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San Diego Looks For A Place To Park All The Cars

— 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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