Eight crazy ideas (that just might work) for ’08

With 2007 fast drawing to a close, BloggingBelmont.com is looking ahead to 2008 and wondering what the year has in store for The Town of Homes. And, with New Year’s Resolutions now at the front of everyone’s mind, we’re pondering changes, big and small, that would improve our town and our community. For the next eight days, B2 will sketch out eight ideas for 2008 — one a day — that are worth trying (or at least considering)! Some of these ideas are plans that are actively being considered by town leaders, some are ideas that have been suggested for the town in the past, but never tried. Some, of course, are pure fancy.

As with everything here, the floor is open to discussion and to suggestions. If you have an idea to improve life in the town that you’ve been dying to share, send it in and share it with the B2 community!

Idea #1: Resident Parking Permits!

At some point in my conversation last week with Selectman Firenze, the phone rang and Selectman Firenze politely excused himself to take it. On the other end of the line was a town resident calling to complain about a parking problem in his or her neighborhood. According to Selectman Firenze, calls like this come in four to five times a day — and parking headaches are the #1 issue on people’s mind — either the parking in their neighborhood is too restrictive, or not restrictive enough. Or both — too restrictive for them, as a homeowner, but not restrictive enough to prevent shoppers on Leonard Street or commuters bound for Boston from taking advantage. Selectman Firenze commented at the time that there was “no solution” to the problem, but we disagree. One obvious solution is to issue resident parking permits for the town and replace all those “Two Hour Parking” signs with “Resident Parking only” signs.

Belmont Resident Permit

A resident parking permit would solve a bunch of problems simultaneously. First and foremost: it would be a way to elegantly resolve the Not on My Curbside problem that Selectman Firenze outlined — residents want the freedom to park on the street in front of their house, but don’t take kindly to folks from Waltham, Lexington or Weston using their street as a Park and Ride into town.

Second, a resident permit program would be easier to enforce: meterless, two hour only parking zones (which are the norm in town) require multiple passes by police or parking attendants to determine who’s in violation of the limit. While parking limits are monitored pretty closely in and around the town center, my sense is that’s not the case on outlying streets where there’s less competition for space. A resident permit mounted in a pre-determined location on the automobile is easily identifiable with just a drive-by, easing enforcement and increasing the ticket revenue to the town. (Sorry commuters!)

True, any resident parking permit program would come with costs. Staff would have to be hired or re-assigned to administer the program, including verifying the address of permit applicants, tracking and reissuing permits on a yearly or bi-yearly basis, and collecting any necessary fees. This could be paid for with a modest fee to obtain the permit and, again, easier and faster enforcement of resident-only parking areas could well be a significant net plus to the town’s coffers.

A crazy idea? Not really — in fact, the City of Cambridge has used permits successfully for years. Anyone who’s navigated the tightly packed streets around Harvard Square or Porter Square can immediately see why. But Cambridge has extended permitted parking out even to the Fresh Pond Reservoir, where Belmont residents who park around the water station to walk their dog return to find a $25 fine stuck to the window. That’s good for Cambridge..but bad for us. So here’s my vote for a new Belmont Resident Parking Permit program in 2008!