Revisiting Emeryville’s Parking Policies

December 7, 2011

Emeryville’s free street parking doesn’t help pay for street maintenance,
and increases car use, maintenance costs and traffic congestion

by Jennifer West, Mayor

December 7, 2011

This fall, in part to improve my service to the Emeryville City Council, I took a class at UC Berkeley on Transportation and Land Use Policy.  This class was part of the graduate degree in Public Policy I’m working on.  What I’ve learned in this class applies directly to Emeryville.


In September of 2010 the city council considered the North Hollis Neighborhood Parking Plan, which relied on a study done in 2008 to assess access to on-street parking. The study pointed out that much of the time, more than 85% of on-street parking spots are occupied in this part of town.  This translates to: it’s hard to find a parking space in the neighborhood, which adversely affects residents, workers and businesses. Last fall, the Council was reluctant to move forward with an already-planned phase-in of paid, on-street parking, electing to wait until the economy picks up.

The first step toward pricing parking more accurately – putting in areas of green curbs with time limits – is designed to discourage people from parking at one spot all day. According to the study, many people who have access off-street private lots use the streets instead.

I believe that it is time to usher in a new era for parking in Emeryville. There are very few places in Berkeley or Oakland where I can park for free all day long. If we need more areas with permits to protect residents, we can do that. If it’s time to charge for hourly parking, we can do that.  Free parking directly subsidizes car-use, and drivers also escape paying their fair share for maintaining the parking spots they constantly use.

This subsidized choice to drive instead of using alternative transportation adds congestion to our streets, increases road maintenance costs and reduces our quality of life. Each of us has the choice, every day, to drive around town, instead of other great options: walk, bicycle, use Emeryville’s free shuttle service, or use public transportation.  To help each of us consider the cost of our decision to drive a car, I believe we should begin to phase out blanket free parking, as neighboring towns long since have done.

The argument for delaying this plan due to economic circumstances is, in my opinion, misguided. The investment in infrastructure – a paid parking system – would be covered within a couple of years by the money collected from the system. After that, the city could apply the revenue to covering street maintenance costs. Thus people who pay for parking would help cover the costs of providing that parking and also – better weigh the cost of using their cars.  The right paid parking system will help make real costs known, while not being a significant burden on car owners.

The positive role of congestion

Traffic! We all hate it, but without it, there would actually be more and more cars on the road!  The wrong answer to congestion is for planners to widen roads or speed up lanes.  This causes “induced demand,” encouraging ever more people choose use their cars for every trip. Then we are right back where we started: congestion, but now – it’s been encouraged and expanded.

I believe that the right answer is to thank congestion for helping us choose to walk more, bike more, use public transportation or share a carpool. If driving is unrealistically easier and cheaper, most of us will continue to rely on our cars. But if the “cost” of driving goes up –  as a result of sitting  in traffic or the cost of the parking spot – most of us will make better, more economical, and perhaps more environmentally sound choices regarding how we get around.

Multi-modal, i.e. not just cars

This brings me to the importance of supporting other modes of transportation: bikes, walking, and transit. There are many improvements that could put Emeryville on the map for supporting alternative modes of transportation. Our new Bike/Pedestrian Plan is wending its way through public input on committees and includes lots of good ideas, some that we have heard before but which perhaps were waiting for an opportune moment.

These ideas range from improving specific intersections to additional bike/pedestrian bridges over the train tracks and the freeway. Crossings on San Pablo, Powell and 40th St. can all be improved. On the UC Davis campus last weekend I saw a bike self-service station with tools on cables and a tire pump, too. What a great addition that would be on our Doyle St. Greenway! Better crosswalks and stencils on the street will make drivers of cars more aware of bikes and pedestrians in town. Closing some streets to through-traffic for cars, while allowing bikes and pedestrians to pass, might also enhance the experience of getting out of the car for residents and workers alike.

A great example is the Emeryville/Berkeley Greenway recently completed on the north end of town.  What progress! Last week I had such a pleasant bike ride to Berkeley Bowl West.  I hope to see many good ideas incorporated into the policy discussions and decisions that we make in Emeryville in 2012, making our home a more vibrant, and a better-balanced town.

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7 Responses to Revisiting Emeryville’s Parking Policies

  1. Arthur Hoff on December 10, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Another significant policy change would be to reduce the number of required parking spaces or even place a maximum on the number of spaces provided. This would not only reduce car use,it would improve building design.

  2. Brian Donahue on December 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    The problem here, built up over time by bad public policy, is a problem of specific entrenched council members at City Hall. These dinosaur politicians have, for reasons of pro-car ideology or protecting their own jobs by the pandering of clueless residents, subverted alternative transportation in our town. Get rid of the problem council members and this parking problem also disappears.
    Not incidentally, it’s not just parking, these same entrenched council members are also pushing bad public policy in other arenas so removing these problem council members will help increase livability for many ways in our town.

  3. mrsleep on January 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    This is crap. This won’t help parking at all, or relieve ANY congestion.
    The only thing it’s going to do is increase revenue for the city from the parking, and more importantly, from the tickets that will get written.

    • Russ Bankson on February 7, 2012 at 6:38 am

      I tend to agree with the sentiments of mrsleep. Despite much theorizing purporting to demonstrate the subsidies being given to automobiles, the arguments are clearly driven by an ideological bias against automobiles. The reference to “clueless residents” suggests that the mandarins in government or those wanting to have their personal agendas adopted believe they know what is best for us. The minimal govt in Emeryville as compared with our “enlightened” neighbors is the reason many of us prefer living in Emeryville and has been responsible for much of its renewal. We do not need to create another bureaucracy and generate unaccountable revenue taken from citizens

      • Brian Donahue on February 7, 2012 at 10:25 pm

        Guess what Russ? Government officials do know more than us (the good ones do), that’s why we pay them. That’s why they’re called LEADERS.
        Oh and all your talk of less government doesn’t cut muster with those that expect government services (all but phony libertarians).
        Any irresponsible politician can continue the BS demands for more free parking in Emeryville to garner cheap votes come election time. It takes a leader to actually solve urban problems. That’s what we’re interested in.

    • Yves Parent on June 14, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      I tend to agree with these statements.

  4. Yves Parent on June 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I don’t believe in “transit first” policies that try to make car driving less attractive to push people into others modes. This is bad nanny governing. Leave the drivers alone and instead provide attractive alternatives. Would owners of nice beamers elect to use your transit offering instead of his car is the question a good transit system needs to answer successfully, without degrading the current car- oriented infrastructure.

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