Three out of four commuter trips in San Jose are made by one person occupying a single vehicle, according to census data. Fewer than 5% of work trips are made on public transit.
San Jose wants to change this by removing a critical part of city driving: parking spaces.
The city is considering cutting minimum parking requirements from new developments and requiring builders to enact policies that reduce the need for private vehicles. San Jose held an outreach meeting Saturday to educate residents about the proposed parking plans, including an information booth at Veggielution.
The city 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.
Removing parking requirements is part of efforts to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled in the city, according to Emily Breslin, climate manager with the San Jose Department of Transportation. She said reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping the city meet its climate change goals.
“Studies have found that when you build more parking, you get an increase in vehicle miles traveled,” Breslin said. “It takes up a lot of space to build a parking space, it decreases the walkability of neighborhoods, it reduces housing affordability and it increases congestion and pollution.”
Stephen Tu, director of transportation policy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the city is moving in the right direction by allowing developers to limit parking. The addition of parking can add $50,000 a space to the cost of a new building, Tu said.
“That cost essentially gets passed to residents and helps make housing less affordable,” Tu told San José Spotlight. “It’s really a chance to rethink how we’re using that land for the storage of vehicles, and looking at other ways we can travel.”
Eugene Bradley, founder of Silicon Valley Transit Users, said free parking is one of easiest ways to keep people in their cars. However, he said based on his conversations with residents, public transit should improve first before parking is slashed.
“It’s a noble idea, once the transit gets better,” Bradley said, adding that VTA’s dual role as a highway builder and transit builder makes the problem more difficult. VTA is designated as a congestion management agency and helps design and build highway improvements such as the Highway 101 and 85 express lane projects.
The main public transit services in San Jose are VTA and Caltrain. VTA cut transit service during the pandemic and is working on restoring light rail operations following the mass shooting at its rail yard in May.
Bradley said things at VTA won’t change until people demand their public officials to prioritize transit.
“VTA ultimately reports to its managers and financiers: you, me and our neighbors… We vote on the subsidies to help fund projects it builds (and) re-elect politicians that serve on its board of directors,” Bradley said. “What am I willing to learn to help make public transit better? Who am I willing to work with to help make that happen?”
Emanuel Jacobo, founder of transportation nonprofit CATLine SJ, said limiting vehicle access to certain parts of the city would help make it less car-centric. He envisions roads such as San Fernando Street in downtown serving only buses, bicycles and pedestrians.
“This is awesome from a planner’s perspective, because it creates pedestrian safety,” Jacobo said. “I think making downtown a no parking zone in general would take away from San Jose being car-centric.”
Jacobo said San Jose and other cities need to think about how their transportation policies impact the climate.
“Sustainability is something that we should be focusing on in the long-run… cars are not really part of a sustainable plan,” Jacobo said. “It won’t be an easy adjustment, but it’s more of a benefit to the community and individuals.”
The City Council will hold a study session on the proposed parking changes on Aug. 27. Breslin said the council will vote on potential changes either at the end of this year or early next year. Readers can learn more about the proposed policies at the city’s website.
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.