Is Parking Part of the Problem, a Potential Solution, or Both?
Why Parking in a Mobility Plan?
Free and abundant parking may sound appealing, but it comes at a high cost. Space that is used for storing cars cannot be used for other types of land uses and activities that generate revenue and jobs, provide housing, or provide a community benefit or amenity. Constructing and operating new parking garages is very expensive, and free or very low-cost parking subsidizes and incentivizes driving, resulting in an increase in vehicle trips and traffic.
The control and management of parking through pricing and availability is a key component of most transportation demand management plans. In numerous studies, parking availability and price has been identified as one of the strongest predictors of how people travel. One examination of travel behavior of residents of transit-oriented development in New Jersey found that the availability of free parking at both the origin and destination of trips was equally important as a predictor of car-use as proximity to transit itself.1
At the same time, ensuring that people are able to readily access employment, services, shopping, recreation, and arts venues is critical to the city’s health and vitality. Having alternatives to private automobile travel that provide comparable levels of access and mobility at a similar or lower cost is critical in order to effectively manage parking and traffic and maintain convenient access for both residents and visitors.
Parking in Walnut Creek Today
Walnut Creek has focused on managing public parking in the Downtown Core Area for several years, and has implemented a number of initiatives that use both price and time limits to regulate demand and ensure availability. The overall supply of publicly available parking spaces (as opposed to private spaces that only certain people can access) in the downtown area is approximately 10,000. Of those, approximately 1,400 are on-street and approximately 1,600 are off-street in metered lots and three municipal garages (Broadway, Lesher Center, and South Locust garages). These numbers are approximate because the number of on-street spaces varies somewhat depending on how close together people park both on-street and in garages. For instance, parking garages can fit more cars when they employ attendant-assisted parking.
Of the total 10,000 publicly-available parking spaces, the 3,000 spaces managed by the City represent about 30% of the total.
Most employers in Walnut Creek provide free, on-site parking for employees. This includes employers clustered around the Walnut Creek BART station, Shadelands’ extensive supply of surface parking, and the two medical centers (John Muir and Kaiser). The City of Walnut Creek subsidizes employees’ parking costs, and monthly employee parking rates in Downtown garages are significantly lower than hourly or daily rates.
In most cases, the provision of parking has been required by the city’s zoning regulations. For example, one parking stall is required for every 250 square feet for new office buildings. While some employment locations have areas of very high parking demand, parking is also over supplied in some cases.
Parking demand is greatest in the city’s Core Area within and around Downtown. The city has been collecting and analyzing parking data since 2001, and following are key observations of how demand has changed over time.
Parking demand has been increasing in Walnut Creek since 2001
- On-street occupancy between 7-8 pm on Friday increased from 87 percent in 2001 to 100 percent in 2013 and 2015.
- The average peak Friday occupancy in municipal garages increased from 71 percent in 2001 to nearly 100 percent in 2015.
Parking demand varies significantly by time of day
- Occupancy peaks during two times of day:
- 12-2 pm
- 6-8 pm and later
Parking demand varies significantly by location
- On-street parking typically has higher occupancy rates than off-street.
- Demand increases for on-street metered spaces the closer they are to downtown.
Parking demand varies somewhat by day of week
- The variation is not as large as by time of day or location.
- For on-street spaces, demand is quite consistent across the days of the week.
- At municipal garages, Sunday and Monday have the lowest demand for the Lesher and South Locust garages; Saturday and Sunday at the Broadway garage.
- Weekdays are the busiest days at all three garages.
The primary goal of the city’s parking management program in Downtown Walnut Creek is to create enough open parking spaces so that customers can find a spot and do not circle Downtown streets searching for parking. Another key objective is encouraging people to park once and walk to multiple destinations Downtown.
The City’s Parking Ordinance:
Establishes 85 percent as the target peak parking occupancy for on-street spaces as well as lots and garages and the ability to adjust parking fees (between $0.00 per hour and $5.00 per hour) as well as hours of operation to achieve that target.
Specifies that to achieve the target 85 percent peak occupancy, the Transportation Commission shall adjust rates up or down by no more than $0.50 per hour at least annually and not more frequently than quarterly.
Parking Revenues Benefit Downtown.
All revenue from municipal parking meters, citations, and garages goes to a city enterprise fund that helps to pay for parking operations and equipment as well as services that benefit downtown such as the downtown trolley, public safety, downtown landscaping, and downtown events.
How Has the City Implemented the Parking Ordinance?
By regulating the cost of parking and time limits, the city has successfully shifted some demand away from the most impacted parking areas in Downtown.
"Purple Pole" meters
Hours of operation
Reduced garage rates
Parking Management is Ongoing. Demand for parking in Downtown continues to exceed the 85 percent occupancy target in some locations. As part of Rethinking Mobility, the city is working to address both parking demand and the need for easy, convenient access to Downtown. This includes further rate and time limit adjustments both on-street and in garages, as well as developing additional alternatives to driving and parking Downtown.
Regulating Parking in New Development
Through its authority to regulate proposed development, the City of Walnut Creek can affect the future supply of parking.
Automobile Parking (Citywide)
Walnut Creek’s parking regulation for automobiles is similar to many North American cities in defining parking minimums in terms of the category and intensity of land use of a particular development. For example, multi-family residential projects are subject to a schedule of parking requirements that is based on the quantity and type of dwelling units (e.g. studio, one-bedroom, etc.) proposed.
Exceptions to this city-wide formula are possible through a few limited avenues:
- As in most cities, requirements can be appealed to the Zoning Administrator on a case-by-case basis due to contextual issues that make the standard parking requirements an undue burden.
- Development in the Core Area of Walnut Creek (roughly encompassing the Downtown Walnut Creek area and land immediately adjacent to the Walnut Creek BART station) are subject to some reductions based on the square footage of the project.
- Development projects in areas identified as Pedestrian Retail Zoning District (mostly located within the Downtown area) can opt to pay in-lieu fees to support municipal parking structures that serve multiple users instead of providing parking on-site.
Bicycle Parking (Citywide)
The City of Walnut Creek currently requires new commercial developments or existing structures undergoing significant alteration to provide secure bicycle parking. This is calculated at 10% of the required automobile parking. Currently, there is no bicycle parking requirement for multifamily housing, although the West and North Downtown Specific Plans have proposed adding such requirements to the city’s Zoning Code.
North Downtown Specific Plan (Draft)
Notable exceptions to the city-wide policies described above can be found in the North Downtown Specific Plan. Due the presence of rich transit, pedestrian, and bicycle facilities in this area, projects within this specific plan are required to provide fewer off-street automobile parking than comparable projects in other parts of Walnut Creek. Additionally, this area contains parking maximums for development projects. Additionally, the specific fund has more rigorous requirements in relationship to bicycle facilities. Depending on the type and size of project, the Plan requires amenities such as long and short-term bicycle parking and showers for bicyclists.
How Are Other Cities Addressing Parking?
Many cities across the nation are experiencing similar problems as Walnut Creek in terms of managing existing supply, anticipating future trends, and addressing emerging forms of mobility.
Seattle – time of day parking pricing and elimination of monthly parking permits
Seattle is an example of a city that uses a more sophisticated approach to setting parking meter rates. In this data-driven approach, the city uses occupancy data to vary rates from morning, afternoon, and evening to find the lowest price where there is almost always at least one parking space on every block. The goal is to make it so that drivers can quickly find a space without needing to circle or double park, which is good for customers and for business.
Denver – using parking meters later into the evening
Parking meters are simply a tool to make it easy to find a parking space when and where stores and restaurants are open and demand for parking is high. Denver is an example of how cities with dynamic downtowns are using parking meters far later into the evening to make sure it is easy to find parking when restaurants, shops, bars, and theaters are open. Denver is not alone in operating meters downtown 24 hours a day (with low rates during the early morning), while other cities use meters until 10pm, midnight, or 2am.
Needs, Challenges, and Opportunities
Walnut Creek’s current approach to parking management reflects years of steady effort to better manage parking to achieve its goals, and Walnut Creek stands out among peer cities in the Bay Area for implementing a successful parking management program. There are opportunities to build on this success in order to address areas where parking demand is exceeding supply through the use of additional pricing mechanisms and operational approaches. Additionally, some driving trips could shift to other modes of transportation through the use of incentives and additional programs, services, or infrastructure.