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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