediate solution is likely to appear. John W. Teele, Planning Coordinator, is conducting an investigation of traffic patterns in the Square, and other concerned with the parking problem continue to explore its may facets.

But the situation will in all probability get worse before it gets better. Detroit keeps upping its yearly production of cars, and it keeps making them bigger at the same time. And as the University undertakes to construct new buildings, the available parking space is reduced.

The problem grows each year with no trouble at all, but the solutions, unfortunately, will take time.ADDITIONS TO PRESENT PARKING LOTS, such as the one pictured above near Divinity School, help to relieve some of the pressure.

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