The search for a parking space on the streets of downtown Boston can warp a person’s world. Fire hydrants become symbols of thwarted hope. Other drivers become bitter enemies. Signs assume the properties of Talmudic texts, calling out for interpretation and bedeviling us with their complexity. As we drive in circles, sweating and honking hopelessly, our eyes dart around and the clock ticks. Happiness is the sight of red taillights coming on as someone prepares to leave; temptation is a taunting yellow placard offering garage space for $15 an hour. In dense, urban areas like Boston, as many as 30 percent of cars on the street are cruising for parking at any given time.
What if it didn’t have to be this way? What if finding a spot became as routine a procedure as turning a key, or putting on pants in the morning? According to a growing number of urban planners, transportation experts, and economists, that fantastical scenario is within reach. While the rest of us compete with each other for nonexistent spaces like fishermen around a puddle, they envision a city in which every block contains at least one free parking spot at all times. They believe that with a bit of simple social engineering, the act of parking can be transformed.