As in many downtown areas, merchants in the Belmont Village Center are concerned that parking is becoming scarce, and a parking shortage will be bad for business. However, Belmont’s Community Development Director Carlos de Melo suspected the area might have too much parking, making the area less friendly for pedestrians, and less appealing to visit.
Stanford Professor Deland Chan’s Urban Studies class stepped in to help Belmont analyze the situation. Parking is a key issue as the City of Belmont works on an update to a Plan for Belmont Village, with a goal to foster a pedestrian-friendly, lively downtown.
The Belmont Planning Commission will meet on Monday, July 1 to discuss the Village zoning plan, and the results of the study are relevant for the Planning Commission’s review.
Parking availability, Saturday evening
Parking is available, but it is hard to find
At the busiest time, early on Saturday evening, the students found that busiest areas are extremely full (over 95%). The “Village Center” area has the scarcest parking at peak times. But overall there is plenty of available space in parking lots and on the streets (only 76% full, more than enough space for everyone). While the large lots tend to fill up, there are numerous smaller lots that are less full at busy times.
- Parking Areas in Belmont Village
Make it easier to find the parking lots
Therefore, one relatively straightforward solution recommended in the report would be to add more signage so that visitors who drive can find the available parking. The report also suggests other ways to make it more appealing for pedestrians to walk to and from the available parking, including creating crosswalks on the minor streets that lead to parking, creating pedestrian pathways through parking lots, improving lines of sight between parking lots and businesses, and adding more landscaping to make the pedestrian experience more pleasant. These measures would help Belmont achieve the goal described in the Village Element to enable visitors to “park once and walk.”
Crossing the Ralston barrier
Unfortunately the parking area that consistently has the most available space is across the street from hazardous Ralston Avenue in “Namaste Plaza”, with 157 parking spaces (not including handicapped spaces) in several lots. Students found this area to be less than 40% full at the busiest times.
Currently, the draft Belmont Village Element calls for Ralston to remain a vehicle-dominant street, with only minimal improvements for pedestrians. Instead, the report recommends that Belmont make major improvements for pedestrians, including improving pedestrian islands, more visible crosswalks (colored, raised, or textured), increasing crossing time, adding radar speed signs, and lowering the speed limit to 25mph.
Meanwhile, City is conducting a corridor study for Ralston with goals to improve use by pedestrians, cyclists, transit, and vehicles. Unfortunately, the consultant hired by the city to work on the study said the study would be be weighted by the volume of current uses, which would strongly favor the street’s role in moving people in vehicles through town over helping people walk through the downtown area. And City Council member Coralin Feierbach recently told the San Mateo Daily News that “cars come first” on Ralston.
To overcome this vehicle-centric direction, over 650 residents have signed a petition urging the city to make Ralston safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The petition urges the city to lower the speed limit to 25mph, to add bike lanes, and to improve pedestrian crossings. The petition is still open, so if you want a safer Ralston, sign here.
Avoid overparking the Village District Plan
The study found that the current measured peak parking demand is 2.5 spaces per 1000 square feet. The study therefore recommends lowering the standard parking requirement to a minimum of 2 spaces per 1000 square feet and a maximum of 2.5 spaces, addressing the goal of the new plan to maintain a balance of supply and demand (the numbers for the new plan have not yet been set). The proposed new standard would be much lower than the current Belmont District Plan which requiring 3 to 4 spaces per 1000 square feet of retail, office, and service uses, which is higher than measured need. The study also supports the draft Plan’s provision for shared parking between different types of uses that use parking at different times of the day.
The he Village Element includes provisions for Belmont to raise funds to build a parking structure to add to the parking supply. The Stanford student study does suggest a parking structure to replace existing lots, rather than to add un-needed supply. This could free up space for some additional development, and enable a better pedestrian environment.
A critical question for the City of Belmont is whether it makes sense to prioritize spending millions of dollars on a new parking structures, or to invest in making it easier to get to and find existing parking, and making it safer to cross Ralston.
Professor Deland Chan’s Stanford Urban Studies class will be seeking projects for upcoming semesters, so if your area has an issue that would benefit from Stanford student research, contact Professor Chan.