BOSTON TOOK a serious step last week toward tackling the city’s infamous traffic congestion and improving transit mobility for all its residents. At the core of the plan is a radical notion: Cars are not king — really.
The plan presented by Mayor Walsh includes significant investments, such as building new protected bike lanes and pedestrian paths, traffic signal improvements, and the creation of a new transit team.
It will be paid for by hiking fines on miscreant drivers.
Heftier fines? An unpopular move, for sure, but a sorely needed one. Motorists — including commercial drivers — add to the chaos of city traffic. Current fines are so low that, too often, it pays to ignore the rules. The city is aligning parking fines with the price of garages in the city, so that it’s never cheaper to break the rules than just pay to park . All the same, there will be drivers who will still violate parking rules, providing the city revenue for the planned investments.
Boston has not increased parking ticket penalties in 10 years. Yet in recent years, requests for parking enforcement have skyrocketed. In 2014, the city had about 4,500 such requests, while last year there were “well over 35,000” requests, according to Chris Osgood, Boston’s Chief of Streets.
Right now, the ticket fine for double parking in Boston is either $30 or $45, depending on the zone, whereas in New York City a driver has to pay $115 for the same offense. Under Walsh’s proposal, double-parkers will pay either $55 or $75 per ticket. Unpaid meter fee penalties will increase from $25 to $40.
The extra revenue from the fines, about $5 million, would allow for nearly 20 new hires in the city’s Transportation Department, with a focus on improving bus service. For example, one of those staffers would work as a liason to the MBTA, a key position to better coordinate bus transit improvements, while four other new staffers would manage dedicated bus lanes.
Bus service has often fallen through the cracks, with both the T and the city counting on the other to take charge, and it’s gratifying to see the city assume responsibility for improving a service that’s vital to many residents but has suffered in recent years.
One reason why bus ridership has declined in Boston is that buses move at a glacial pace due to congestion. This spring, transit officials will test Boston’s first dedicated bus lane in a decade, on Washington Street in Roslindale. The additional lane was created by eliminating parking spaces in the inbound lane in the morning rush hour. There are bus routes that will need similar attention, including the 28 bus in Mattapan.
Walsh, a self-confessed “car guy,” was initially slow to implement traffic reform. But with more personnel, technology, and political will, Boston can begin to methodically unravel some of the mindless congestion that costs so much time and aggravation. The Boston City Council should swiftly approve the mayor’s plan.