At the meet-up, we had a short discussion of suburban park-and-rides that got me thinking. Giant parking garages are really a double-edged sword.
First, I’d like to dismiss the utopian-environmental argument that potential train riders will take the bus to the park-and-ride if there is inadequate parking. This is nuts. The whole idea of using transit for strictly local travel doesn’t really take off until non-car-ownership is a reasonably convenient option, which it most definitely is not in the suburbs. People spurned at the garage will drive to work. So you’re losing ridership, short term.
On the other hand, as Ben pointed out to me this weekend, put too many parking spaces around a station, and you suppress transit-oriented development (TOD). I grew up not far from the Shady Grove terminus of the DC Metro, which has 5,467 parking spaces (!) that totally surround the station Dodger Stadium-style. Now, the rules are a bit different for the end of the line, because you want to capture all those people driving from points north, but it’s been over 20 years now and I can’t help but notice the lack of TOD around that station.
So there’s a definite short-term vs. long-term tension there: put in too little parking, and no one rides your system; put it too much, and you end up suppressing the TOD that’s one of the big benefits of rail in the first place.
There are a couple of courses of action this points to:
(1) Build vertically. If you must have lots of parking, build that garage high so as to not take away vital real estate from long term development options.
(2) Manage demand. As I’ve mentioned previously, a nominal parking fee may allow to utilize resources more effectively. For a buck or two, someone who actually would consider taking a bus, bicycle, or walking, might choose the alternate mode instead of going for the most convenient option. A dollar or two also won’t discourage too many people from riding.
As a fringe benefit, this kind of demand management could fund electronic signs to let drivers know when the lot is full, reducing commuter frustration. As commenters from a previous post suggested, this is a major bummer when you have a train to catch.