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Study claims there’s not a crisis in parking

By Erika Fricke Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday March 21, 2001

The much anticipated Transportation Demand Management study, jointly sponsored by the city and the university, revealed some surprising facts about the state of parking in Berkeley: “Lack of parking has more to do with perception than reality,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, a principal for Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates, the group which conducted the study.  

The $90,000, 18-monthlong study found the perceived scarcity stems from the fact that existing parking resources are poorly coordinated. Robert Wrenn, chair of the Planning Commission pointed out that evening visitors downtown complain that they can’t find parking although the Tang Center university parking lot on Bancroft Way is available – to those willing to pay the parking fee.  

“There was no time of day when the parking was completely full,” Tumlin told the audience of about thirty transportation-minded citizens during a presentation of the study Monday night. 

While UC Berkeley lots are at capacity at mid-day, only two of the four city lots are completely full, he said. 

The study also countered the notion that the city is on the verge of a major parking crisis. Downtown growth is estimated to be minimal over the next 10 years. According to the study, to accommodate an increase in the student and UC Berkeley employee population with single occupancy automobiles, 915 new parking spaces would be needed by 2010. The study also pointed out that minor increases in the use of bicycles and transit alternatives would easily accommodate the growth without requiring more parking spots. 

The question of new parking versus alternatives to the single-occupancy auto, was the center of most of the tension and disagreement amongst residents at the study’s unveiling.  

“It comes down to the values of the community; controlling parking is the tool of controlling congestion.” Tumlin said. 

Wrenn said when parking is cheap and easily available, people take their cars rather than using public transportation. When parking is more expensive and harder to find, they use other options. 

Wrenn said he believes the parking is appropriately dense. Citing the figure that parking density is usually at about 85 percent, he called that rate “good.”  

“It’s not easy to find a space but it’s not impossible.” 

Already many people in Berkeley use alternative modes of transportation to get to work or school. Only 15 percent of students, and about half of both UC Berkeley employees and other employees drive alone in their cars. But, the study suggested that those figures could decrease.  

“We need to focus the Transportation Demand Management on improving AC Transit, and the ability to walk and bike,” said Tumlin 

According to the study about 75 percent of people who work or study in Berkeley live within a seven miles of their destination. While people who live within three miles of Berkeley tend to use transportation alternatives, people living four miles or more away from their destination drive at the same rate as people coming from as far away as East Contra Costa County, he said.  

Although questions over parking caps and transit focus provoked controversy, Tumlin was surprised at how often people, “who had historically come down on the opposite sides of the fence,” agreed. The residential neighbors who want less traffic and fewer cars and the businesses that want more parking to bring people downtown both recognized that massive congestion would be a problem. Both sides want a livable city where people can live and play safely and comfortably, and they also want a vibrant and vital downtown.  

One possible mechanism to improve parking availability without increasing supply is to create a coordinating board with all the parking space owners in the city, to make sure that resources can be more flexible. One example of this, said UC Principal Planner Jennifer Lawrence, would be for the university to subsidize church parking lots that aren’t being used during the day, and offer church spaces for UC permit holders.  

But even that proposal is controversial, said graduate student Jonathan Kass, of Students for a Livable City. “There’s really a compromise in just managing parking more efficiently,” he said, because that means more cars and more traffic. 

The study, which examined the area surrounding the UC campus and the southside, did not provide any easy solutions for the community. Instead, the $90,000 Transportation Demand Management study will inform the Berkeley General Plan, the Southside Plan, and the UC development plan, all in progress. Now residents and planners must decide which options to use, according to their goals.  

Those priorities may become clearer when it comes time to allocate funds and hire people. “We need to look at it from a budget standpoint and figure out where we should put money,” said city Planning Director Wendy Cosin. “Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get specific about what we can feasibly implement and what it would cost.”