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Starts & Stops

Parklets debut in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill, but at a cost

One of the city’s two new “parklets” appeared more than a week ago on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain as a quiet place in the cityscape.

Mike Levenson/Globe Staff

One of the city’s two new “parklets” appeared more than a week ago on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain as a quiet place in the cityscape.

Finally, they’re here: Two parklets (parking spots converted into small outdoor hangouts) were installed last week in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill.

It’s a cute idea — bring a swatch of beauty to urban spaces — but each parklet comes at the cost of two parking spots, a significant trade-off in a city already short on parking. Judging from the photos on Twitter last weekend, it doesn’t exactly look like people are clamoring for the seating.

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And last month, when news broke about the parklets’ imminent arrival, many readers balked at the price tag: $15,000 to $25,000 per parklet.

“The city is PAYING to have FEWER parking spaces!!” wrote one commenter. “This is ridiculous beyond words.”

For comparison’s sake, San Francisco officials estimate that each of its parklets cost $5,000-$15,000 in design and materials expenses.

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I asked the Boston Transportation Department to provide more details on exactly how that sizeable chunk of change was being spent. Vineet Gupta, the department’s director of policy and planning, provided this itemized list:

  Deck/floor: $3,000

  Railing: $5,000

  Planters: $1,500

  Furniture: $5,000

  Plants: $500

Total: $15,000

Now that the parklets are in their new homes — they will be there until about Thanksgiving — they have gotten mixed opinions from online commenters.

“I think these are great!” said Boston.com reader Cden4. “There are places where our sidewalks are too narrow to allow for outdoor seating and this allows for seasonal space to do this.”

CJStaples wrote, “Interesting idea, but yeah, that’s way too much money for this . . . and the potential exposure to traffic mishaps is surely a concern.”

“You’ll never catch me sitting in one of these parklets,” wrote RedOctober. “I’ve seen Boston drivers!”

Birthday greetings to return

The Registry of Motor Vehicles wants to make everyone’s birthdays a bit more special.

Most Massachusetts residents will remember the postcards that used to arrive in the mail from the RMV: “Happy birthday!” the card read. “It’s time to renew your license!”

The mailers were helpful, but expensive. They cost almost $1 million per year, and in 2008, they were eliminated because of budget cuts.

Now, the postcards are coming back. They’ll start appearing in mailboxes by the end of the year, thanks to a partnership with an advertising company that is paying for all the printing and mailing costs, in exchange for the right to place advertisements on the mailers.

Just as in the past, the mailers will not include any personal information or the driver’s birth date, lest the postcard fall into the wrong hands. It will also remind customers that, in most cases, they can renew their license online and have it delivered to their home.

“It’s no money at all for us, and there’s no extra cost to the customer,” Registrar Rachel Kaprielian said, “other than the aggravation of getting an advertisement in the mail.”

Oh yeah, and the $50 it costs to renew your license. Happy birthday, indeed!

Pushing the limit

State Representative Dan Winslow feels the need for speed.

Winslow, a Republican of Norfolk, testified Tuesday on behalf of a bill he’s sponsoring to raise the maximum speed limit in Massachusetts from 65 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour on parts of the Pike, I-91, and I-95.

“Our roads are designed for 70. Our cars are designed for faster than 65,” Winslow said at the hearing, according to the State House News Service.

“By having a law that’s on the books that’s not being enforced, we actually incur sort of a lawless approach to driving in Massachusetts, which makes it all the more fun,” Winslow continued.

So, are we really all that slow? It turns out that 11 other states share our same maximum speed limit, eight of them in the Northeast, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The rest of the country is split about half-and-half between 70 and 75 miles per hour.

That’s not nearly as brisk as one stretch of highway in Texas, where the speed limit is 85 miles per hour — the fastest road in America.

The only state with a lower maximum speed limit than Massachusetts? Hawaii, which maxes out at 60 miles per hour.

Slowpokes.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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