Public Comment

Commentary: Another Planning Student’s Perspective on Bus Rapid Transit

By Juju Wang
Tuesday March 04, 2008

I am a senior major in Civil Engineering and City Planning at UC Berkeley. I am very interested in transportation planning, especially parking policies. Recently, I came across a parking study "The Smart Parking Seminar" conducted by the Metropolitan Transportation Committee (MTC.) The allocation, use of limited on and off street parking resources, and parking policies continue to be highly debated issues both locally and nationally. The MTC's parking study identifies some local parking policies, requirements, and recommendations to "managing constrained parking conditions with smart growth and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policies and programs." Here's my thought on the parking study. 

Out of the ten cities that the MTC chose to do this study on, I am mainly interested in parking requirements and reformation in the city of Berkeley. Although the parking study provided useful method to promote smart growth, they are all long range plans. More immediate policies should be applied to regulate parking turnover, spillover, and vehicle cursing. For example, in the city of Berkeley, the meter rate has not been raised since 1992 (City of Berkeley). In most of the areas of the city, the rate still sits at one dollar per hour; whereas in San Francisco, the on street parking rates varies from one dollar and fifty cents near the edge of the city to three dollars in the financial district (SFMTA.) The under-priced parking meters have attracted many tourists and shoppers to hunt for on street parking spots; this directly leads to the reason of underutilized off street parking garages. On a good day, according to the garage owner in Berkeley, only 70% of the garage parking spaces are full; whereas close to 90% of on street parking spaces are taken (Studio 2007.) The underutilized off street parking issue can be solved by raising the on street parking rates to the rates of garage parking or higher. The policy not only is easy to implement, but also, it will have big impacts on decrease vehicle cursing, and increase parking turnover. Because this "increase on street parking price" policy also helps to induce a more diverse travel behavior, a transit and pedestrian friendly environment can be deploy in the city of Berkeley. 

One of the suggestions that the MTC put forward is the establishment of the Parking Benefit District where money from parking meters can be earmarked specifically for benefits for the local neighborhood. However, the Parking Benefit District proposal is not recommended to Berkeley. In order to fully achieve smart growth and TOD, a parking benefit district should be introduced to downtown Berkeley. In addition, the money generated from the meter should not only be used towards transportation related issue; they should also be used towards components of smart growth such as street cleaning, tree planting, and security enforcing at night. Some of the revenues should be allocate to parking enforcement. 

Of all the recommendations MTC made, one issue that has not been addressed, yet has a huge impact on transit efficiency and safety is the issue of delivery vehicles double parked in the middle of a busy traffic lane. A doubled parked delivery truck can block bus from pulling into the bus stop. Most bus drivers have no choice but to let their passengers get off in the middle of the street. Alternatively, a policy such as designate parking spots in the front of shops for delivery trucks can be sought (SFMTA.) More loading and unloading zone can push the on street to off street parking as private vehicles parked in violation of the restriction will be towed; and thus reinforcing the benefits that were previously stated. This policy is adopted by the city of San Francisco; it has been working effectively. 

The last immediate policy that can be adopted by the city business shops is the Parking Cash Out program. This program allows employers to give workers an option to take cash equivalent of parking subsidy offered. According to one of Shoup's study, when the parking cash out program is implemented, the number of cars that driven to work decreased by 33% (Shoup.) As more employees convert to transit users, and carpoolers, more parking spaces are left to the customers and visitors. 

Although the Smart Parking Seminar initiates many parking problems in the selected cities, and offers solutions to address such problems, it fails to provide transportation alternatives that can make the cities more multimodal. Overall, it is unclear to reader if the parking policies introduced in the Smart Parking document is guided by the TOD policy – i.e. to encourage alternatives to single occupancy vehicles. In order to achieve Smart Growth, parking supply in city downtown area must be limited. As an alternative, new, fast, and convenient transportation modes such as BRT can be introduced. One way to achieve TOD is to start with small pilot projects where proposals can be evaluated prior to their full implementation. 


Juju Wang is a UC Berkeley student. This commentary was part of a class assignment for City Planning 110.