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Mountain View adopts new plan to ease downtown parking woes

Mountain View is looking at new ways to manage parking problems around Castro Street. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Paid parking, more enforcement and better wayfinding are now part of Mountain View's plans to better manage limited parking and a crush of demand during the busiest hours on Castro Street.

The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the 220-page downtown parking strategy, designed to make parking less of a hassle during peak lunch and evening hours. Ironically, adding parking spaces takes a backseat in the plan, as city officials look to boost bike and public transit access to the bustling downtown core.

Though COVID-19 has temporarily reduced demand for parking, it is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to city staff. Some of the most popular parking lots and on-street parking are already once again packed to the brim during peak hours.

Listed as a "very high" priority in the plan is demand-based pricing, which essentially introduces paid parking to Mountain View's downtown corridor. To date, all on-street parking and public parking lots are free, which doesn't motivate people to choose alternative modes of travel.

The strategy envisions a tiered pricing system in which the premium parking spots would cost more, and all spaces could be subject to dynamic pricing based on the demand. Hourly costs could range from $0.50 to $5, according to the plan. The proposed premium parking spaces are centered around high-demand areas along Castro Street and nearby blocks, and focus on on-street parking, according to maps created by staff.

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The strategy also seeks to solve widespread parking violations, cracking down on drivers who flout time restrictions on public parking spaces. Though a relatively low priority, city surveys found that some prime parking spaces can be taken up by the same vehicle for upwards of 12 hours.

"No one wants a parking ticket, but consistent and equitable enforcement is a crucial element of an effective parking ecosystem," according to the strategy.

Numerous residents pushed Tuesday for the council to take an environmentally sustainable approach to the downtown parking problem and avoid trying to solve the short supply with a new parking garage. Resident and environmental advocate Bruce Karney encouraged the city to move forward with paid parking, and said that "modest fees" could be reinvested in green tech and bike infrastructure.

"Because of the compact size of our city, many who would otherwise drive would bike or walk to downtown, so let's do what we can to make that happen," Karney said.

James Kuszmaul, a member of the group Mountain View YIMBY, emphasized that the plan explicitly calls out parking and driving as a "cost" to the community, and that Mountain View ought to take active measures to remove parking when demand comes down. Adding more parking simply encourages more people to use a car, he said, and the city should not be building expensive new parking infrastructure.

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David Watson, also a member of Mountain View YIMBY, suggested that downtown commercial development should no longer face a mandate to build parking, which sends the wrong message that more parking is needed. He also made a pitch for paid parking, and said it can be used sparingly based on demand.

"Payment for parking is constantly getting simpler with widespread adoption of smartphone payment systems which will reduce friction for payment," Watson said.

Though the council backed the plan on a quick 7-0 vote, some council members raised concerns that parking will still be needed, regardless of the push to get people out of cars. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said people come from all over the region to support downtown businesses, and that many of those businesses are losing customers because they can't find a place to park.

Matichak said she was on board with the idea of encouraging walking, biking and public transit, but that it won't work for everyone. There are gaps in public transit options, she said, and the city can't fix those problems all on its own.

"It would be great if we could solve that public transit problem, but in the meantime a lot of people are opting to drive and I don't want our businesses to suffer because they can't find a place to park when they get here," Matichak said.

Councilwoman Sally Lieber said the city can take steps to make the community shuttle a more appealing option for people to travel to downtown, and that there needs to be some sensitivity to people who are older and may be less inclined to hop on public transit.

"I think it's great to say 'let's really incentive people to jump on an expensive Caltrain and get to the downtown that way,'" she said. "For the ages of folks who spend money in our restaurants, that may just not be a possibility. And we are in competition with every other downtown on the Peninsula."

Studies of the downtown corridor show that there are arguably plenty of parking spaces already available, just not in the prime, high-demand locations. Parking lots located in the "core" of downtown, near the 100 and 200 blocks of Castro Street, are at or near capacity during busy hours, forcing cars to circulate around looking for a spot to open up.

Meanwhile, parking lots farther south appear to have plenty of space, with surveys showing hundreds of unused spaces in the parking garage at the corner of Bryant and California streets during peak demand. The new parking strategy flags the need for better wayfinding in order to help guide visitors to available parking that may not be obvious.

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Mountain View adopts new plan to ease downtown parking woes

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Nov 10, 2021, 12:34 pm

Paid parking, more enforcement and better wayfinding are now part of Mountain View's plans to better manage limited parking and a crush of demand during the busiest hours on Castro Street.

The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the 220-page downtown parking strategy, designed to make parking less of a hassle during peak lunch and evening hours. Ironically, adding parking spaces takes a backseat in the plan, as city officials look to boost bike and public transit access to the bustling downtown core.

Though COVID-19 has temporarily reduced demand for parking, it is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to city staff. Some of the most popular parking lots and on-street parking are already once again packed to the brim during peak hours.

Listed as a "very high" priority in the plan is demand-based pricing, which essentially introduces paid parking to Mountain View's downtown corridor. To date, all on-street parking and public parking lots are free, which doesn't motivate people to choose alternative modes of travel.

The strategy envisions a tiered pricing system in which the premium parking spots would cost more, and all spaces could be subject to dynamic pricing based on the demand. Hourly costs could range from $0.50 to $5, according to the plan. The proposed premium parking spaces are centered around high-demand areas along Castro Street and nearby blocks, and focus on on-street parking, according to maps created by staff.

The strategy also seeks to solve widespread parking violations, cracking down on drivers who flout time restrictions on public parking spaces. Though a relatively low priority, city surveys found that some prime parking spaces can be taken up by the same vehicle for upwards of 12 hours.

"No one wants a parking ticket, but consistent and equitable enforcement is a crucial element of an effective parking ecosystem," according to the strategy.

Numerous residents pushed Tuesday for the council to take an environmentally sustainable approach to the downtown parking problem and avoid trying to solve the short supply with a new parking garage. Resident and environmental advocate Bruce Karney encouraged the city to move forward with paid parking, and said that "modest fees" could be reinvested in green tech and bike infrastructure.

"Because of the compact size of our city, many who would otherwise drive would bike or walk to downtown, so let's do what we can to make that happen," Karney said.

James Kuszmaul, a member of the group Mountain View YIMBY, emphasized that the plan explicitly calls out parking and driving as a "cost" to the community, and that Mountain View ought to take active measures to remove parking when demand comes down. Adding more parking simply encourages more people to use a car, he said, and the city should not be building expensive new parking infrastructure.

David Watson, also a member of Mountain View YIMBY, suggested that downtown commercial development should no longer face a mandate to build parking, which sends the wrong message that more parking is needed. He also made a pitch for paid parking, and said it can be used sparingly based on demand.

"Payment for parking is constantly getting simpler with widespread adoption of smartphone payment systems which will reduce friction for payment," Watson said.

Though the council backed the plan on a quick 7-0 vote, some council members raised concerns that parking will still be needed, regardless of the push to get people out of cars. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said people come from all over the region to support downtown businesses, and that many of those businesses are losing customers because they can't find a place to park.

Matichak said she was on board with the idea of encouraging walking, biking and public transit, but that it won't work for everyone. There are gaps in public transit options, she said, and the city can't fix those problems all on its own.

"It would be great if we could solve that public transit problem, but in the meantime a lot of people are opting to drive and I don't want our businesses to suffer because they can't find a place to park when they get here," Matichak said.

Councilwoman Sally Lieber said the city can take steps to make the community shuttle a more appealing option for people to travel to downtown, and that there needs to be some sensitivity to people who are older and may be less inclined to hop on public transit.

"I think it's great to say 'let's really incentive people to jump on an expensive Caltrain and get to the downtown that way,'" she said. "For the ages of folks who spend money in our restaurants, that may just not be a possibility. And we are in competition with every other downtown on the Peninsula."

Studies of the downtown corridor show that there are arguably plenty of parking spaces already available, just not in the prime, high-demand locations. Parking lots located in the "core" of downtown, near the 100 and 200 blocks of Castro Street, are at or near capacity during busy hours, forcing cars to circulate around looking for a spot to open up.

Meanwhile, parking lots farther south appear to have plenty of space, with surveys showing hundreds of unused spaces in the parking garage at the corner of Bryant and California streets during peak demand. The new parking strategy flags the need for better wayfinding in order to help guide visitors to available parking that may not be obvious.

Comments

LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:05 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:05 pm

This is perfect now that the shopping is disappearing downtown and everything is either vacant or a restaurant of some sort. No need to worry about people not driving there if there's no shopping going on anyway! There might be some impact on the restaurants though if only people willing to pay to park can come to eat there, but they could always work out some sort of way to validate. This is done a lot in downtown San Jose. Just because it's paid doesn't mean the customer has to break out the cost separately.


Dan Waylonis
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:12 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:12 pm

Seems like rather than wishful thinking and guess work, council could poll people in downtown for a couple weeks to get an actual picture of how they prefer to travel. I suspect walking, biking, and public transit are very low on the list.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:27 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:27 pm

Paid parking is a great solution for those with high disposable incomes. The gentrification of MV continues!

"Studies of the downtown corridor show that there are arguably plenty of parking spaces already available, just not in the prime, high-demand locations."

If this is true, another alternative would be to run a shuttle that allowed people to park and ride to prime locations. It could be like the Disney trams, which I always loved as a kid. Or like the retro and unique trolley cars that run in SF along some lines. Maybe make them like monopoly pieces or something consistent with the MV logo. Make the shuttle fun, and it could even be an attribute that encourages more people to come and visit of our fine city!

When encouraging change, one can either reach for carrots or sticks. Reaching for carrots to ease parking woes and reduce traffic congestion would involve PROVIDING ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION that does a great job and makes it easy to get around. Reaching for sticks, on the other hand, involve changes to make it more painful to use a car. Such solutions will hurt those who have less disposable income, and those challenged physically and are unable to bike or walk great distances; they have a whiff of both ageism and ableism about them.

""It would be great if we could solve that public transit problem."

This ^^^^^^.

I'd much rather see our city reaching for better transportation alternatives, instead of simply reaching to punish those who drive cars.


Old Steve
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:57 pm
Old Steve, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:57 pm

Given how much it costs to own and operate most vehicles, nominal parking charges could help fund additional localized transportation options. If you can't afford to park, you probably are not working and can adjust to off-peak hours downtown. With a little planning, many of us might be able to use the existing community shuttle program for some of our downtown trips, again easier if one has time, rather than money to spare. We have some time to figure this out, as downtown restaurants don't seem quite ready to return to full indoor capacity.


Frank Richards
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:58 pm
Frank Richards, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 10, 2021 at 4:58 pm

Leslie, we provide car owners with truckloads of carrots, and I think calling taking back one of them (free parking subsidized by taxpayers) "reaching for the stick" is more than a little out of touch.


Jon B
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Nov 11, 2021 at 7:13 am
Jon B, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2021 at 7:13 am

Not everyone in Mountain View is rich; there are still a few middle and working class residents left. ‘No’ to paid parking. I avoid downtown SJ for that reason, and will shop in Los Altos or Sunnyvale if paid parking is implemented.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 11, 2021 at 10:48 am
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2021 at 10:48 am

Old Steve, the community shuttle Web Link is a lovely service to get around most of Mountain View, but it only operates from 10am to 6pm. I would love to be able to use it to go downtown for dinner, but the shuttle schedule does not permit that.

I've examined the 220-page strategy document. Chapter 2 summarizes the existing conditions analysis, but did not contain any kind of information about public transportation options during peak periods. Top Fact 10 is "Some parking supply could be "created" by improving access to existing spaces", however something like a shuttle was apparently not even considered. Lol on the word "some". Discussion is about "improved wayfinding and information" and "an expanded valet program". Again, a shuttle was not considered.

In Chapter 3, the guiding principles for the Strategy Toolkit include "Comprehensive" "Equitable", and "Efficient".

- Failure to consider public transportation options like a downtown-centric shuttle during peak hours means that the examination to date has not been comprehensive.

- Under Equitable, I like "the overall package of strategies should equitably balance public costs and benefits to meet the needs of everyone who lives, works, and visits downtown". However, those words are sandwiched between anti-car language that leads me to believe that the goal is to please anti-car advocates (reduce spending on car-centric models), rather than on actually focusing on the NEEDS OF ALL PERSONS, including low-income and average wage earners. Service workers need access to downtown too.

- Efficient: "Managing the existing public parking supply is the best way to support parking demands". Yes!

I think a shuttle that ran during peak hours and includes stops at all key public parking structures would 1) RAPIDLY improve wayfinding, 2) be EQUITABLE to all wage earners, and 3) be highly EFFICIENT. Make the shuttle FUN, and people will want to use it.

We don't need to spend years solving this problem, it could be solved today.


Old Steve
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Nov 11, 2021 at 2:24 pm
Old Steve, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2021 at 2:24 pm

As I pointed out, paid parking could be used to fund such a shuttle. As for when is "peak time", on weekends in my family, we are frequently looking for dinner before 6pm. We are lucky to be able to walk or bike to downtown. Clearly, not everybody can do that. Equally clearly, more people will at least consider it if parking downtown is more highly regulated. So if we want a shuttle, and parking enforcement, the easiest way is a nominal charge for the parking. Nominal being the key word. In actual, urban downtowns like SF or SJ, parking charges are certainly not nominal. Folks who live in Mtn Vw but will shop in Los Altos if our parking is not free -- Don't forget to include the extra carbon costs of your extended shopping trip.=))


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:55 am
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:55 am

Is MV so poor that we cannot afford to fund a relatively cheap, downtown centric shuttle that runs during peak hours and includes stops at all key public parking structures?

There are extravagant plans to turn downtown into a pedestrian mall, where is the funding for that coming from? A survey was circulated to gauge support for each of three options; no cost information was provided on it. The winner was "option C" which is much more expensive than the other two choices. We have the funding for that, but we have to find more to run a simple shuttle that could IMMEDIATELY help alleviate the "crush of demand during the busiest hours on Castro Street"?

Paid parking is a solution that hurts low-income and average wage-earners much more than those with high incomes, who can easily pay for parking or even an uber. If we are trying to make MV more hospitable to low-income and average wage-earners (that's why we are urbanizing our little suburb, right? to bring the cost of housing down?), paid parking is not the way to do it.

Googlers won't need to pay for expensive parking on the days they decide against eating at work for free, they can take a bus instead Web Link ; it runs during both peak lunch and dinner hours. Perfect! I have no doubt that once the NBPP is complete, a shuttle will be provided to allow the techies living in that little slice of heaven ("close to jobs") access to downtown.

But what about those of us who live here but don't work for Google? Levying fines on those who use cars is disproportionally unfair to low-income and average-income people if they have no other viable alternative.

Increasing density while removing parking is cruel unless ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION is provided. Providing shuttle(s), etc. is a NECESSITY if people are to leave their cars at home. IMHO, Google could generate much goodwill by providing a downtown shuttle; it could even be cute: "SEARCH-ing for parking? Climb aboard!"


Dave K
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 1:51 pm
Dave K, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 1:51 pm

Another consideration with paid parking lots is the (un)reliability of automated payment collection systems. Unless the paid parking lot has a human attendant (and they are rare these days), a driver can get stuck behind a gate when the payment machine has broken down or the ticket is unreadable. This leaves one stranded for an unknown period of time. This has happened to me more than once, and so I tend to avoid non-attended paid parking lots whenever possible. Converting the currently free lots in Mountain View to such paid lots will thus have me looking elsewhere for shopping and dining.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Nov 14, 2021 at 7:51 am
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 7:51 am

There's nothing ironic about the fact that free parking leads to congested parking lots; that parked cars take up huge amounts of square footage, which artificially increases the physical distance between locations; and that parking lots are extremely expensive uses of land (not to mention the cost of building garages).

You've probably heard of these issues or thought about them yourself. More and more people have woken up to this. "The High Cost of Free Parking" by Donald Shoup was published in 2005.

It's not about banning cars, it's about more effectively using the public resources we have. Charging a modest parking fee based on demand actually HELPS the people who DO need to drive and who DO need a closer parking space. I'm an able-bodied man who enjoys biking. But if it's free for me to park in the most desirable location, why wouldn't I drive a car there instead of biking? But when I do, I'm taking the parking space away from someone who couldn't bike, and would actually be pretty happy to pay a couple bucks to save thirty minutes of circling.

It's like charging a modest fee for plastic bags at the grocery store. It sure felt annoying when it was introduced. And people probably raised concerns about people who need the bags. But you know what happened? A gentle nudge was all it took and now bag reuse is commonplace.


Tal Shaya
Registered user
another community
on Nov 14, 2021 at 12:54 pm
Tal Shaya, another community
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 12:54 pm

Discouraging parking, and/or limiting parking to wealthy techies, are not solutions. Paid parking contributes to income inequality.

Parking is already severely limited in downtown Mtn. View. I was to meet a friend on Castro St. but could not find parking in a four block radius. This is what happens when a quiet street becomes a metro center. It's poor planning.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Nov 14, 2021 at 1:00 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 1:00 pm

You don't have to shop in Sunnyvale or Los Altos if they put in parking fees downtown. There are really almost NO stores left at which to shop in downtown. It's changed a lot fairly recently. Even the food places open up and close down after less than a year when they try to operate downtown. So many storefronts have become empty. The buildings are being used for OFFICE SPACE. Now, it's a question whether that will continue with the new work styles people have learned to use. We could lose even the office occupants. It's mostly the potential workers who need parking downtown. The free lots are being filled up by workers at the various companies located there, including on the side streets. The other case is people patronizing the restaurants mostly outside of work hours, e.g. at night. It should be called Restaurant Row rather than downtown. The rents for the restaurants are already higher than many alternate locations which do include parking for diners.

The SHOPPING has already moved elsewhere. The Grant Plaza center with the Nob Hill, 99 Ranch and City Sports gym is very very busy and there is plenty of parking free available there. They have enough that they fence some off and do not use it. Or, just go to Walmart or Target. Free parking! Frankly, most people are already doing this, if they don't order from Amazon. That's what's led downtown into becoming an office park with a restaurant row.


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