Palo Alto moves forward on parking crunch, both supply and demand

On March 18, Palo Alto City Council advanced a set of short-term and long term measures to address a parking crunch, addressing supply, management, and demand.

While the topic that got the most public comment was the residential parking permit program, there were also multiple comments from city staff and council members of the economics of parking, and therefore the value of managing scarce supply and reducing demand. In Palo Alto, a new parking spot costs more than $60,000 to build. Presenting the City’s efforts to create a transportation demand management program for City Hall employees, City Manager Jim Keene commented that if the City administration succeeds in reducing its permit use by 100 permits, that saves the city $6,000,000. Compared to the cost of building new parking structures, reducing demand and managing supply look financially attractive.

To reduce parking demand, the city is developing a transportation demand management program that it expects will save 50-100 parking permits from City Hall employees. The program could be used as a role model for the rest of downtown.

To manage its existing supply more effectively, the city is piloting attended parking, which could get an extra 20% efficiency in garages by having attendants find the last spaces and pack in cars.

On parking supply, Palo Alto is exploring a public/private partnership for a parking garage to be provided by developer Chop Keenan which would provide parking for a new development as well as additional public parking. Palo Alto is also looking at potentially removing some developer exemptions from parking requirements.

With all of these measures, except attended parking, will entail staff doing more work and coming back to Council with a plan to approve.

Meanwhile, the City is studying longer term approaches including locations and costs for additional parking garages, technologies that could better manage existing parking supply, and Transportation Demand Management programs for the whole downtown area. Palo Alto is also asking Caltrain about the possibility for a Go Pass type deep discount program that could be used for a downtown area. Caltrain’s current deep discount program applies only to individual companies.

With progress on these fronts, the City Council felt comfortable moving on a Residential Parking Permit program for the neighborhoods near downtown. Residents are having a harder time finding parking near their homes because the spaces are used by downtown area workers who can avoid paying for parking in the garages. In 2012, the City Council put progress toward an RPP program on hold while the city worked on a more systematic approach to parking problems.

With regard to building new garages, the City is taking a different approach on financing. The City’s current set of parking garages were paid for by a consortium of downtown businesses. Apparently, the business community no longer wants to pay for parking supply. This time around, Palo Alto is considering putting the creation of parking garages on the ballot as part of an infrastructure bond measure. Parking garages are on a list of potential bond projects that the city is including in a poll to assess voter opinion.

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7 Responses to Palo Alto moves forward on parking crunch, both supply and demand

  1. Irvin Dawid says:

    Did the city look at the two types of motorists who use parking?
    1. Employees of downtown businesses, e.g. commuters
    2. Visitors to downtown, primarily shoppers

    Obviously those parking in the neighborhoods are primarily, if not entirely, the former (in addition to residents), but the two classes of parkers are related – as the city needs to figure out how to manage the existing downtown parking supply – which would be to spit between the two classes. It would seem that if one is concerned only with the RPP, you might restrict yourself to talking about providing parking for commuters only.

  2. admin says:

    The city is just starting on studies that will help make decisions about parking. But they are focusing primarily on employee/commuter parking, because that is where they are seeing the crunch, and overflow into neighborhoods.

  3. Ian Turner says:

    If it costs $60,000 to build a parking space, perhaps we should charge accordingly? Just a thought.

  4. Adina says:

    There are limits in California state law – a city can’t make a profit on selling parking space. I am not sure if the price can include capital costs.

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