The Horrors of Parking

by Robert Cox, Dave Lewis, & Deb Keller

It was a dark and stormy October night just a year ago. We were in the thick of the Prometheus debate, and I was lurking outside of Park Place, walking up and down the street, notebook in hand. Suddenly I was accosted by a former work colleague of mine, who was out walking his dog.

“What are you doing, man?” he asked.

I looked up from my notebook, stared him in the eye, and replied, “Parking study!” I won’t repeat what he said back.

Yes, there’s few issues that get the blood up of Old Mountain View residents like parking.

The recent debates on development and its impact on parking was largely the impetus that led the city to commission a study by consultancy Wilbur Smith to take a look at downtown parking. The study looks at the Old Mountain View neighborhood west of Calderon.

Will there be parking meters downtown? A resident permit parking scheme for the surrounding neighborhoods? These are some of the decisions Council will take up in early February or March of 2011.

At the October 11 meeting, Ellis Berns, the city’s Economic Development Manager, noted that public parking in the downtown is reaching capacity, and we need to accommodate patrons of downtown businesses.  At the same time we need to manage parking for those businesses’ employees and limit the impact on downtown residents.

The consultants counted a total of 6312 parking spaces in the study area. This includes on-street parking as well as parking in public and private lots.

The study also conducted an online survey, intercept surveys on Castro, and held two public input meetings. All of this will culminate in a Council Study Session in early 2011.

Data collection for the study was done on a Thursday and Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The study also noted the last four digits of license plates to understand how long people were parking in various places.

Annette Nielsen of Minton Lane was quick to pick up on the times. She pointed out that many commuters park overnight in the residential streets around the Caltrain station. This issue caught even the seasoned parking professionals by surprise, but after several minutes of explanation, they began to grasp what Annette was saying.

“There’s plenty of spaces in the Caltrain lot at night, but commuters don’t want to pay the fee,” said Annette. “Also, it’s faster to get off the train and run across the street to your car than wait in line in the Caltrain parking lot.”

Several residents wondered if more parking garages would be built to accommodate new developments, especially since several surface parking lots will soon be replaced with developments. Staff noted that new garages are expensive, but might be necessary.

Resident Julie Lovins had another  perspective. “We need to preserve open space in our downtown area. I’m asking for a moratorium on any new parking. We need to start charging for parking to reduce the demand, and use parking fees to provide for biking and shuttles.”

Julie also felt that the city could employ state of the art technology to collect parking fees, such as meters that you can use credit cards in.

Deb Keller raised a point on unintended consequences.  “Neighbors were parking their cars in front of our house because they had restricted parking on their street and we did not. One rode his bike every day to Google, which I applaud, but he still had a car that needed to be stored.”

Robert Cox asked how they would set a resident permit system for a street like his, which has 22 houses and only 7 street parking spaces.

The consultants replied that allocation of permits must be done carefully.  Too many permits creates a situation like you have in San Francisco, where everyone has a permit, but no one can find a parking space.  You may need to limit the number of permits each household can buy and set fees appropriately. Enforcement is key, noted the consultants.

That triggered comments by residents, citing examples where the parking rules were not being enforced now.  And one resident noted that the city told him that they didn’t even want to discuss parking permits because there was no money in the budget to even consider hiring employees to enforce them.

To be continued.

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