How San Jose wants you to ditch your car
Vehicles parked along a San Jose street. File photo.

    San Jose has relied on a decades-old parking space policy that has contributed to gridlock and a car-centric culture: Three out of four commuter trips in San Jose are made by one person occupying a single car. City officials are looking for ways around that.

    The San Jose City Council held a meeting Friday to discuss cutting minimum parking requirements from new housing and retail developments and requiring builders to enact policies that reduce the need for private vehicles. Councilmembers listened to a panel of community leaders with varying opinions on parking, driving and public transportation.

    That’s good news for transit enthusiasts and environmentalists. But it could have some unintended consequences for people in often overcrowded low-income housing where parking spots are already limited.

    “I think every city and every community is really unique,” said Councilmember Matt Mahan. “I just want to emphasize we have to get out into the neighborhoods across the entire city and really understand how that lived experience is going to be… We’re not just talking about parking spaces.”

    City officials say parking requirements leave less room for developments such as housing and businesses, which in turn encourages people to drive more instead of using public transit.

    The current city code on parking is based on a decades-old policy that requires developers and businesses to provide a minimum amount of parking. San Jose requires varying amounts of off-street parking for different types of buildings. A multi-dwelling residential building requires 1.7 parking spaces for every two-bedroom housing unit, according to city code. A food, beverage or grocery store requires one parking space per 200 square feet of area dedicated to retail sales.

    The proposed policy would eliminate these requirements, leaving developers free to build parking spots without being tied to a required number.

    The discussion is part of a lofty greenhouse gas emissions goal to reduce solo trips in cars to 25% by 2040.

    “It’s hard to generalize,” said Justin Wang, advocacy manager for the Greenbelt Alliance, a climate change policy group, who was part of Friday’s panel. “But some people have that dream car. But by and large, most of them don’t need a car, especially if they’re in a committed relationship. They share a car. The mobility habits are not quite the same from talking to my parents.”

    Some residents worry that reducing parking minimums will exacerbate traffic woes in neighborhoods with multi-family homes and more affluent single-family home neighborhoods. It’s one of the reasons some oppose Opportunity Housing, a proposal to upzone single-family neighborhoods.

    “The Alum Rock corridor is extremely densely populated,” said Elma Arredondo, co-chair of Alum Rock Urban Village Advocates, a local group pushing for more development in the city’s east side. Arredondo believes the proposal will put further strain on the less-than-ideal public transit options in East San Jose. “Existing public transit is wholly inadequate to serve as a viable alternative for most working-class car users in San Jose.”

    City officials said Friday that the shift in thinking away from cars is critical as San Jose grows. They estimate the city will welcome 120,000 new houses and 382,000 new jobs by 2040.

    “Requiring new development to incorporate sustainable travel options is critically important when we consider the significant amount of growth that’s expected to occur in San Jose over the next several decades,” said Emily Breslin, the climate program manager at the city’s transportation department.

    Parking requirements are a holdover from post-World War II policies that encouraged urban sprawl. But that’s increased the number of vehicle miles traveled for residents over the years. As a result, cities such as Saint Paul, Minnesota, Buffalo, New York, San Francisco and Berkeley have done away with their requirements over the past four years.

    A final decision on the policy will be made by the council in January 2022.

    “When I travel outside my immediate neighborhood, half the journey is just getting past the oceans of parking lots that push every destination further out,” Brian Preskitt of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition told San José Spotlight. “A reduction in parking would draw new businesses in, which makes your world bigger when you’re walking or biking. There are more shops and more jobs within reach.”

    To learn more about the parking update program, click here.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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