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Boston makes way for on-street motorcycle, scooter parking

San Francisco’s on-street bike slots are the model for the ones Boston plans to have in place this summer. San Francisco’s on-street bike slots are the model for the ones Boston plans to have in place this summer. (Derek White)
By Peter DeMarco
Globe Correspondent / April 30, 2010

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As many as a dozen metered parking spaces across the Back Bay will be partitioned into motorcycle and scooter parking slots this summer, the city’s first attempt to carve out spaces for scooter owners caught in last August’s moped parking debate.

Newbury and Boylston streets will be among the first to receive the slots, designated with lines painted within existing spaces to allow bikes to be parked perpendicular to the sidewalk, each with its own meter. The city intends to create parking for 25 to 50 bikes.

If the slots are well utilized this summer, officials said, they plan to convert other parking spaces across Boston into scooter and motorcycle zones in 2011.

“We want to encourage motorcycles and scooters to use Boston streets, because they’re convenient and environmentally friendly,’’ said Vineet Gupta, director of planning for the city’s Transportation Department. “But it’s important to portray this as a proposal. We want to work hand in hand with scooter owners and local businesses. We want to make sure the locations work for the neighbors who are in the area.’’

Boston’s parking laws technically forbid motorized vehicles from parking on sidewalks. But parking officials traditionally allowed scooters to do so, in part because they lacked license plates and were difficult to ticket and in part because there was nowhere else for them to park without using a car-length space.

City officials nevertheless maintain that sidewalks are meant for pedestrians, and the pilot program could turn out to be Boston’s inaugural move toward eventually moving scooters off sidewalks. On streets where parking slots are created, scooter owners, including moped owners and bikes with new “limited-use’’ license plates, will be ticketed if they park on the sidewalk, Gupta said.

San Francisco and Washington are among the cities that have created on-street parking stalls for scooter owners and motorcyclists. San Francisco, home to a huge biker population, now has more than 2,600 metered bike spaces, double the number it had last year, officials there said.

Gupta’s department came up with the pilot program after several meetings with concerned scooter and motorcycle owners. Kai Pradel, a scooter owner active in the meetings, and motorcyclist Richard Schofield of the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association, praised the Transportation Department for listening to their ideas and concerns.

Boston could do even more, they said. Pradel pointed out that cities such as Columbus, Ohio, have turned scraps of land on median strips and irregular corners into parking areas for bikes. Boston could set up similar corral areas, even on particularly wide sidewalks, he said.

Schofield said he would like to see the city encourage more parking garages to allow motorcycle parking.

Transportation officials said they felt compelled to act this spring based on last summer’s heightened confusion over scooter and moped parking in the city.

In August, the Registry of Motor Vehicles announced that any bike that can exceed 30 miles per hour, which includes every Vespa scooter and the majority of mopeds in Boston, would need a license plate. Suddenly, the freedom to park on sidewalks that scooter owners had enjoyed for decades was in jeopardy.

After a small uproar, Transportation Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin promised that scooters parked on sidewalks would be treated no differently than in the past, meaning no tickets. At the same time, Tinlin acknowledged that the city needed to look into providing alternative parking options for bikers.

Gupta said the city is likely to charge bike owners just one quarter per hour to park, rather than the standard dollar rate. (Four bike slots can fit in a single, 20-foot parking space.) Some bike stalls will have two-hour limits, while others will allow all-day parking to accommodate commuters. It is unclear whether scooter owners will be able to lock or chain their vehicles.

Gupta said his department is open to input and will host at least one public meeting this spring to discuss the proposal.

Meg Mainzer-Cohen — president of the Back Bay Association, which represents merchants — said business owners are always concerned about losing metered parking spaces, but most understand that scooter owners need somewhere to park, too.

“My sense is that if it’s a program that adequately allocates the correct number of spaces that will be used by scooters, there will not be a problem,’’ Mainzer-Cohen said. “If there are scooter spaces created that go unused, that’s what gets people upset.’’

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