Menlo Park pursues parking garage; Complete Streets Commission urges alternatives

At its meeting on April 24, the Menlo Park City Council discussed a variety of options to add one or more parking garages on surface parking lots downtown, potentially combined with housing, a movie theater, or other uses; and options to pay for costly structured parking, which can cost upwards of $70,000 per space, as with a garage recently approved in nearby Palo Alto.

According to staff analysis, parking is one of the reasons the city has seen little redevelopment in the core downtown area.  Parcels are small, and it is difficult to shoehorn the required amount of parking into a smallish building.  The city’s 3-story height limit in the area, and the parking requirements for a walkable downtown close to Caltrain and frequent bus service contribute to the difficulty in changing buildings.

City Council has been hearing from residents and affordable housing advocates (disclosure: including this blogger as a resident) in support of considering affordable housing on city-owned land.  The strategy would be similar to the City of San Mateo which recently selected a nonprofit affordable housing developer to build housing and additional parking on downtown surface parking.

However, the city’s Complete Streets Commission wrote a letter expressing concern that the main strategy to address longstanding downtown merchant reports of insufficient parking was to add a parking garage (disclosure: your blogger is on the commission and edited the letter).

The Commissioners recommended   that the city consider a variety of measures to improve downtown access and use parking spaces more efficiently, including:
* transportation demand management programs and benefits for downtown workers modeled after Palo Alto’s successful programs
* partnering with with transportation network companies (Lyft, Uber) to incent visitors to come downtown without driving, during the few hours when parking is tight in the most popular lots
* digital signs to find available parking, since parking is tighter in some lots than others
* use of pricing to manage parking availability; currently the city offers 3-hour fully subsidized visitor parking
* sharing the parking supply provided by new mixed-use buildings being built near downtown on El Camino Real near Caltrain, where the city’s rules required more parking than is typically used that close to a major rail station.

Council decided to appoint a subcommittee to consider recommendations for uses to combine with parking, and other policy changes including lifting the 3-story height limit and moderating the parking requirements, especially for affordable housing; and designing parking so that it could be converted to other uses if parking demand declines with changes in transportation technologies.

The Council also recommended further study of the option to partner with TNCs to help with downtown access during peak parking hours.

The topic will come back for further discussion, for readers who are interested in improving downtown access, and the role of parking and other transportation modes in improving in downtown access.