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Starts & Stops

The ‘last’ unrestricted Cambridge block? Not quite

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / September 25, 2011

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If you want to catch a reporter’s interest, claim you’ve got the first or last of something. While scanning transportation news groups for story ideas, I snapped to attention the other day when I saw a thread claiming that the last block of unrestricted parking in Cambridge had been unceremoniously removed, converted without warning to meters on one side and resident permit parking on the other. Making the story even better, some unsuspecting soul who left a car on the street before the change was now collecting a sheaf of tickets.

So I headed to the location in question, the last block of Ames Street in Kendall Square between Amherst Street and Memorial Drive. Sure enough, I found gleaming meters and signs that appeared fresh from the shop. But the ticket-laden car was already gone.

Although the situation wasn’t what it seemed - more on that in a bit - I had no trouble finding disgruntled workers nearby, including an MIT chef who commutes from Fitchburg and starts work too early for the two-hour commuter rail-and-subway alternative to be possible, let alone practical. The change happened quietly over Labor Day weekend, and when he returned to work the following Tuesday, he could scarcely believe his eyes. Now parking in an unofficial alley spot, he may soon turn to meter-hopping or one of the neighborhood’s pricey garages.

I also encountered a woman who drives to Kendall from Boston’s North End - close enough to take the T, bike, or even walk on a nice day.

She was feeding the meter, but scattered unrestricted parking still exists along Memorial Drive, albeit controlled by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, not the city, and frequently occupied by the early-arriving trucks of construction workers. So add one asterisk to the distinction.

Then I reached Susan E. Clippinger, Cambridge’s director of traffic, parking, and transportation, who informed me the block in question was even less rare. At most, it was the last unrestricted city-controlled block in Kendall; Cambridge still has other pockets of open parking, including out in the suburban-style section of the city beyond Fresh Pond, where it borders Belmont. As for others, “That’s a trade secret we don’t give out,’’ she said.

Clippinger said the Ames Street change was made to promote turnover of spots for businesses and to protect resident parking. She acknowledged that the conversion happened without advance notice, but she had little sympathy for residents who try to park without registering for a permit or for visitors who expect to find free parking in a dense urban area accessible by transit.

The neighborhood once had swaths of unpoliced spaces, but they have been removed block by block as MIT and the area’s tech businesses have flourished.

“Then we can make sure those people who most need parking get the first shot,’’ Clippinger said, chuckling as she recalled a student who protested the conversion of Vassar Street from unrestricted to restricted parking more than a decade ago, after the city got complaints about filth; abandoned cars were keeping the street sweeper there from reaching the curb.

“The student was furious, like, ‘How could we possibly do that?’ ’’ she recalled. “He didn’t even have an engine in the car - and he didn’t have enough time to get an engine in the car to move it.’’

Schedule adjustments, confusion at Kenmore
Reader Paul Goldberg, a Boston University archeologist, wrote in with a question about Kenmore Station, where he often finds himself boarding a B line inbound train only to learn it is being held for a schedule adjustment.

“No duration is ever mentioned, so you are not sure whether to get off, cross the platform, and take the C or D trains that commonly arrive while you are waiting,’’ he wrote. “But you never know if while sitting on that C or D train, whether it too is making a schedule adjustment or if it will leave before - or after - the B train you came in on. Is there no way for the T to indicate which train is going to leave first, or how long the wait time is going to be for any of the inbound Kenmore trains?’’

I posed the question to Brian Dwyer, the T’s light rail director, who said he has heard this one before, including from the Rider Oversight Committee. In fact, he tried to resolve it last October with a special order directed at Green Line trolley operators, dispatchers, and supervisors.

“To tell you the truth, I’m disappointed to hear we’re still having an issue with it,’’ Dwyer said.

Given the frequency of service, the passenger volumes, and the unexpected delays that can crop up on the four-branch streetcar-to-subway line - the nation’s busiest light-rail line - it’s sometimes necessary to hold trains at stations or to run them express, skipping other stations, to maintain appropriate intervals.

To avoid passenger confusion at Kenmore, where three inbound branches converge, Dwyer had instructed staff to stop B trains at Blandford Street - the last above-ground station - rather than at Kenmore if they need to be held. But the order may have been forgotten amid staff turnover, he said.

“We have to do a better job making sure they’re up to speed on that,’’ said Dwyer, adding that he would immediately reissue the order. “It’s an eminently solvable problem.’’

New yield signs on way at Fresh Pond rotary
Patricia of Arlington, who asked that her last name not be used, wrote in with a question about the rotary where Alewife Brook Parkway and Concord Avenue (Routes 2, 3, and 16) converge and overlap in Cambridge.

“Traffic at the Cambridge Fresh Pond rotary has been flowing well until recently. I notice that the yield signs have faded and was wondering if that is why drivers are not yielding to traffic in the rotary,’’ she wrote. “Any chance that the yield signs could be replaced?’’

That turned out to be an easy one.

“We were actually unaware that those signs had faded,’’ said SJ Port, spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation; DCR, not the city of Cambridge, maintains Alewife Brook Parkway, Fresh Pond Parkway, and the stretch of Concord Avenue that links them and connects two rotaries in close proximity.

“We’ll be changing out the signs as soon as possible,’’ Port added. “We greatly appreciate the input.’’

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.