In an effort to use available parking space more efficiently in Downtown Redwood City as new buildings open up, Redwood City is investigating opportunities to recover underutilized parking spaces that are “stranded” in private buildings.
Redwood City staff sought advice from an East Bay company that has a specialty in working with private property owners to make underutilized spaces available to the public, by using parking meters, permit parking, or valet parking. This approach has been successfully used in East Bay cities including Walnut Creek, Concord, and Pleasant Hill.
Successful examples of this approach, taken from the staff report, include:
• One Walnut Creek Center – facility is managed dynamically through the app ParkMe where the owner decides how many spaces to make publicly available and under what terms. They currently offer hourly, daily, and monthly paid parking as well as allowing parkers to reserve a space.
• Plaza Escuela Parking Garage, where parking meters were installed on the lower floors with the remaining upper floors remained free. This which successfully shifted employees away from the prime spaces and into the upper floors.
Enabling parking efficiency from the start
Redwood City and other cities can make this process even easier with new developments by requiring parking spaces to be unbundled in the lease, and to be sold separately to tenants. This process, called “unbundled parking”, makes it easy for developers and the city to tell if parking spaces are underutilized and can be made available for the public pool.
Unbundled parking also allows property managers, and employers to offer “parking cashout” benefits – a cash payment to employees who choose not to take a parking space, up to the value of the least parking space. Parking cashout is required by state law for companies with more than 50 employees, as long as the parking is unbundled in the lease, so that there is a cash value for the parking. The state does not enforce the law, but allows cities to do so.
Conserve parking spaces with less driving
In order to reduce the burden on the parking supply, Redwood City is starting to conduct a survey of downtown employees, in partnership with Commute.org and 511.org. The survey will ask commuters where they come from, what modes they use today, their commute priorities. If they drive, the survey asks questions to determine their reasons for driving, and to identify programs and improvements that might help them choose to drive less, such as a better shuttle to transit, transit pass discounts, help finding carpool partners, or bike lockers and showers at work. This is the type of information gathered by Stanford and other successful programs at private employers that enable them to design programs to greatly reduce car commuting and parking demand.
Council members acknowledge and support the direction they’re seeing, especially with the new startups that are flocking downtown. Council member Aguirre admired the startups with walls full of bicycles, and urged shuttles serving the city to include bike racks.
Opportunities for more parking efficiencies
Based on analysis of parking utilization, Redwood City made some changes to its parking pricing in August, increasing the hourly parking rate in the downtown core to $1 per hour to help visitors find parking in the most popular locations.
The change has been working to improve turnover in the popular downtown core locations, helping more people find parking when and where they need it, and has also encouraged more people to park outside the downtown core where rates are $.25 per hour.
Based on occupancy analysis and feedback from the city’s Parking Advisory Committee, Redwood City will consider more refinements in the future, such as 20-minute “Grab & Go” spaces in the downtown core once additional supply becomes available with the open of the Crossing/900 development near the Caltrain station. Data from on-street sensors and the parking study suggest that a majority of trips to Downtown are quite short (52% of trips on certain blocks of Broadway and Jefferson are under 30 minutes.)
Measure, manage, improve
Following the adoption of an overall strategy to manage its parking supply in its General Plan, Redwood City is making steady progress at using its existing parking supply more efficiently, and getting started on the next steps in reducing demand.
Mayor Gee praised the iterative approach that the city is taking. “This plan will be adjusted over time – things will change, we’ll adjust and make improvements, knowing that when we make a decision, it’s not forever.”
This approach represents a major transformation from earlier approaches to parking, which were based on assumptions of cheap real estate, driving as the dominant form of transportation, and subsidize for driving in the form of plentiful, free parking. Now, with real estate prices at a premium, and increasing preferences toward less driving, cities including Redwood City are changing their policies to focus on using parking space more efficiently, and changing the incentive structure to encourage more people to access jobs and services without driving.