Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A parking garage, by any other name...

Since we're on the topic of California's planning and development processes, I think I'll take the time to talk about another pet peeve of mine: the misappropriation of transit and air-quality improvement funds to fund automobile projects. This problem is endemic throughout suburban America, and a great number of recent projects in Riverside highlight the issue. The Magnolia Ave. grade separation, for example, was paid for in part by funding received by the city for air quality improvement. (The City of Riverside portion is CMAQ funds.) The Colton Crossing project was sold in part by referring to the benefits it would bring to transit users, although only 7 passenger trains a day (compared to hundreds of freight trains) use that particular section of rail. While funding documents for the upcoming SR-91 HOV project are not yet easily accessible on the Internet, the benefits to transit customers are already being touted by project boosters- despite the fact that only 5 buses a day in each direction will use the lanes. The entire SR-91 Improvement Project, which will cost several hundred million dollars, will be used by only 10 buses in each direction per weekday, and only 4 on weekends. Making it easier to drive will, of course, only lead to increased congestion and the withering of alternative transportation.

The project that prompted this post, however, is a particularly egregious example. It's not located here in Riverside, but in Baldwin Park. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports on the City of Baldwin Park's plans to build a "transit center" adjacent to the present Metrolink station. (I should mention that, as a station on the San Bernardino line, the Baldwin Park Metrolink enjoys some of the most frequent service in the system.) After reading the article, however, I got the impression that this new "transit center" was only tangentially related to transit. The article gushed over the brand new, 500-stall parking structure that would be linked to the train station, and lamented the plight of commuters who currently have to walk two whole blocks to park their personal vehicles (for free!) and access the train. I thought that this might have simply been local media bias, however, so I checked out the project documents. Perhaps there would be an improved bus terminal, or some other improvement worthy of the "transit center" name.

As I feared, the project will add very little in the way of actual improvements to transit service in the area, besides train-adjacent parking. A few bike racks and a possible bus driver's restroom, as well as a transit information kiosk, will be added. Bus riders will still be dropped off on the street, and those unlucky enough to be heading westbound will have to find somewhere to cross the street to access the new pedestrian bridge. (No pedestrian traffic signal is indicated in the project documents.) Also, of the six levels of parking, the project documents suggest that only two will actually be dedicated to transit users.

I don't have anything against park-and-ride facilities per se, and they do serve a purpose in getting regular work commuters on to specialized commuter transit. However, funding for our transit systems is scarce. Park-and-ride facilities actually undermine the goals of local transit agencies, as they allow commuters to take advantage of the benefits of transit for their work trip, while incentivizing their auto use for all other trips they make. Our cities should be focusing on transit projects that reduce automobile dependence, rather than cementing it.

This project is being paid for by a Federal Transit Administration grant, but it is a lot more about getting a sparkly new downtown parking garage for the City of Baldwin Park than it is about transit.


DJB said...

Ideally there would be dense commercial and residential development right around the stations, plus corridors of it approaching the stations to allow for convenient feeder transit service.

Many Metrolink stations seem to be in low-density places that probably don't have a lot of good feeder bus service (although I'm not really familiar with the Baldwin Park station). Parking garages can be good in those situations, but I think drivers should have to pay something to use them. The charge wouldn't even have to be a lot, but I don't think it's right for a transit agency to be subsidizing parking.

There are some BART stations in the East Bay suburbs where you have to pay a dollar a day to park. I don't think a charge like that would put many people off and it at least gets you towards the principle that drivers should pay for some/all of the cost of their own parking directly.

JN said...

Did I mention that the primary "problem" this multi-million dollar facility is intended to solve is the current two-block walk between free park-and-ride parking and the train station? If the area around the current station isn't a good location, it'd be a hell of a lot better use of that space to develop a mixed-use project there and let the drivers get a little exercise.