In her letter to the Planet (12/8-9), Deborah Bahdia of the Downtown Berkeley Association suggests that the draft General Plan’s Transportation Element is “not balanced” with respect to parking and transit.
She is mistaken. The Plan includes 11 policies and 43 actions related to parking, including actions that specifically call for improving the parking situation for visitors to the Downtown. It has nine policies and 45 actions related to transit.
For years, the city has, on paper, been committed to transit, but much more has actually been done to accommodate cars than to improve things for transit riders. The City subsidizes parking in its Downtown garages and lots by offering an hour of free parking. About 260 cars park for free each day in the Center Street Garage. Parking is also free on Sundays. And during weekends in December, shoppers in Downtown can also park at meters for free. By charging less than the market rate charged by private garages, the City forgoes tens of thousands of dollars in revenue each year. The Downtown property owners who Ms. Bahdia represents have benefited substantially from these generous subsidies.
Things are beginning to change. Balance is being restored. The City recently initiated the Eco Pass transit subsidy program for City employees. The Draft General Plan includes other actions for encouraging transit, as well as bicycling and walking.
Unlike the Downtown Berkeley Association, the Planning Commission has to take a broader view of transportation issues. It has to consider not only shoppers from out of town who complain when they can’t park right in front of a Downtown business, but also Berkeley residents concerned about the growing volume of traffic, which is overflowing onto neighborhood streets. The General Plan EIR identifies traffic as the biggest environmental impact facing the City. The commission also has to consider the mobility needs of the one fifth of Berkeley residents who don’t have cars.
The challenge is to accommodate some job and housing growth as well as growth in the Arts District without adding additional traffic and air pollution. This can be achieved by a relatively modest mode shift from cars to transit, bicycles and walking. Most drivers will continue to drive, but if a smaller percentage of trips are made by car, then growth can be accommodated without detrimental environmental impacts. The General Plan Transportation Element and the TDM Study recommendations provide the means for meeting this challenge.
chair, Berkeley Planning Commission