Parking database challenges residential parking requirements

Happy Monday, and I hope you enjoyed your lost hour of sleep.

Last weekend, I attended a presentation by GreenTRIP Policy Analyst Jennifer West at the TransForm California’s wonky Silicon Valley Transportation Choices and Healthy Communities Summit. West described how the GreenTRIP Parking Database challenges assumptions about parking requirements for residential developments in the San Francisco Bay Area.

GreenTRIPS parking database screenshot

People from GreenTRIP have collected information from 68 multi-family residential complexes in the Bay Area and hope to add ten more developments to their database this year in this ongoing project. They survey property managers for the units available, and count the number of empty parking spaces at the peak residential parking time, which is the hours between midnight and 5 A.M.

Let’s look at Madera Apartments in Mountain View. This recently opened development was strongly opposed by neighboring NIMBYs because of overflow parking fears, but the GreenTRIP parking survey shows 74% parking usage in this 99% occupied town center, where 279 parking spaces are available for 290 bedrooms.

GreenTRIP cites the traffic reduction strategies used to make this possible. Two ZIPCar cars are available onsite, with bike share within 1/4 mile and a multitude of transit options just down the street at the Mountain View Transit Center. Residents also get a VTA EcoPass transit pass, which entitles them to free rides on VTA light rail and buses. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, parking is unbundled at Madera, costing residents an extra $100 per month for each car storage space. Transit is bundled with your rent, but parking your auto costs extra.

Traffic reduction works in bedroom communities, too

Madera is located near lively downtown Mountain View and is clearly targeted to highly paid tech workers, with rents ranging from $3900 per month for a one-bedroom, 750 square foot flat, up to $6500 for 1350 square feet two-bedroom townhome. Let’s compare that against Murphy Ranch Townhomes, with 100 units spread out over 7.2 acres in sleepy Morgan Hill. A 1,000 square foot two-bedroom townhome rents for $1500 per month in this affordable housing development, while the 1500 square foot four bedroom units rent for $1900 per month.

More parking = more traffic

Morgan Hill is significantly more spread out and car-dependent than downtown Mountain View. Residents receive free VTA transit passes; Caltrain and VTA transit stops are just under a half mile away. Caltrain service to Morgan Hill is extremely limited, with three northbound and three southbound trains during the week and no weekend trains. While VTA 68 runs frequently enough to be useful, it’s a slow way to travel from outlying Morgan Hill to jobs in San Jose and the rest of the Santa Clara County. Besides commuter express buses with a premium fare not covered by VTA EcoPass, the only other bus service is a weekday only around-town circulator with hours long headways.

Still, the GreenTRIP parking survey shows only 46% of the 257 parking spaces are utilized. GreenTRIP estimates the developer paid $2.8 million too much for parking, which is money and space that could have been used for more living units and amenities.

Planners are often pressured to require more parking in new developments as a condition for approval from neighbors who feel the newcomers will use “their” public streets for overflow parking, but the GreenTRIP database shows this isn’t necessarily so. Vast parking structures are wasted money and space for the developer. Ms. West from GreenTRIP points out that traffic reduction strategies are needed to reduce the parking used. These strategies can include transit passes, carshare membership, unbundled parking, bike amenities (secure and accessible bike parking, fix it station, BikeLink card), parking management, and travel support (e.g. the property manager is trained to be a “transit sherpa” and provide useful directions on using local transit).

I invite you to play with the GreenTRIP database. How can you use this database and what you’ve learned about trip reduction to provide public comment on a new residential project in your area to reduce parking demand in the development and on neighboring streets?


  1. They should survey Saratoga Woods on Cox Ave in Saratoga, where there always seems to be an overflow of cars parked illegally in the bike lane:

    I’ve tried repeatedly to address this with the Sheriff’s department who has jurisdiction here but they just ignore me. I think an ‘educational campaign’ for the residents is in order at this point…

  2. Can a citizen citation be issued for a car parked in the bike lane? California allows citizen citations for infractions. Seems like a lot of work, but if one did a dozen cars at once it might be worth it, or at least the Sheriff might get the message. You would need date/time stamped pictures of the vehicles with license plate readable, that also showed the location. And probably two pictures over an hour or so, to show that they were not parked there for just a minute. Then you would need some official blank Saratoga parking violation forms, which I have no idea how one would get. Maybe the form could be re-created in Word from a sample.

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