San Jose officials want to cut the level of greenhouse gas emissions downtown. The city’s solution is to eliminate parking space mandates for developers.
The downtown area is expected to experience dramatic growth over the next decades, and officials want commuters to lean more toward public transit. City officials are also exploring the use of wider bus-only lanes, and bike and pedestrian networks. The plan is part of a larger goal to make sure that no more than 25% of commuter trips are made by solo drivers by 2040.
A first step would be a reduction in cars. That could happen through the elimination of existing parking space requirements for downtown developments. Under existing regulations, developers must meet a specific ratio of parking spaces to the number of units or to square footage. If amended, developers would be the ones to provide these ratios per project, along with alternative transportation solutions in their development proposals.
At a Tuesday meeting of the downtown parking board, city officials said the policy is simply looking to give developers the power to decide how much parking they need, without being tied to existing requirements.
“We know that transportation in San Jose is the single most impactful producer of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jessica Zenk, the city’s deputy transportation director. “When there’s a lot of parking, people will drive more.”
The parking board heard the proposal and directed city officials to come back with solutions later in the year.
‘Not there yet’
The proposal frustrated some residents and business owners.
“If you have a residential area, you still have people who require cars,” said Wolfram Schneider, a representative of the downtown parking board. “Where do they park?”
Downtown resident Bill Souders told San José Spotlight that while the long-term plans are important, some consideration should be paid to residents who currently live downtown. Many existing residents, like him, don’t drive often but own a car. He suggests the city consider providing parking permits for downtown residents, allowing for free street parking at existing meters.
Though he’s supportive of development downtown and the city’s push for less greenhouse gas emissions, he also wants to ensure residents receive the same consideration as neighborhoods that have permits. While the city pushes for more use of public transportation, Souders asks for “interim” solutions for those who depend on cars to get to and from work and school.
“Imagine what it’s like down here during a Sharks game and things going on at the theaters and a convention. It’s madness down here,” Souders said. “The downtown neighborhoods, where the majority of new development is planned, deserve some consideration through this transition. We are not there yet. The quality of life for residents in the downtown core and on the east side is going to continue to diminish if we do not address current automobile ownership.”
Tall order for businesses
Business owners are also concerned about the reduction in parking spaces, including David Heindel.
“If you take the parking away from the front of my business, I go out of business,” Heindel said. “I would urge you to think a lot about how you’re factoring in the retail spaces on the ground floor in downtown with your efforts to essentially move people downtown.”
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 dedicated to retail sales.
City officials have said previously that getting rid of parking requirements will help decrease the cost of construction for housing developments and reduce the reliance on cars for transportation. For example, city officials cited a UC Berkeley study that says parking costs an additional $36,000 for every unit of affordable housing built in a project.
Officials also claim, according to studies, that eliminating parking spaces per development will allow residents better access to storefronts and public transportation since parking lots take up space and place entrances further from walking distance.
“Too much parking disincentivizes you from walking or taking transit,” Zenk said.
According to city and census data, though, it’s a tall order: Three out of four commuter trips in San Jose are made by one person occupying a single vehicle. Fewer than 5% of work trips are made on public transit, which is limited and lengthy compared to those who commute from neighboring communities.
The city also hopes this plan will save lives. There have been 5,801 car crashes from 2016 to 2020, with “high-collision” areas along Santa Clara Street, First Street and 10th and 11th streets. Fatalities have been significant as well, with 29 out of 42 deaths among pedestrians and cyclists. Officials hope a shift from cars to better transit options will help reduce those numbers.
The San Jose City Council will make a final decision on the policy at a later date.