When municipal leaders talk about parking in downtown business districts, the dialogue usually goes something like this:
Merchant Association: We need parking garages! And time limits on street parking!
Shoppers: We support downtown, but there’s no parking!
Downtown workers: There’s no parking, and I’m tired of skipping out every two hours to move my car!
City Office: We show 500 parking spaces within the downtown core. At most, 258 of them are used at any one time.
Environmentalists: Parking is EVIL!
In 2005, the city of Redwood City, California on the San Francisco Peninsula implemented what was then considered a radical downtown parking plan, using ideas popularized by Todd Litman and Dr. Donald Shoup. Although limitations in then-available equipment kept the city from implementing market-rate pricing to the extent they originally planned, the parking plan does coincide with a boom in business and development in the downtown core. Downtown merchants continue to support the parking plan, and Shoup uses Redwood City as an example of a successful parking plan that utilizes his market pricing suggestions.
The city credits this parking program with the revitalization of downtown into a bustling, vibrant entertainment center serving the peninsula.
Significant new development with several hundred housing units and over 300,000 square feet of Class A office space is now underway in downtown. This infill development will result in a net reduction of 200 parking spaces.
To evaluate the performance of the parking program so far and the impact new development will have on future parking, Redwood City commissioned engineering firm CDM Smith to survey existing conditions and make recommendations. Their suggestions include replacing existing pay stations with technology that provides information regarding demand vs availability and adjusts prices accordingly, along with “dynamic wayfinding technology” (i.e. electronic signs) to help drivers find their way to open parking spaces. The study anticipates demand will outstrip supply in the very near future and opened up the possibility of building additional public parking to meet that demand.
What about Transportation Demand Management?
The contract for the study is for the parking management program, so transportation management is outside of the scope of the discussion. Still, the whole point of parking is to store cars while people do what they came to do. Merchants want more parking not for the sake of cars, but because they want more people coming to their businesses. The study assumes more business will require more cars, but no mention is made of transit and bike access to downtown Redwood City, which can mitigate the need for additional parking while still meeting the needs of businesses for customers.
While the study notes the impressive walkability of downtown Redwood City, the study assumes everybody drives, parks, then walks. I believe it’s telling that no mention is made that Redwood City is the fourth busiest station in the Caltrain system. Eight different Samtrans bus lines stop next to downtown at the Caltrain station. Although Bay Area Bike Share began after the survey was complete, Redwood City’s participation was known since before the study.
Redwood City’s six bike share stations are the most underutilized in the system. The only real usage seems to be somebody who rides a bike from Palo Alto to the San Mateo County building once or twice a week, probably to bypass the Caltrain zone boundary between Menlo Park and Redwood City.
City staff will present the CDM Smith’s findings at a special city council session tonight, October 21, 2013 at 7:00 PM in the city council chambers at 1017 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA. Staff will also ask staff for guidance on several policy issues, namely: (1) reaffirm market-rate pricing policy; (2) adjust hourly rates in close-in “premium” zones to $1, while leaving rate in other areas at 25 cents / hour; (3) extend parking program hours to 8 PM; (4) upgrade parking meters with technology that can dynamically adjust pricing; and (5) begin planning for a new parking facility.
Read more at the San Mateo Daily News: Staff report: Downtown boom will snarl parking.