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San Diego Looks For A Place To Park All The Cars

Evening Edition

— It’s something most of us do every single day: We jump in a car, drive someplace and then we need to find a parking space.

It’s hard to find a civic concern more universal than the need to park a car. And as San Diego’s population rises in the coming decades, it will become more and more difficult to know where we’re going to put all the cars.

To understand our true demand for parking spaces, transportation specialist Alan Hoffman, principal of the Mission Group, said take your car and start to multiply it.

“Every car is going to generate between four and six parking spaces,” said Hoffman. That's what you get when you add up all the parking spaces that are waiting for you at home, at work, at the shopping mall, the grocery store and so forth.

In 2010 there were about 3.1 million people living in San Diego, who owned an estimated 2.1 million cars.

Now, imagine a million more people living in San Diego County by 2030, as demographers predict. Based on what we know about car ownership rates, that’s 685,000 more cars, which Hoffman said will require 37 square miles of additional parking spaces.

“I’ll give you your choice of where you want your 37 square miles,” he said. “We can pave over all of San Diego Bay, all of Mission Bay, all of the city of La Mesa and build a two-story parking garage over all of Balboa Park….”

His other scenarios of parking lot hell are equally alarming. But people in San Diego don’t need to use their imaginations to know what parking demands do to a city. The parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium has 19,000 parking spaces here, and most of the time they’re not even used.

So how do we stop the paving of San Diego? Elyse Lowe, the director of MOVE San Diego, said parking policy needs to be revised. And she gives the example of a downtown parking garage, which enjoys a public subsidy.

“It is actually costs less to park here for month, than it costs to buy a monthly transit pass,” she said.

Her point? The parking subsidy discourages transit use in a place where a trolley station is just one block away. Transit is not practical for all destinations. But Lowe said people should pay the real cost of parking.

“This isn’t about forcing people into transit,” she said. “This is actually about creating choices for people. And by making transit an attractive choice, by reflecting the true cost of parking and driving... this is really where we need to go.”

Another solution to the parking problem is to do something with all the spare pavement we already have in San Diego.

San Diego has a lot of very wide residential streets; up to 52 feet from curb to curb. Hoffman says that’s wide enough to redesign parking, like they did on Kansas Street in North Park, to create “head-in” parking, where cars park at a 90-degree angle to the curb. Hoffman said head-in parking can increase parking spaces by 35 percent.

“So by just going to head-in parking on a very wide street, we can get dozens, maybe hundreds more parking spaces for the price of some paint,” said Hoffman.

Most large parking lots are empty at least 50 percent of the time. Making better use of that space can, for one thing, make our cities more attractive and vital. In North Park, for instance, an empty parking lot is converted to a farmer’s market once a week.

Gary Smith, a member of San Diego’s Downtown Parking Management Group, said we should use those periodically empty lots to park more cars, which belong to people who keep different schedules. He pointed out a commercial building downtown.

“For instance, I could build another three or four high-rise (residential) buildings around this commercial building,” he said, “and satisfy the parking requirements for those buildings in the catacomb that’s beneath the commercial building… because they only use those during the daylight hours. “

About 50 years ago a writer and critic named Lewis Mumford wrote, “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle, is the right to destroy the city.”

Mumford might think San Diego has gone down that path, where people move from one place to another, sealed in their cars, navigating an ocean of asphalt. But optimists like Gary Smith say we don’t have to keep paving the city. We can make better use of what we’ve got.

“In 2006, we did a study. And we found at that time, which was only a few years ago, that there were ten parking spaces in the City of San Diego for every car registered in the city of San Diego,” said Smith.

“Okay… it’s not a shortage of parking. It’s a matter of having the parking where people want to go, and having the parking work correctly.”

Video by Nicholas McVicker

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | February 3, 2012 at 10:10 p.m. ― 5 years ago

If a parking lot gets completely full, it's because we didn't give the spaces to the highest bidder. That's easy to fix with modern parking management technology like SFPark.

In fact, it's waste of taxpayer owned property not to sell to the highest bidder. Why do we allow this in some cases and not in other cases?

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Avatar for user 'blnh'

blnh | February 5, 2012 at 7:23 p.m. ― 5 years ago

Please do a follow up story on car2Go. This is an environmentally friendly way to ease the parking problem, if it catches on.

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Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | February 6, 2012 at 11:25 a.m. ― 5 years ago

Build below grade parking garages beneath new parks around the perimeter of downtown. Charge people who don't use those garages to drive into downtown. Give people an incentive to park at the edge of downtown then walk or take a new downtown shuttle/subway system to get around downtown. Fund the new shuttle/subway system with the revenues from the perimeter below grade parking garages and the congestion fees from those who insist on driving their cars around downtown.

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Avatar for user 'alain_j_perez'

alain_j_perez | February 6, 2012 at 2:31 p.m. ― 5 years ago

I would love to ride public transportation but unfortunately it really doesn't make any sense for me.

I live in La Mesa and work in La Jolla. If I was to take public trans I would spend about 4 hours a day in my round trip. Right now, I spend anywhere from 1 hour on non-traffic hours/days to 1.5 hrs at the most. Do I really want to spend 3 hrs longer inside a bus and trolley. I don't think so.

I'm really sorry, I do care about our planet, and about the air we breath but who has three extra hours per day to spend. Not me!! The best I can do is to drive a very fuel economy car getting me 40+ miles per gallon.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 6, 2012 at 5:52 p.m. ― 5 years ago

Don wood, your suggestions make too much sense and are far too logical to ever be implemented in this town :). But I like your suggestions and the way you are realistic about both automobiles and mass transit.

Unfortunately, San Diego is stuck with the opinion that mass transit is something ony for the poor.

There is a mindset in this town that of you can afford a car, you would never take mass transit.

Of course cities that are not as backwards as ours are proof this is not the case. In cities where mass transit actually goes to white collar corporate areas, people ride it out of convenience, not out of financial necessity.

San Diego and our horrendously horrid SANDAG (who I believe is being sued by the state for their lack of mass transit in SD's long term transportation plan) have this draconian idea that mass transit should only serve poorer neighborhoods. These same officials who plan this then come out in public statements saying noody rides it. It's really a vile wayntomsegregate our city and the planners responsible should be called out.

There is no excuse for having a trolley line that goes all the way to the border and out to east county, but no line connecting downtown with la Jolla.

And not even a simple line up the hill going from downtown to hillcrest and balboa park.

Can you imagine how many people would ride the trolley if tourists staying at downtown hotels could catch it to the zoo?

But again our backwards, segregationist city insists in their SANDAG-induced ignorance to only build the lines to poor mostly minority areas. Of course those areas should have access to mass transit, but to make those the *only* areas with access is quite foul.

Yet one more example of San Diego: America's largest Cowtown!

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | February 6, 2012 at 6:37 p.m. ― 5 years ago

alain_j_perez, the AAA says it costs $8,588 per year to own a car[1]. That means if you gave up a car, you could afford a job closer to home that pays $8,588 per year less than your job in La Jolla. Or you could afford to pay another $716 per month rent to live in La Jolla, or payments on a mortgage $150,000 higher than your current mortgage.


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