A study of large large apartment complexes in Watertown found that nearly 40 percent off-street parking spots remain empty, even during peak parking times.
The Perfect Fit Parking study conducted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) looked a several communities in the Boston area. In 17 multi-family residential complexes in Watertown, 62 percent of the spaces were full. The Watertown complexes had 1.45 parking spaces per unit, and 0.99 spaces were utilized, according to the study’s summary.
The study comes at a good time, Watertown Assistant City Manager Steve Magoon said in the MAPC’s announcement (read it below), with the draft Comprehensive Plan update recommending the the City review its parking requirements for new developments. He added that the information will help make sure that projects do not have too much or too little parking.
The MAPC’s study has four recommendations, including changing from parking minimums for a project to parking maximums, reducing the ratios of parking spaces per unit, unbundling parking spaces from unit rental prices, and exploring opportunities for shared parking options.
The study found that four complexes in Watertown had 80 percent or more of its parking used: 24 Arsenal, Bell Watertown, Elan Union Market, and The AVER. The highest percent utilized was The AVER, at 92 percent.
Four facilities had less than half the parking used: 1060 Belmont, Brigham House, The Beacon, and The Coolidge School. The lowest was Brigham House, which had 28 percent of its spaces occupied. The building is a senior living facility. The Coolidge School is an age 55+ building. Each of these buildings or complexes have less than one space per unit.
The study also looked at how walkable the area is around the complex or building. “Walks Score” measures the walkability of any address using a patented system. See more details here. A score of 90 or above is “a walker’s paradise,” according to the Walk Score website, and 70-89 is “very walkable.”
Three facilities made the top category: 24 Arsenal, The Beacon, and Watertown Square Apartments. Only two, Bell Watertown and Brigham House, fell below “very walkable.” Brigham House was rated “somewhat walkable” and Bell Watertown dropped to the fourth highest category, “car dependent.”
Parking Usage at Watertown Multi-unit Complexes
Site Street Units Parking demand per unit % Utlization % Affordable Units Vacant Units Walks Score 1060 Belmont Belmont 18 0.26 36 50 0 74 24 Arsenal Arsenal 14 1.07 83 0 0 93 Bell Watertown Woodview 139 1.32 80 10 4 49 Blvd & Bond Arsenal Yards 257 1.08 71 15 53 75 Brigham House Mt. Auburn 20 0.15 28 68 0 69 Charlesbank Pleasant 44 0.89 72 4 0 86 Elan Union Market Arsenal 246 1.03 81 12 6 86 Gables Arsenal 266 1.39 76 10 13 83 Repton Condominiums Repton 151 1.21 61 0 0 73 Riverbank lofts Condominiums Pleasant 56 1.31 63 5 0 79 Riverpark Lofts Howard 66 1.09 67 10 3 84 THE AVER Pleasant 21 1.27 92 19 0 74 The Beacon N. Beacon 24 0.54 38 14 0 91 The Coolidge School Arlington 23 0.76 47 39 1 88 Watermills Pleasant 84 1.08 60 15 33 74 Watertown Mews Repton 174 1.48 61 16 14 73 Watertown Square Apartments Watertown 126 1.18 68 6 3 93
The MAPC sent out the following announcement on July 17:
New Research Supports Regional Trend: Supply of Off-Street Residential Parking Outweighs the Demand
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) has expanded its Perfect Fit Parking research to include municipalities west of Boston, adding another contribution to an increasingly robust dataset that highlights how most communities have built more residential off-street parking than is needed or utilized. These results will inform how municipalities can sustainably update their zoning in response to the state’s Multi-Family Zoning Requirement for MBTA communities.
MAPC was approached by the WestMetro HOME Consortium in 2021 to conduct the Phase 4 parking utilization study at multifamily housing developments in the Consortium’s member municipalities west of Boston. Thirty-six multifamily sites across Brookline, Concord, Needham, Newton, Sudbury, and Watertown were both surveyed for building characteristics and observed overnight on weeknights for peak parking counts in 2022.
While the parking supply, demand, and utilization varied across the six municipalities studied, the Phase 4 analysis showed that overall, 39% of the off street parking spaces were not utilized during peak hours. This is an even higher percentage than was observed during the first three phases of the Perfect Fit Parking research. The Phase 4 study further found that, consistent with the previous research, parking supply was the single largest factor associated with parking demand – the more spaces provided, the more cars were parked, all other things being equal.
“In every municipality and at every development, parking was oversupplied,” said Adi Nochur, senior transportation planner at MAPC. “Municipalities with the most parking per unit had the lowest utilization, meaning developers had to build hundreds of parking spaces that are not needed. This drives up housing and development costs, lowers housing production, and contributes to increased automobile usage and greenhouse gas emissions right when we are in the middle of housing and climate crises.”
The Phase 4 study found an average of 1.58 parking spaces supplied per unit, but only an average of 1 parking space demanded per unit. Good transit access to jobs and the presence of deed restricted affordable units were both associated with reduced parking demand. All these findings are consistent with previous phases of MAPC’s Perfect Fit Parking research. This discrepancy further highlights that parking is overbuilt at the Phase 4 sites studied, to the detriment of providing more housing units (including more affordable units), improved transit access, and increased open space.
“Watertown is excited to get hard data on utilization to inform public conversation about the mount of parking we require for multifamily housing,” said Steven Magoon, assistant city manager for the Town of Watertown. “This is perfect timing for such a conversation, as our draft Comprehensive Plan released three weeks ago recommends that we review the city’s parking requirements, and this helps us make sure that projects don’t have too much or too little parking.”
MAPC’s began its Perfect Fit Parking research in 2015 to equip local planners with detailed and accurate information so they can make informed decisions about parking plans and policies. National trends indicate that more urban residents are forgoing vehicle ownership in favor of more sustainable practices, but parking requirements have generally stayed the same.
“Multifamily housing sites in suburban locations may have higher parking demand than sites in more transit-accessible locations, like MAPC’s Inner Core,” said Nochur. “However, the parking utilization research, now including this Phase 4 study, has consistently found that parking is oversupplied at sites throughout Greater Boston – whether urban or suburban.”
To right-size parking in line with affordable housing and transit goals, MAPC recommends that the WestMetro HOME Consortium member municipalities adhere to the same policy prescriptions noted in earlier phases of the Perfect Fit Parking research, including:
- shifting from parking minimums to maximums;
- reducing parking ratios;
- unbundling parking from housing costs;
- exploring strategies for shared parking.
The most recent Phase 4 parking study, as well as MAPC’s studies from previous parking research, can be viewed at perfectfitparking.mapc.org.