Sunday, December 9, 2012

Parking or "Where do we put all the cars?"

When I decided to run for City Council, I had lots of conversations with people in Emeryville concerned about traffic. I have written a few times about this, and yet, after 3 years on the council, I am not sure that the average person thinks things have improved. Consider that within the next 20 years, it is projected that the number of residents in Emervyille will increase from 10,000 to 16,000, according to our General Plan. Where are we/they going to put all those cars?

I have found a strong consensus through the transportation planning world about how plentiful, free parking actually encourages people to use cars when they otherwise might not; free parking is like a car magnet. Emeryville is different from our immediate neighbors to the north and south, in that public parking is free here. (Note that some private parking, like at our hotels and at Bay St. is not free.) I believe that free and unrestricted parking is part of the reason we have more cars here than we like. You should also know that we have 20,000 people working in Emeryville each day. They weigh many considerations as they decide how they will get here, including the direct cost to them of driving.

Several years ago (before I joined the council) Emeryville commissioned a study of the North Hollis area to look at parking issues and solutions, as the streets in this part of town are very often completely "parked up" on a weekday. Restaurants and businesses with customers who come and go have complained people can't find a place to park, and that this could impact their number of customers and sales. With off-street parking required to be provided for employees, why is the on-street parking so full all the time?

Wilbur Smith Associates, who completed the study, found that people will park where it is most convenient. With free unrestricted street parking, people will park there first, and when it is full, find another spot (maybe in a garage). Some people don't have access to off-street parking as it is private or don't want to park there as it is costly, and find themselves circling, looking for a spot on the street. With no time limits on the street, during the day there is very little turn-over of spots.

By limiting street parking in non-residential areas with a time limit, we can help people find spots that are meant for them. This is about managing parking, not just providing it. We can manage it with time limits or fees. Our hope is to first put limited time parking zones in places planned out by the study. The transportation committee, on which I serve, is having a special meeting on Tuesday, December 11, 2012, at 9:00 am at the Fire Station on Hollis and 63rd St. (6303 Hollis) to talk about next steps in the parking plan. Eventually, if the city puts in paid parking on the street, we could use the revenues (once capital costs are covered, which would likely be within 2 years) to fund additional pedestrian or bike improvements that would enhance the area for everybody. This is called a parking benefit district, where the use of cars and paid parking actually helps to pay for direct improvements. Right now we taxpayers are all subsidizing those who drive here and park for free.

Residents need to be protected from other users spilling over into the areas they depend on for parking. We have some areas with residential parking permit programs, and the city can support more if it is warranted.

What is important is to hear from the community regarding this pending change. I want residents to have residential parking, I want employees to have employee parking, and customers to be able to find customer parking. It is great if we can share parking, but I know we can manage the parking we already have better to be sure each type of user can have parking when and where they need it.

Emeryville is special in that we have a free shuttle provided by businesses, property owners, and our city government that gives us a ride to and from BART, the Emery-Go-Round. With over 1.3 million riders each year, Emery-Go-Round certainly keeps some cars off our streets. We can build on this service to further encourage people to get to Emeryville without driving their cars.