Downtown currently lacks some 900 parking spaces, according to a recent city estimate, resulting in parked-up streets in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown and in frustrated residents.
But the situation is expected to get much worse with the completion of major new developments. These include the Epiphany Hotel that will open at the former Casa Olga on Hamilton Avenue and at least three four-story office buildings within a few blocks of each other — Lytton Gateway on Alma Street at Lytton Avenue, 135 Hamilton Ave. and 240 Hamilton Ave.
Just how bad parking's going to get is the question that Eric Filseth and Neilson Buchanan, two residents of the Downtown North neighborhood, have been trying to answer over months of surveys and number crunching. They started with the city's estimate of the parking shortage, then they plugged in other variables: the percentage of new office workers who will take mass transit instead of cars; the increasing number of employees working in existing offices; and all the new building projects.
The analysis, which Filseth and Buchanan presented to the Weekly on Tuesday, indicates that even if 20 percent of the new employees take mass transit, a generous estimate, downtown's parking shortage will rise to 2,500 spaces. This also assumes that offices will have 250 square feet of space for each employee, a traditional ratio that many feel doesn't apply to Silicon Valley's start-ups. A tighter ratio of 100 square feet per one employee would reflect more workers per office and increase the parking shortage by 2016 to more than 3,500 spaces.
The parking model, available at www.paresidentsfirst.org, is interactive and extensible. Users can plug in their own assumptions and see how the changes affect the parking deficit. The model also considers ongoing city initiatives, including the introduction of a valet-parking program in the High Street garage to maximize its use.
In conducting the analysis and inviting participation, Buchanan and Filseth aim to help the city quantify one of its most urgent and complex problems.
Buchanan said the goal of the study isn't to propose solutions but to get to a consensus on what the scope of the problem is. He credited the city's transportation planners with conducting the initial survey, which indicated the shortage of 900 parking spots and identified the downtown blocks that are inundated by cars during the lunch hour. Those include most blocks in the Downtown North neighborhood and a sizable portion of Professorville and University South, located to the south of downtown.
Buchanan said he's been surveying the neighborhood four to five times a month for several months and counting the number of cars parked on every block.
The model he and Filseth developed makes some broad assumptions, including the gradual spread of cars outward in a mostly even manner and the willingness of office workers to take lengthy walks to get from their cars to their desks, a stroll that in some cases would be more than a mile. Though they say it's not uncommon for some employees to walk a long way from Downtown North to get to their workplaces (one person who works at Lyfe Kitchen on Hamilton routinely parks in Downtown North, Buchanan said), it remains to be seen whether employees would be willing to trek all the way from the Junior Museum and Zoo near Embarcadero Road to University Avenue in 2016.
On the map, the model of parked-up streets resembles an archery target with a series of semicircles, each bounded by El Camino Real to the west and the San Francisquito Creek to the north. The first arc, which represents 2014, shows 1,366 extra cars with nowhere to park and encompasses nearly the entire Professorville and University South area, indicating that the few blocks in the neighborhood that still have parking spots will not have them for long. It also shows cars starting to park in the Crescent Park neighborhood, east of Middlefield Road.
By 2015, the shortage of spaces goes up to 1,858 and the arc spreads south and east, past Lincoln Avenue to the east and past Embarcadero to the south. The following year, with the car deficit at more than 2,500, the wave of cars runs over the rest of Crescent Park and pushes further south into Old Palo Alto.
"There's no other place for the cars to go," Filseth said.
The analysis doesn't claim to have the definitive tally for downtown's future parking deficit, but it hopes to get debate going. Users can download the parking model, add new developments as they are proposed, factor in city initiatives such as valet parking and expanded permit parking in downtown garages, and challenge the model's basic assumptions.
Filseth and Buchanan maintain that their intent is neither to blame the city for the worsening parking situation nor to propose a specific answer at this point. It's merely to address a significant limitation of the existing debate — the fact that the city has "no accurate view as to what we are dealing with here," Filseth said.