Cambridge may let car-share vehicles park in larger home driveways

Zipcar would be among the vehicle-sharing services that would be allowed to park in some large driveways or lots.
Michael Clemens/Zipcar
Zipcar would be among the vehicle-sharing services that would be allowed to park in some large driveways or lots.

The City of Cambridge is proposing to let car-sharing services such as Zipcar use private driveways and other residential parking spaces in the hopes of decreasing car ownership and relieving pressure on the city’s notoriously difficult parking.

The proposed ordinance would open the door for property owners in multifamily buildings to allow Zipcar, for example, or Enterprise, which also has a car-sharing program, to park short-term rental cars in off-street driveways or lots.

The city’s Planning Board suggests that only private driveways or lots with at least four spaces be eligible for the program. And owners of single-family homes would not be allowed to rent their parking spaces out.

Stephanie Groll, parking and transportation demand management officer, said that nearly a third of Cambridge households don’t own cars, and the city’s population of millennial generation residents, who frequently go carless, is growing.

“There is a lot of space in our city that they have no way of benefiting from,” she said. “They deserve to benefit from our city in this way.”

Groll said her office surveyed Cambridge residents and found that about 85 percent of them would like car-sharing options in residential areas.

A 2010 study by the University of California, Berkeley, concluded that each shared vehicle resulted in nine to 13 fewer cars.

“It is possible to see a future in which half of the cars in Cambridge disappear,” Jeffrey Rosenblum, the city’s former transportation planner who now researches transportation policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and supports the proposed ordinance.

The Cambridge proposal differs slightly from a program Boston recently adopted that awarded 40 public parking spaces each to Zipcar and Enterprise. The companies will pay Boston $3,500 per car annually for downtown spaces and $2,700 for spaces outside of the city center.

The Cambridge City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on Wednesday, and already some residents have expressed concerns that the comings and goings of customers will disrupt residential neighborhoods.

“There is no way I would not notice the activity,” said Paula Lovejoy, who has lived in Cambridge for 35 years. “My next-door neighbor would be allowed to put in a commercial vehicle and I have nothing I can say about it. I think that’s unacceptable.”

Others said that Cambridge is small enough that commercial districts with parking are only a short walk for customers using car-share services.

“Anybody who wants a car-share car and is willing to walk 10 minutes or so can get one without disrupting the security and serenity of the residential zones,” said resident Fritz Donovan.

But proponents counter that car-service customers would more likely be neighborhood members, not people from afar.

The car-sharing ordinance is the latest illumination of Cambridge’s struggle to reconcile new services and companies developed by modern technology against potential downsides.

The city previously backed off an attempt to regulate Uber Technologies’ popular ride-hailing service in the face of a fierce backlash from its local users, many of whom worked in the Kendall Square innovation hub.

Also Internet giant Google encountered stiff resistance from neighbors when the expansion of its Cambridge offices threatened a popular rooftop garden.