Transit Incentives Can’t Make Up for Parking Glut at Cathedral Hill CPMC

A rendering of CPMC's proposed 555-bed hospital and medical office building at Van Ness and Geary. Image: ## CPMC##

Nearly 10,000 additional cars [PDF] are predicted to travel every day to the gigantic Cathedral Hill California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) at Van Ness and Geary after it opens in 2016. While the city is negotiating how much the institution will pay to help mitigate the impacts those cars will have on Muni and pedestrian and bicycle safety, some advocates argue that won’t make up for a fundamental flaw: The medical center will include too much parking.

The 555-bed hospital and medical office building will include more than 1,200 parking spaces. CPMC projects half the visitors and employees to come by transit, foot or bike. But based on CPMC’s track record at three of its existing sites in the city, Marlayne Morgan of the Cathedral Hill Neighborhood Association doesn’t think that’s likely.

CPMC’s transit incentives for employees aren’t enough, says Morgan. “Even with giving $100 to take public transit, they can’t get 50 percent of their employees out of their cars,” she told the SF Board of Supervisors at a four-hour hearing last week on the transparency of CPMC’s negotiations with the city. “There’s no way to mitigate the impact of this facility unless you take it down in size.”

Cathedral Hill’s staff will be comprised largely of current CPMC employees at its other San Francisco locations, just under half of whom live outside the city, according to the transportation analysis in the CPMC’s Institutional Master Plan [PDF].

“They’re taking three hospitals and putting them in one location,” said Morgan. “It’s hard to believe that this is going to change the patterns at Cathedral Hill.”

Trip mode share at three existing CPMC campuses, from the Institutional Master Plan ##

CPMC spokesperson Kevin McCormack said employees can get “up to $230 a month in pre-taxed pay to buy commuter checks for use on all Bay Area mass transit from MUNI and BART to Caltrain and van pools,” seemingly a reference to federal tax benefits that also provide incentives for employees to drive to work. (In fact, as of January 1, 2012, the maximum monthly pre-tax benefit for parking will be $240, while the maximum benefit for transit will drop back down to $125.)

“We also have shuttles that run between campuses and to and from Muni and BART stations so staff don’t have to bring their cars into the city or into downtown,” McCormack added. He couldn’t provide information on the parking benefits CPMC offers.

Ultimately, to reduce traffic generated by a specific facility, sustainable transportation advocates say that planners must reduce the amount of parking. “Parking spaces – particularly commuter or visitor spaces – are like magnets for cars,” writes Jeffrey Tumlin, a principal at San Francisco-based Nelson/Nygaard Associates, in his upcoming book Sustainable Transportation Planning.

The Cathedral Hill center would be more transit-accessible than the existing CPMC sites. Its location at the intersection of two BRT lines set to open on Van Ness and Geary in 2016 could lure more employees to take transit. But that also makes the high volume of parking all the more superfluous and the traffic generated all the more harmful to transit performance. As Livable City Director Tom Radulovich told Streetsblog last year, “If you’re going to maximize damage to Muni’s network, that’s where you would do it.”

While no bicycle improvements have been promised, CPMC could help fund an SFMTA study under the agreement being negotiated with the city. But unless protected bikeways are added to streets like Post, Sutter, and Polk, few commuters are expected to bike to the center.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which is pushing for a protected bikeway on Polk Street in its Connecting the City campaign, said in a statement that it “is looking to the CPMC Cathedral Hill to really embrace bicycle transportation for its staff and visitors. Supporting the creation of a top-notch bikeway on Polk Street will benefit the hospital, the neighborhood and countless destinations and people throughout the city.”

The Cathedral Hill center is set to begin construction next year and open in 2016.

  • Jamesstn

    On the other hand, that looks like a nice little pedestrain alley in the rendering.

  • RichardC

    When in doubt, I’d certainly tend to fall on the “build less parking” side of things, but really what is the “right” number? While it’s true there will be lots of parking spaces, given the size of the complex it seems like the ratio is pretty low. Based on just the total square footage and number of spaces in the proposal (all three buildings), it looks like the parking ratio would be 0.67 spaces/1,000 s.f.

    I don’t know how many employees, patients, and visitors will be in every 1,000 s.f., but my guess is in the range of “several”, meaning that the parking will accommodate significantly less than half of everyone travelling to the complex.

    I’d also have to disagree with Radulovich- Not that more cars are good, but I’d say adding them here would actually not be as bad as elsewhere because transit on Van Ness and Geary will be protected in its own lanes.

  • icarus12

    UCSF at Mount Zion (Sutter & Divisadero) has made the visitor parking start at about $20+.  Yet docs and other employees appear to have reserved spots that I imagine are heavily subsidized.

    The results for visitors are mixed: sometimes when accompanying a patient there for surgery, I have no other choice than to pay that high rate.  Other times when coming for an appointment as an able-bodied patient myself, I will bike, walk, or hop a bus.

    With hospitals, however, one has to be sensitive to many patients and their sometimes elderly visitors or family sitting through a surgery needing to find reasonably priced parking close to the facility.  Maybe CPMC could provide parking subsidies for those who really need it, while providing incentives for the rest of us –employees and appointment goers to use transit.

    In any case, the intersection of two BRT lines at the site is a fantastic incentive to make these BRT lines an integral part of the hospital’s design assumptions.

  • kg

    I hear it will have a helipad. Who needs parking?

  • Walking Mother

    It’s not just Cathedral Hill, where CPMC wants to build 1200 spaces.  At Pacific they want to build an additional 650 spaces, at Davies an additional 130, and at St Lukes an additional 120.  This will bring the overall CPMC parking supply to over 4,500 spaces.  That’s a lot of spaces, enough to fill two 5th & Mission parking garages!  

    Yes sick patients need convenient parking, but do nurses, doctors, visitors?  CPMC gives its doctors free parking!  All those cars pollute the air and slow down transit.  CPMC should spend its money on health care, not constructing parking.

  • Mly

    Congratulations,, on being suckered into the California Nursing Association side of a pissing match over unionization of the new hospital.

    Running up CPMC’s costs as long and as high as possible, while drawing out legally mandated public safety critical earthquake-safe hospital construction … it’s all part of what makes this a wonderful country.

    But really … sure, it’s all about the number of parking spaces.  Throw another couple years of delay into the mix!

    PS I spent several months taking @#&^$%@#$ Muni several times a week to a hospital in SF.  But who on earth would want to?

  • RIchard Mlynarik

    Yes, doctors do need parking, free or otherwise.  Get real, people.

    (Not a doctor, don’t own a car, never owned a car, but not a bozo.)

  • Anonymous

    I am not entirely opposed to providing free or subsidized parking to hospital employees– job benefits are job benefits– but any such perk should have, as an alternative, cash-out so that people can use alternatives if they choose. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cash value of free parking is $300+ per month, so it shouldn’t just be a choice between parking space and fast pass, either.

  • Anonymous

    People like to drive to hospitals– no doubt. But it’s a question of cost. If the hospital is built to encourage everyone to drive there, there is a high cost– not just on the drivers and the hospital, but on the city at large in terms of congestion. It’s in the city’s interest to minimize that.

    And yes, of course, Muni could be a lot better than it is. But it’s not the answer to build garages because of the Muni of today.

  • guest

    The solution is to severely  limit parking spaces (less than 100) and duration (no longer than two hours).  Taking transit as a condition of employment with full subsidy by the employer should be part of the conditional use permit.   I used transit from Oakland to the Duboce/Castro medical center for 30 years with no ill effects.  (driving while dilated would have been dumb anyway).  All the green washing of the new building is pointless if they are going to create massive traffic increases.   

  • cars pollute people

    As a proud SutterHealth employee, I do find it disturbing that their beautiful new, health “green” hospital in Burlingame has no bicycle rack (!) and minimal recycling waste containers.  All major employers in “transit first” SF should be required to promote transit use by their employees and visitors and to discourage single occupancy vehicle driving.  There is a connection between automobile exhaust/air pollution and public health that health care providers should keep in mind as they plan and operate their facilities.

  • Tiny Tim

    Once again, I must pose the obvious question about how gridlock at commute hours along the Van Ness, Gough and Franklin corridors are going to impact emergency vehicles making their way to the hospital.

    Why is this hospital planned for this congested and will-continue-to-be-congested-in-the-future area? What will be the impact of so many cars simply exiting the parking areas to get onto Van Ness or Franklin?
    Is there no sanity?

  • Richard Mlynarik

    OK.  Where else does a hospital go in SF?

    Maybe on Treasure Island, where there is no “gridlock at commute hours” “impacting emergency vehicles”.  Super duper TOD-tastic awesome!  Hunter’s Point?  Lake Merced?

    Those evil CPMC transit-haters clearly haven’t done any homework, let alone prepared thousands of pages of impact reports, let alone wasted (WASTED!!!) millions of dollars trying to get legally mandated life safety critical construction past our dim-bulb city supervisors.

  • federal subsidy

    Non-cash fringe benefits are generally taxable.  I am no tax lawyer but I see that there is an exclusion for $240/month of parking fringe benefit that is tax excluded.    While only $125 of transit pass is excluded.  This amounts to a federal government subsidy disproportionately favoring automobile use. 

  • Tiny Tim

    Richard Mlynarik:You still have not addressed the issue of gridlock around the site. You realize, of course, that Van Ness is Highway 101–right? You realize that in a few years a BRT will be constructed along Van Ness, eliminating a lane in each direction.Planning docs accurate? How well did they anticipate the heavy usage of Octavia Blvd. and surrounding streets having to absorb the overflow–and the economy isn’t even in full swing yet? How about small build-outs at existing CPMC campuses instead of this centralization approach?


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