Watertown needs to make some major changes to its parking prices and rules in Watertown Square and Coolidge Square to improve the parking situation in these key business districts, said consultants who studied the Town’s parking situation.
The report came after two public input meetings, and observations of how full parking spaces are in and around Watertown Square and Coolidge Square. The presentation was made during a public meeting Tuesday night at the Watertown Free Public Library.
Watertown Senior Transportation Planner Laura Wiener said the goal is to make the areas more vibrant and attractive places for people to shop, dine and hang out.
“Do you want to pick up your prescription at CVS and leave, or do you want to go have lunch, get your hair cut and maybe take a walk down to the river?” Wiener said. “We hope you do the second.”
Ralph DeNisco, parking consultant from Stantec, said that Watertown’s parking is not full, but the spots in the most desirable areas are packed during the most popular times of day.
To change that, he recommended that the Town make changes to the parking meters, including increasing the cost of the most popular spaces while reducing the cost of others, adding meters in some areas and taking them out in others.
Watertown currently charges 50 cents an hour in metered spaces and also has free spots. DeDisco recommended having three price zones, and suggested having the highest charge be $1 an hour, the second zone be 50 cents an hour, and the third be free.
At the same time, he recommends removing the time limits on meters, so if people want to spend time going to several places in the area the can do so.
Creating More Parking
The survey looked at all the parking: on street, off street in public lots and even off-street in private lots.
While the public off-street parking was often well used, DeNisco said, many of the private lots were almost empty. He suggested looking for ways to work with the owners of the private lots to allow some form of public use the lot.
“Saturdays are the busiest times in Watertown Square, and the private lots are empty,” DeNisco said. “It could be for employees. It could be opened for residents for overnight parking.”
The hard part would be convincing the private lot owners to do so. DeNisco said the Town could offer incentives, such as giving money or make improvements to the lots. A resident suggested that if the lot was owned by a bank, for instance, only customers of the bank could use the lot after hours.
Another option would be to add more street parking in the key downtown intersection.
“You could consider reintroducing parking in key areas of Mt. Auburn Street and Main Street,” DeNisco said. “You don’t have curbside parking in front of these businesses. If your focus is creating accessible business areas and creating vibrant squares, I think you ought to consider that. Maybe start off-peak times and Saturdays.”
As many as 65 parking spaces could be added in those areas, DeNisco said.
Recommended Changes to Municipal Lots
The top request from people in the parking surveys, DeNisco said, was for improved technology for parking payments. Currently, only coins are accepted at Watertown parking meters.
“The biggest barrier for people is the friction of making a payment,” DeNisco said. “Do I have coins or do I have any dollars? People get tickets, risk getting one, or drive away. It changes their behavior.”
He recommends using “smart meters” on the street, which would allow for coins or credit cards. There could also be the option of using a parking app to pay, DeNisco said.
In parking lots, he suggested putting four pay kiosks in different areas around the lot. This would be much less costly than putting in dozens of new meters.
Watertown’s public lots need better signage, he said.
“Municipal lots are not well identified,” DeNisco said. “You are not sure what to call it: the CVS lot, the Citizen’s Bank lot. Unless they are sponsors for it you should call it something different.”
As a result of the lack of signage, people are confused about whether it is a municipal lot or a private lot, DeNisco said. Wayfinding signs directing people to public parking would also help drivers find the lots, and perhaps reduce the number of vehicles going into major intersections, such as Watertown Square.
Other recommendations include:
- create pedestrian routes through parking lots
- make it easier to access businesses from the municipal parking lots
- Add more bicycle facilities in the two squares to reduce the amount of people using cars
See the slide presentation made at the meeting here: https://www.watertown-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/27163/Parking-Management-Plan-Strategies-presentation-at-May-7-2019-meeting