Study Finds Watertown Multi-Family Complexes Have Many Empty Parking Spaces

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Courtesy of MAPC

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

SiteStreetUnitsParking demand per unit% Utlization% Affordable UnitsVacant UnitsWalks Score
1060 BelmontBelmont180.263650074
24 ArsenalArsenal141.07830093
Bell WatertownWoodview1391.328010449
Blvd & BondArsenal Yards2571.0871155375
Brigham HouseMt. Auburn200.152868069
Elan Union MarketArsenal2461.038112686
Repton CondominiumsRepton1511.21610073
Riverbank lofts CondominiumsPleasant561.31635079
Riverpark LoftsHoward661.096710384
THE AVERPleasant211.279219074
The BeaconN. Beacon240.543814091
The Coolidge SchoolArlington230.764739188
Watertown MewsRepton1741.4861161473
Watertown Square ApartmentsWatertown1261.18686393
Source: MAPC

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

12 thoughts on “Study Finds Watertown Multi-Family Complexes Have Many Empty Parking Spaces

  1. 1060 Belmont St. The Crown Jewell of Precinct 12, drug dealers, one fine upstanding citizen who likes to launch explosives year round, never mind the fact that he has a camera mounted on a common access entry doorway, another one in his front window along with “no trespassing” signs posted in his windows! Citizens of the year, got anymore to enhance the “Hood”? MAPC study got this wrong, that parking lot is full unless they did the equations at noon time! Nice to see the newer developments are close to capacity. So does the study take into effect a dysfunctional transit system, the use of overflow parking going on street, one example is “Store 24” the traffic study person for that development said the lack of parking spaces versus rental units wouldn’t be a problem because of available on street parking. Somehow forgot about vehicles from Whitney Towers, maybe even commuters looking for a space to take the “T” or a peek into the future “Bike Lanes” and NO parking. This could be right up there with the Free money project called Mt Auburn St! I’ll put my money on people getting back into cars due to the fact the broken “T” will never be able to pick up the slack. Get the Horse before the cart not the other way around then maybe MAPC could do a more accurate study than this, People deserve a lot better !

    • I can’t figure out what you are trying to say here. Maybe being less angry at your neighbors would help you write more clearly?

      • Maybe you should have them move into your house and appreciate them more. The fact of what I am saying is about a parking study not having the correct information for 1060 and also adding some of the highlights that go along with that address. Your thought on less cars would that mean you don’t drive, replaced your driveway if you have one, with a garden now that you don’t need parking? Better solution to your less cars/perfect world, “Do Not Enter” signage on every entry point coming into Watertown from elsewhere

  2. Can we explore allowing restaurants to setup outdoor seating in the spots directly in front of their establishments during spring , summer and fall ? They would pay the town a fee and would get jersey barriers out up to make of their area ?

  3. An often forgotten benefit of reducing parking – fewer cars equals less traffic! Now that is something we can all get behind in Watertown.

    • How is reducing cars in Watertown going to reduce traffic on Rts 16, and 20? It’s a major thoroughfare – it’s not going to be any less because Watertown has smaller off street parking spaces.

      I’m curious about when this parking study was done – how about in the middle of winter when people are driving around trying to find off street parking? I live in a multi unit building (not surveyed in this study) that as 1 or two empty parking spaces. The assumption that people won’t have cars to travel outside the Boston area or lug groceries and other shopping is a pipe dream.

      • MAPC couldn’t penetrate your parking garage Elaine! Sad to see that MAPC identified 55 plus residences on the open parking spaces and the bigger rentals etc. on the close to capacity level! Sure get rid of the parking spaces, put the Granite curb in choking the Streets to eliminate you from parking in the Street, the big picture becomes a little more clearer. Outdated parking study to boot as well, Good Grief!

  4. At last, data. But the ideas for parking reform and national trends have been visible for more than a decade. In Watertown people have been lobbying for parking maximums, lower ratios, and unbundling for years and years. Why did none of our city departments embrace the future when they had a chance to avoid these underused parking garages that are an expensive blight on our city? Where were future thinking city planners, zoning specialists, and Councilors who could have taken timely measures before the damage was done? Cambridge did it years ago. There were plenty of Watertown citizens who put forward common sense ideas and found a lot of research that showed the value of decreasing the required parking spaces associated with apartments/condos, but to no avail. Remember the possibility of building walk-centered housing above the Arlington Street CVS and the housing proposed for the location of the Memory Care and Assisted living in Watertown Square? How/why did the various planners and Councilors dismiss this information? I hope Mr Magoon is serious about fixing our Comprehensive Plan and Planning and Zoning policies. Watertown can again play catch up with obvious measures to wrestle cars from the center of everything. Let’s do it successfully, with an eye to the future this time! barbara ruskin

  5. I would like to see empty parking spaces made available to recent immigrants who come over the southern US border. They can camp out there in good weather.

    It is better than being un-housed.

    NYC has proposed giving residents money to allow such immigrants to live with them.

    See “NYC mayor pitches paying residents to house migrants”:

    I propose such a plan for Watertown and for the schools to welcome the children of such immigrants. The city is not doing enough.

  6. I am on the East end of town between the mall and Perkins and there is never any parking on my street. People are always fighting for spots. These are mostly 2 family homes that have up to 5 cars with driveways that only hold one to 2 cars.
    We play to move your car game all year round because of the lack of on street parking. I know my street is not alone so I don’t know where all this vacant parking is but it is not around my neighborhood.

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