Costly New Parking Garages Still Gobbling Up Land at BART Stations

Oakland and BART officials cut the ribbon Monday on a new parking garage for a “transit village” being built at MacArthur Station. Photo: BRIDGE Housing/Twitter

BART continues to encourage the construction of multi-story parking garages at its stations, despite the exorbitant costs and lost potential for valuable land that could be put to better use.

On Monday, Oakland and BART officials held a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony to tout the opening of a 481-space parking structure at MacArthur BART station. The structure was built at a cost of $15,371,000, or about $32,000 per space (based on a 2012 figure), and is part of a “transit village” housing and retail development. But like most park-and-ride fortresses, it will mostly sit empty when commuters aren’t using it to store cars, which is most of the time.

The only media coverage of the MacArthur press conference was a San Jose Mercury News photo slideshow showing Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, two BART board members, an Oakland council member, and a developer rep cutting the ribbon, before heading up to the empty rooftop to take in the views.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board, said he’s “appalled that we wasted tens of millions of dollars building a commuter garage at an urban station like MacArthur.”

“Ridership kept growing at that station despite the reduction in parking during construction, which demonstrates that we could have done perfectly well without it,” he said. “Many of our highest-ridership stations — Balboa Park, Berkeley, 19th, 16th, 24th, Glen Park — have little or no commuter parking. At stations like MacArthur, Ashby, West Oakland, and Lake Merritt, we should be phasing out parking as we build transit villages, and enhance walking, cycling, and local transit access instead of building structured parking.”

Only 10 percent of people using MacArthur station drive there, the Mercury News reported in 2011, and five shuttles operate in the station area.

New parking garages are also planned at stations being built for the BART Silicon Valley extension. Santa Clara County’s Valley Transportation Authority issued an $85 million contract this year to build structures [PDF] with 1,200 spaces at Milpitas Station and 1,150 at Berryessa, with plans to eventually expand it to 2,000. The garages will be built at a cost of about $35,000 per space.

Radulovich noted that at such “further out” stations, “an argument can be made for parking lots as a land-banking strategy until the appetite for transit village development matures and sustainable access options increase.” Developing them with parking structures, however, is a losing strategy.

A 2012 report [PDF] conducted by transportation consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard, commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, recommended that BART and other Bay Area agencies think through the implications of building parking near transit stations.

The full costs of parking construction often aren’t considered, the report says. “Parking structures are far more than their ‘hard’ construction costs, but also include ‘soft’ design and planning costs, ongoing operating costs, and environmental costs.”

The report analyzed sites like MacArthur station, and found that building parking is the most expensive strategy, by far, to facilitate access to transit. The “daily cost per trip per structure space was $7.65,” the report said. “By contrast, the relative per trip costs related to the implementation of transportation demand management (TDM) programs or investments in transit, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities can be much lower.”

TDM programs are typically financial incentives to encourage commuters to travel by modes other than driving, including subsidized transit passes. In other words, it’s far cheaper to pay people not to drive than to build parking for them.

The report also noted that garages induce more driving, attracting car traffic that makes the area surrounding transit stations more dangerous and congested for those coming by other modes:

Parking structures can impact the surrounding streets and existing transportation network in a manner that increases congestion for transit vehicles and creates additional conflicts with pedestrians and bicyclists. The end result is a transportation network that prioritizes automobile travel over other modes. Second, although financing for parking structures is often independent of other modes, millions of dollars spent on planning, designing, and building a parking structure can exhaust an agency’s resources for transit, bicycle, and pedestrian access improvements.

The report also pointed out the economic pitfalls of letting parking consume valuable land near transit hubs, which could be used for more productive uses like housing and businesses. “The issue of land costs underscores the fact that there are definitive tradeoffs in choosing to construct a parking structure — land devoted to parking prevents that land from being used for housing, commercial, or office uses,” the report says. “The higher the land costs the greater the potential opportunity costs and tradeoffs.”

The more valuable the land near a transit station, the more each parking space represents a wasted opportunity. Graph: Nelson/Nygaard

Although the report notes that building multi-story structures uses less land for the same number of surface parking spaces, each space tends to cost about seven times as much. And when compared to other strategies to spur transit use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, building parking in general is “by far” the most costly:

The construction of structured parking, for example, shows moderate potential to reduce GHG by virtue of facilitating access to transit and reducing VMT. However, the cost for structured parking was estimated to be between $1,300 and $5,500 per metric ton, by far the highest per unit cost. By contrast, strategies that include fare incentives, marketing, and feeder shuttle service shows the potential for a competitive level of cost-effectiveness, as these strategies range in cost between $80 and $200 per ton.

The report noted that while “the challenges and tradeoffs associated with providing parking at transit stations are not lost on transit agencies… [they] often ‘default’ to such policies with limited analysis of the tradeoffs.”

  • Fremont BART being the southern-most station means it’s coping with the demand of the entire Silicon Valley and when I lived down there any BART trip started with a drive to Fremont Station.

    With the three new BART stations and parking lots included in the Warm Springs and Berryessa extensions, including a connection to VTA light rail at Milpitas Station, won’t that take some pressure off Fremont?

    Maybe enough for both? Maybe enough to make a garage the second priority?

  • murphstahoe

    VTA light rail is slow, and in many cases doesn’t serve populated areas. A lot of trips to downtown SJ are started with a drive to a VTA park and ride. The connection at BART will require most passengers anywhere on the line to take a somewhat meandering path to the station.

    And the new stations aren’t really that more accessible to motorists than Fremont or Union City. They certainly aren’t in densely populated areas. Though it will make it much easier to take your bike on BART to go ride up Mt Hamilton!

  • murphstahoe

    A large percentage of the BART customers in San Francisco, and a large
    part of the Muni customers in San Francisco park on city streets.

    [citation needed]

  • murphstahoe

    “Meanwhile, SFTMA is cutting the routes on the hill that residents rely on”

    Name one example

  • Pretty much everyone on Potrero Hill and Dogpatch wants public parking garages near freeway exits, Third Street and the train stations.

    So you believe garages should be built in other people’s neighborhoods and around their local T-line stations in order to allow you to leave your car there while you go somewhere else?

    Maybe, just maybe, there are other people in the world who rather have shopping and services clustered around their station instead of parking for people just passing through. Selfish though it may be, not everyone in puts your convenience over their own quality of life.

  • Residents who want to take public transportation to work are sometimes forced to drive instead because they are competing with commuters, tech buses, delivery services, and a lot of other non-residents, for parking space in their neighborhoods.

    Is your issue here that you don’t like sharing a public right-of-way with other members of the public?

  • gneiss

    Neither of those neighborhoods currently are all in the X RPP zone. If there really is a parking crunch that prevents residents from leaving their cars on their streets during the day, then adding those streets to the X RPP zone would be the most cost effective solution. Forcing the taxpayers of the whole city to mitigate the commuter parking problem by building garages with parking spaces that cost more than $30,000 per spot is a highly expensive solution when a much cheaper one would suit the bill.

  • murphstahoe

    Residents who want to take public transportation to work are sometimes
    forced to drive instead because they are competing with commuters, tech
    buses, delivery services, and a lot of other non-residents, for parking
    space in their neighborhoods

    I don’t get this. Presumably since they live in that neighborhood, their car is already parked. Why does other people driving into their neighborhood now force them to get into their cars and drive somewhere, instead of taking public transit?

  • Andy Chow

    End of the line station generally attract riders coming from farther away. Before the Millbrae extension opened 11 years ago, parking at Colma station was full. Now, part of the surface lot owned by SamTrans is now leased to a car dealership next door to put excess inventory, and is planned for future TOD.

  • SF4SF

    I think they clearly understand the link between land use and transportation and choose to side with the people rather than the developers that are behind the TOD movement that is ruining the City.

  • SF4SF

    As a San Franciscan, I support parking at Bart stations to allow people to live where they now live and be able to conveniently Bart into the city rather than driving into the city. This cuts VMT and GHG – maybe not as much as living at the Bart station, but not everyone wants to live in stack and pack at the Bart station. TOD theory is one thing, but freedom of choice is another. TOD advocates sometimes seem to try to force their ideology on others like religious zealots.

  • SF4SF

    Here is how:
    Imagine a new parking garage with a commuter bus station and retail businesses somewhere along T-line in Bayview, convenient to a freeway exit. This facility could capture car traffic and the dreaded commuter buses from 280 and 101 before they enter the city and promote Muni use. This development could also stimulate a new business / retail center in Bayview supported by the community and commuters. Add housing if you want. Everybody wins! .

  • murphstahoe

    I have no problem with letting people live where they want.

    What I have a problem with is heavily *subsidizing* that choice which is so loaded with bad side effects.

    And your assertion that their GHG emissions are cut is bogus – when you add up the greenhouse gases that their choice creates when they are not on BART.

    We tax cigarettes and not food for a reason.

  • gneiss

    Why not just improve transit connectivity to the BART stations? It’s significantly less expensive to improve transit than build new parking facilities in already built up areas like that around the MacArthur BART station. Then the land can be used for housing.

    And why do you conflate housing build at transit hubs as ‘stack and pack’? The idea that any home that isn’t a single family detached dwelling is somehow undesirable is a fallacy. The monotony of suburban development patterns in many of the east bay and peninsula communities are just as bad as any ‘stack and pack’ dystopian fantasy. The real key to any resilient development is to create a place where people are within easy distance to amenities and jobs with inviting public spaces to gather and enjoy themselves. And that doesn’t require any specific type of density.

  • gneiss

    Developer are *not* behind the TOD movement. It’s simply people. People who are moving to denser places and demanding the kind of placemaking that doesn’t require suburban layouts and cars to get everywhere they want to. It’s no surprise why so many people are moving to San Francisco and other urban areas – it’s because they want to live in dense, vibrant communities, not suburban wastelands.

  • SF Guest

    I have no doubt ridership can be increased at other BART stations with reduced or no parking. What you imply is the current BART model of including parking is outdated and should be reversed. As previously mentioned what works for one station may not necessarily work for another.

  • SF Guest

    On the topic of improving transit connectivity to BART stations I suspect AC Transit would have to increase and expand service to local BART stations to get more commuters to not drive to BART which is something I don’t see AC Transit doing. I suspect it’s more practical to drive to an East Bay BART station due in part many of those cities are more freeway-friendly and more accessible than SF.

  • murphstahoe

    This would be a gigantic fail whale. By the time you exit, park, and get on the T in the middle of nowhere, you could be downtown already. Nobody would do it.

    There’s a reason people bike on freaking Cesar Chavez from Noe Valley to 22nd Street Caltrain, because the 48 is too slow. Your proposal looks great – to anyone who doesn’t actually use transit.

  • murphstahoe

    Give AC transit all the money it would cost to build a parking garage and they could do so pretty serious service expansion.

  • murphstahoe

    Presumably parking garages are not built by developers?

  • SF Guest

    Do you seriously believe BART would give AC Transit the monies it would save not building a parking lot? Furthermore, do you seriously believe if AC Transit received more money they would expand their service?

  • SF4SF

    I used “developers” as a generalized term to include those that push for TOD in order to drive up prices and thus their profits (foreign investors, architects, developers, builders, realtors, politicians they fund). And while builders benefit from garage construction, TOD residential selling for over $1000 sq ft is way more attractive to them – except maybe in the Manhattan buildings where parking goes for a million dollars per space.

  • murphstahoe

    I see. You are in cahoots with the Google Bus protestors parroting the party line that adding more housing will drive up housing prices. Noted.

  • murphstahoe

    Thanks for your concerns.

  • SF4SF

    Spoken like a true evangelist. I am an urbanist, having lived in major cities all my life, but I see the “new urbanism” movement as destructive to truly livable cities. . Organic growth and change is natural and good. But the growth currently being pushed into SF’s small footprint far exceeds the resources of our infrastructure and is destroying our culture..”New Urbanism” calls for high density housing in transit rich areas. San Francisco is not transit rich. I lived
    in Manhattan for a while and did quite well without a car. When SF’s transit matches New York’s subways we will be ready for higher density. But new urbanism only needs the myth or promise of good transit to justify the push for high density. The developers get their profits, politicians get their contributions and citizens get the mess that is left. But growth greed is good for some but not for the middle class that is being priced out of the cities by this movement.

  • SF4SF

    No, but it’s clear in SF that the demand by the rich will continue to outstrip any amount of building that we can do. Thus building will not stabilize or lower prices or rents.
    Housing prices will continue to rise in spite of building not because of it. We are now a city for the rich and poor. The rich can afford housing, some of the poor are subsidized by the new developments through city mandates, but the middle class is being driven out. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining – I benefit from high prices and rents, but I miss my less fortunate friends that have been driven out.

  • Where in the City, exactly, is this chimerical “TOD movement” ruining anything?

    I am assuming that “the City” refers to San Francisco, since it’s the Yes on L people who are supposedly blessed with this clear understanding. This article is about a big parking garage next to a transit stop in a whole ‘nother city, which is of course the exact opposite of TOD.

    BART has never embraced TOD. Even when they hired Peter Calthorpe to design the Colma station back in the 1990s, they insisted the fully half the nearby area be devoted to a parking garage. Then they didn’t use his design anyway.

  • I lived for years on Potrero Hill near the 18th Street freeway onramp/offramp. At no point did a desire for a nearby parking garage enter my mind. It is not even clear to me what such a garage would be used for. Nor is Dogpatch in need of additional parking structures.

  • Since you’re so very concerned about GHG, you surely know all about how cold starts are the most polluting part of the journey, including of course hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. Reducing the VMT is a great goal, but so long as the cold starts are still occurring twice a day, they will remain an excessive source of GHGs — GHGs being forced on others as if by religious zealots.

  • BART and AC Transit are funded from the same body, and they are the ones who are tasked with reducing car journeys by improving transit. I believe they could do a better job of that by not prioritizing infrastructure that induces car traffic.

  • EastBayer

    San Francisco is not transit rich? Please.

    And who cares how much money developers make or don’t make? If it’s good for the city and region, it’s good for the city and region.

    Moreover, you are making an egregious confusion of correlation and causation if you think that increasing the supply of housing increases its cost…it really is a textbook, Econ 101 case of an outward shift in the demand curve, resulting in both higher price and higher quantity provided

  • SF4SF

    Yeah, but the article is anti-parking at Bart. I support parking at Bart in all ‘nother cities where I believe those drivers would otherwise drive into San Francisco. I want good transit like Bart expanded and used. Thank God, Bart understands that many riders start with a drive, even if that disturbs (un)Livable Cities agenda

  • timsmith

    To provide that citation: most BART stations in SF have drive-alone rates of 1-2%, with the highest being Glen Park, at 10% (another 4% carpool). That is certainly not a large percentage. Muni stops tend to be even closer to people’s homes on average, so it’s unlikely many people drive to them, even compared to BART.


  • gneiss

    Yes, but why build it at MacArthur? This is a station in an urban place already which would have been better served by adding more comprehensive transit. I have no problem with having parking in places like Dublin or Walnut Creek where the suburban form is pretty much king, but there’s no reason to do this in Oakland. It’s as if SFMTA decided that instead of Wesfield Mall, we should have a big parking garage next to Powell Street BART stop, because, you know, people would want to drive to BART there.

  • murphstahoe

    I’d prefer we build housing for those ‘folks in Berkeley, Oakland, SF, etc…

    They may “prefer” Dublin but right now everyone else is subsidizing that decision.

    A great percentage of those folks would drive into SF if it weren’t for everyone else driving into SF, causing traffic to be too congested and increasing parking rates in SF to a rate that some choose BART from an economical standpoint. Without BART running to the sprawl, the economical standpoint would be a more rational choice of living situation.

  • gneiss

    The only exit in the city before 280 touches down in SOMA is Mariposa St. And as you are probably aware, there is already a sea of parking in that area, with several recently built garages in the UCSF complex and the parking devoted to Giants games. Even with all that parking, hardly anyone gets off there, parks, and then rides the T-line. People still drive into the city.

    The next exit before that is on 101, and is at 3rd Street (429B). I don’t know how well you know that neighborhood, but it’s already well built up with homes and retail along 3rd Street, so putting a parking garage for commuters there would involve taking other people’s homes by eminent domain. I’d imagine you would think is bad since it doesn’t conform to your ideal of “organic” growth.

    In other words, try again. Your ideas don’t hold any water.

  • gneiss

    Unless of course you mean that commuters should get off at Cesar Chavez… Wow, that’s already a big PITA and would seriously screw with already significant numbers of people trying to west into the Mission. To build a parking garage for commuters and try to improve the exits would be a project that would cost Billions. As murphstahoe says below – gigantic fail whale.

  • SF4SF

    I’m very familiar with the area you are talking about. Mariposa is the exit I use most often. That area will be majorly gridlocked when the Hospital and new housing is occupied. The facility I;m suggesting would be much farther south, possibly near Paul Ave. The objective is to capture traffic as far south as possible. For it to work the T-line would have to be significantly enhanced.

  • 94103er

    When SF’s transit matches New York’s subways we will be ready for higher density.

    Ah yes, the old ‘let’s poison-pill the argument by drawing an impossible goal’ conclusion. Nope, try again. Use your Googles and read about Vancouver, Portland, and really any city in Europe that isn’t Berlin or London or Paris. I don’t think many other places have a subway network anywhere near as extensive as NYC (which, by the way? Is not that well-served by subways in a huge swath of the city).

  • 94103er

    So really, you’re going to keep going with this–a giant park n’ ride garage *within* a city? I know I’m being rude, but that’s just about the dumbest idea ever.

    Since you’re so darn concerned about all of us ‘breathing GHGs’ (which, thanks to our physiology, would not actually happen, although there are non-GHG emissions that can be harmful), how about this crazy idea you’d never go for: Knock down 101 within the city. Plenty more land for people to live near the T, thereby ‘capturing traffic’ by allowing more people living far afield to move here. Plus, fewer GHGs!

    I know, I know, never gonna happen. But the point is, we’re trying to be a bit more Vancouver these days and you want us to look like Concord. Which do you think is better economics?

  • @sebraleaves:disqus hasn’t answered the question,

    But speaking as someone who sometimes works in Potrero Hill, I know I’m going to benefit from the planned improvements and rerouting of the 22 and 33.

  • SafetyFirst

    I can’t even get past the first few sentences of this piece without having to point out the stupidity of your argument against this new lot:
    -During construction, ridership went up despite a lack of parking because people didn’t have a choice. We all had to suck it up, waiting for light at the end of the tunnel when it opened.

    -As a female, I would prefer to drive to BART in the morning, park, and return to my car after work knowing that I don’t have to take an expensive cab ride home or ride the ghetto a$$ AC transit bus AND then STILL have to walk home from the bus stop after dark. The area around the station is sketchy, so assuming everyone is HAPPY AND WILLING to walk home from there is ridiculous. Why does everyone who is anti-car assume people who take BART are within walking distance, have bus access, or someone to pick them up everyday?

    -You’re arguing that “better uses” instead of a parking structure exist. Are you completely missing the point that this is just phase one of a village including housing and retail? Are you saying that a parking structure was never going to be needed? How about for the families who live in the future housing…you seem to expect that they will take BART everywhere?

    Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich and the author of this piece (a male resident of SF’s Inner Sunset, which IS connected to Muni and much safer than the MacArthur BART Station area—you are both complete TOOLS. Wake up!

  • SFGuy1930

    I totally agree with you.

    Even though the 480 spots in the garage are mostly only used during business day by commuters, so much parking has been lost from the earlier huge open lot, that now there are no spots except for people that reserve them on a monthly basis. My mother, who’s 67 and works part-time in the City, can no longer park at MacArthur BART. There is no convenient bus route to the station and it would add a huge amount of extra time to her commute. So now someone has to ferry her to the BART station and additional family members have to schedule and arrange for drop-off and pick-up — a luxury most people don’t have available to them like my mother does, but still an enormous inconvenience for everyone. Also it adds to car trips as now rather than a car trip to and then from the BART station, there are two round-trip drives which must be made every day.

    The station is too far for mother to bicycle there, even if, at her age, she was up to it and able to traverse the various hills along the route, plus dangerous neighborhoods.

    And the pedestrian pickup zone there is a joke. It is long enough for about 2 1/2 cars unless one parks in front of the fire hydrant or bus zone and risks getting a ticket. (and I know this can happen because when I first re-located back to Oakland to help aging family member(s), I dropped off son at Lake Merritt BART station, wasn’t even aware that there was a bus stop there (and there were no buses) and in the 10-15 seconds it took to drop off my son to go to catch BART to go to school, an Alameda County sheriff seems to have spotted me and wrote down my license plate so that a $270 ticket showed up in the mail a couple weeks later).

    But back to the MacArthur passenger pickup zone, there used to be a long waiting area just up the road across fromt he new transit bus alley intersection. This is now gone as a new phase of construction is erecting a huge new condo/apartment building there and no doubt, that waiting zone will never return.

    This is crazy — not everyone has the option of walking, biking or taking the bus to the BART station — and presumably even the anti-car streetblog people must think it’s better to commute to the City by BART than to drive yet another car across the Bridge to commute there?

  • SFGuy1930

    “so many people are moving to San Francisco.”

    What are you talking about??? Only the very rich are moving into San Francisco.

    Everyone else is being priced out and driven out of the City unless you’re lucky enough to score a room in a shared rent-controlled apartment (only an option for single folks and super pricey even then)

  • Discourage people from riding BART because they can’t park at the station! What could go wrong?

    If the real estate of the parking spaces is getting too valuable, then stack them, and put the same parking (or ideally more) on 1/4 of the ground space.


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