News

Guest opinion: Simplify getting to downtown Mountain View without adding parking

A woman walks down a nearly empty Castro Street in Mountain View on Dec. 21, 2020. Photo by Olivia Treynor.

During the pandemic, Mountain View opened up Castro Street in downtown to pedestrians, keeping the downtown vital even as the pandemic raged. This change, made hastily in the middle of a crisis, is perhaps the best thing to happen to our downtown in decades. The success of the opening of Castro Street helps to lay bare one of the core truths of our downtown — that it succeeds in spite of, and not because of, cars. Currently many if not most people visit downtown using their car. Unfortunately for them, the experience is marred by the frustration of dealing with parking — on a busy night, you may be stuck for minutes simply getting to a garage. You then have to find an empty spot, walk down the stairs, and then walk anywhere from 100 feet to half a mile to get to your actual destination.

I would posit that a better world is possible. You should not need a car in order to enjoy the amenities that our city has to offer. In a better world we would have a plethora of housing built near our downtown such that anyone who wanted to could reasonably afford to live within easy walking distance; our streets would be so calm and safe that anyone would be comfortable riding their bike across the city on a Friday night; our buses would be frequent and fast enough that, rather than spending 10 minutes trying to park or waiting for an Uber that may never come, you could instead wait five minutes for the bus home; and visitors from up and down the Peninsula would be able to take Caltrain downtown and then walk or bike to their destination as their preferences dictated, without needing to clog up Mountain View’s roads with their cars. And, of course, we would still have parking garages, but they would no longer be the only option for most people.

But that is not the world that we live in. Few people live within walking distance of downtown, our streets are not comfortable or safe enough to bike on at night, and there is little transit serving downtown, especially at peak hours.

Unfortunately, the City Council has not prioritized fixing these issues. Instead, we are actively considering spending public funds on building up more parking. On Tuesday, Aug. 24, the council will be considering spending $24 million to construct a new garage, partially using funds extracted from an affordable housing development. In the best-case scenario, this garage will sit largely empty and serve as excess capacity to allow people to park slightly closer to their destinations. In the worst case, the garage will be full and we will have yet more traffic on our roads. More car traffic means more people dying in crashes, more children developing asthma from tailpipe emissions and tire dust, more greenhouse gases warming our planet, and more time wasted sitting in traffic.

At left, the El Camino Real and Showers Drive bus stop, where an average of 611 people got on or off the bus every weekday in 2019. On the right is downtown garage 3, with 408 parking spaces. It takes up an acre of city land, would cost $20 to $25 million to build today, and is rarely more than half full. Photos by James Kuszmaul.

If those reasons are not enough for you, then perhaps the expense of the endeavor will give you pause. Palo Alto recently built a 636-space garage for $50 million ($78,000 per spot), plus the cost of land and more than $1 million per year in maintenance — in contrast, this is probably enough to run two to three times the current Mountain View community shuttle’s service indefinitely, and even in 2019 the community shuttle had 750 riders per weekday — likely as many people as that Palo Alto garage will be serving.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Mountain View Online for as little as $5/month.

Join

Change is hard. Local businesses already operate on tight margins, and any change can feel like an unnecessary risk. But the fact is that the status quo is untenable — it is impossible to get new customers by adding parking, because adding parking means adding traffic, which makes it harder to get downtown, and a restaurant right next to a high-traffic thoroughfare is far less desirable than one on a pedestrian plaza. If we truly want to grow and invigorate our downtown while prioritizing the health, safety, and sustainability of our community, then the only logical choice is to immediately stop building new parking and spend the money we save on making it easier to travel downtown. A better world is possible, and there is no better time to start than the present.

James Kuszmaul is a Mountain View resident.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

The Voice publishes guest opinions, editorials and letters to the editor online on a regular basis. Submit signed op-eds of no more than 750 words or letters to the editor of up to 350 words to [email protected]

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Guest opinion: Simplify getting to downtown Mountain View without adding parking

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Aug 24, 2021, 1:51 pm

During the pandemic, Mountain View opened up Castro Street in downtown to pedestrians, keeping the downtown vital even as the pandemic raged. This change, made hastily in the middle of a crisis, is perhaps the best thing to happen to our downtown in decades. The success of the opening of Castro Street helps to lay bare one of the core truths of our downtown — that it succeeds in spite of, and not because of, cars. Currently many if not most people visit downtown using their car. Unfortunately for them, the experience is marred by the frustration of dealing with parking — on a busy night, you may be stuck for minutes simply getting to a garage. You then have to find an empty spot, walk down the stairs, and then walk anywhere from 100 feet to half a mile to get to your actual destination.

I would posit that a better world is possible. You should not need a car in order to enjoy the amenities that our city has to offer. In a better world we would have a plethora of housing built near our downtown such that anyone who wanted to could reasonably afford to live within easy walking distance; our streets would be so calm and safe that anyone would be comfortable riding their bike across the city on a Friday night; our buses would be frequent and fast enough that, rather than spending 10 minutes trying to park or waiting for an Uber that may never come, you could instead wait five minutes for the bus home; and visitors from up and down the Peninsula would be able to take Caltrain downtown and then walk or bike to their destination as their preferences dictated, without needing to clog up Mountain View’s roads with their cars. And, of course, we would still have parking garages, but they would no longer be the only option for most people.

But that is not the world that we live in. Few people live within walking distance of downtown, our streets are not comfortable or safe enough to bike on at night, and there is little transit serving downtown, especially at peak hours.

Unfortunately, the City Council has not prioritized fixing these issues. Instead, we are actively considering spending public funds on building up more parking. On Tuesday, Aug. 24, the council will be considering spending $24 million to construct a new garage, partially using funds extracted from an affordable housing development. In the best-case scenario, this garage will sit largely empty and serve as excess capacity to allow people to park slightly closer to their destinations. In the worst case, the garage will be full and we will have yet more traffic on our roads. More car traffic means more people dying in crashes, more children developing asthma from tailpipe emissions and tire dust, more greenhouse gases warming our planet, and more time wasted sitting in traffic.

If those reasons are not enough for you, then perhaps the expense of the endeavor will give you pause. Palo Alto recently built a 636-space garage for $50 million ($78,000 per spot), plus the cost of land and more than $1 million per year in maintenance — in contrast, this is probably enough to run two to three times the current Mountain View community shuttle’s service indefinitely, and even in 2019 the community shuttle had 750 riders per weekday — likely as many people as that Palo Alto garage will be serving.

Change is hard. Local businesses already operate on tight margins, and any change can feel like an unnecessary risk. But the fact is that the status quo is untenable — it is impossible to get new customers by adding parking, because adding parking means adding traffic, which makes it harder to get downtown, and a restaurant right next to a high-traffic thoroughfare is far less desirable than one on a pedestrian plaza. If we truly want to grow and invigorate our downtown while prioritizing the health, safety, and sustainability of our community, then the only logical choice is to immediately stop building new parking and spend the money we save on making it easier to travel downtown. A better world is possible, and there is no better time to start than the present.

James Kuszmaul is a Mountain View resident.

The Voice publishes guest opinions, editorials and letters to the editor online on a regular basis. Submit signed op-eds of no more than 750 words or letters to the editor of up to 350 words to [email protected]

Comments

A Talking Cat
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2021 at 2:42 pm
A Talking Cat, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 24, 2021 at 2:42 pm

100% agree. A parking space is very expensive real estate, given away for free, that we all subsidize. Use our money to make it safe to NOT be in a car!

Web Link


Anne Johnston
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Aug 24, 2021 at 2:44 pm
Anne Johnston, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Aug 24, 2021 at 2:44 pm

I couldn't agree more with James Kuszmaul's thoughtful article. Opening Castro Street up to vehicular parking so parking places could be restored is not a sensible solution to the problem. Finding a parking place on Castro has always been more a matter of wishful thinking than a rational plan. Creative alternate ideas make much more sense. Clever links could be created to be added to the web sites of local restaurants & businesses so that people could plan ahead. If Caltrain is going to be electrified, a closure will be necessary anyway so let's plan ahead!


mlvdv
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Aug 24, 2021 at 3:04 pm
mlvdv, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Aug 24, 2021 at 3:04 pm

Thank you James Kuszmaul! This piece absolutely nails the importance of these decisions, presenting a constructive and appealing alternative to the status quo. I have lived in places that more closely resemble Kusmaul's vision, and it was transformative. I would love to see Mountain View create that better future, starting immediately.


Lauritzen
Registered user
Gemello
on Aug 24, 2021 at 5:50 pm
Lauritzen, Gemello
Registered user
on Aug 24, 2021 at 5:50 pm

I have tried to ride my bike versus my son riding his car to downtown, and I can beat him every time. No racing necessary. The solution is easy; IMPROVE BIKE SAFETY. Recent studies show it's beneficial across society from economics to health.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Aug 25, 2021 at 5:08 pm
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2021 at 5:08 pm

Hear, hear.

Building new parking garages in 2021 is not only a waste of public funds, it's a form of climate change denial. There is no world in which we successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions without reducing vehicle miles traveled.

California currently plans to ban the sale of gas cars by 2035, but that's 14 years away, and existing gas cars will still be on the road for years to come. And even with electric vehicles, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and moving 4000 pounds of car to move one or two humans is always going to be an inefficient use of energy.

Driving will always be an option available. But our city can be cleaner, quieter, safer, healthier, and more accessible if we have more options to walk, bike, scoot, or ride. And since car infrastructure is the most expensive kind of transit infrastructure, we'll actually save money on the deal.


bkengland
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Aug 26, 2021 at 2:05 pm
bkengland, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2021 at 2:05 pm

Totally agree with James. Our city could be more forward thinking on how we handle parking versus prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and on seeking better ways to get folks in and out of our downtown area.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2021 at 4:38 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2021 at 4:38 pm

disagree / It is possible to keep parking number of spots the same, and improve bike and transit. The proposed plan does that in part - higher density (I wish they would aim for 7 stories with 2 below-grade equal to Palo Alto's Webster-Cowper recyclable-steel lot).
My family often walks to downtown (Library, City Hall, performance, restaurants) because it is 15 minutes away - AND WE PLANNED OUR HOME PURCHASES to support that lifestyle.

MAKE parking Fees represent the Cost To provide spots. These are not free to build. With a Council majority unwilling to Take THAT Step, woe is us, no progress!


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.