Leveraging parking supply to achieve TOD goals

By Mary Ebeling

At the September Rail-Volution conference parking emerged as a popular topic of discussion. Yes, that’s right, parking, at a conference on public transit. The packed session rooms reflect the growing awareness that appropriate management of parking availability in transit-rich areas influences people’s decisions to ride transit or choose other modes of transportation. Getting parking availability and pricing right can be a crucial element in a community’s plan to meet its transit ridership goals; and it can be the critical difference between successful transit-oriented development and failed TOD, sometimes known as transit-adjacent development. States and cities operating park and rides at transit nodes should consider TOD for sites where TOD could help achieve goals for economic development and greater mode shift to transit.

TOD is development that maximizes the benefits of transit investments by generating vibrant transit ridership and reduced household VMT. Employees, residents, and shoppers in TOD areas often can access services directly from transit and may not need to use a car at all. Although some commuters may still drive to access transit, there is a significant reduction in VMT over conventional development patterns. Transit-adjacent development does not generate a mode switch from driving to riding transit, although the transit is readily available.

The ratio of available and cheap auto parking plays a role in whether a development functions as a TOD. A successful TOD is essentially a delicate balancing of parking to support commercial activities while de-emphasizing accommodating the car to assist a community in achieving goals of reduced VMT and roadway congestion. Numerous examples of parking management exist, but as a general rule, unmanaged parking at transit stations tends to fill quickly, not always by transit riders. This can lead to commuters choosing to drive rather than ride transit. Stations on the MBTA system in Boston that have managed parking and smart payment systems show higher transit ridership, ranging from 1.9 to 6.6 transit boardings per parked car.

Recent press discussing parking availability at LA Metro’s North Hollywood Station park and ride suggests the concern over parking is widespread. This station presents a useful case study illustrating how development of TOD can help balance transportation modes. Currently, the Red Line carries approximately 350,000 riders a day. The North Hollywood Station is a busy multi-modal transit hub—it is the northernmost stop on Metro’s Red Line with 17,043 daily rail boardings and 27,573 bus boardings in 2013. The Orange Line BRT and numerous local bus routes also stop here. The Orange Line Busway bike path terminates at this station, giving travelers from the west an additional modal option.

These numbers, combined with an increasingly vibrant local arts culture and economy, suggests that the North Hollywood Station could be successfully redeveloped as a TOD. In fact, Los Angeles, a city that in recent years has made significant investments in transit both in its core and in its metro region, is negotiating a public/private-sector partnership to build structured parking on an adjacent parcel to help provide short-term “relief from the parking crunch.” In the longer term, this Metro station is queued for the third phase of Metro’s TOD initiative. This development could include a mix of office, retail and apartments constructed on the land now occupied by the park and ride lot. Additional background on LA Metro’s completed TOD projects and some of the analysis for a TOD at the North Hollywood station is available here.

To assist in these efforts, the parking experts at LA Metro are working on developing plans to manage the agency’s parking assets, and are crafting site-specific parking plans for its transit stations. The agency is working on a comprehensive parking study that will take local context into account, as well as incorporate new technologies such as offering discounted parking rates for transit riders that can be charged using Metro’s transit fare card.  By setting a reasonable fee for parking, this revenue stream can be invested in a variety of ways: back into the immediate area, improving last-mile connections to the parking facilities that feed into the transit system and the park and ride served by it. Better pedestrian connections or additional bicycle parking could be installed at targeted parking facilities that have poor nonmotorized infrastructure to help reach mode split goals. Improving options for non-motorized transportation may also help manage auto parking demand by offering greater modal choice.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.