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.”

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Tom Radulovich has been on the Bart board for two decades, but still uses the outsider’s term “appalled” to describe what Bart is doing. When does it switch to “ashamed”?

    Speaking of ashamed, let’s talk about the transit village being built at MacArthur. What a disaster. Has anyone ever seen more than three guys working that site at a time? If it were my project it would be crawling with workers. I don’t understand why Bart condones the opportunity cost of leaving that site half-built.

  • SuperQ

    Ugh, more bad math. $15,371,000 / 481 spaces = $31,956 per space.

    The bart website claims that the parking is full by 7am. Say there is some turnover and it’s used by 600 cars/day, M-F. Maybe add to that another 500/day on weekends. That’s about 208,000 cars/year. Or $520,000/year in $2.50 parking fees. That’s almost 30 years to pay back just the construction cost.

    Add to this the fact that the lot is full by 7am, it means the fee is too cheap. A demand pricing system to keep the lot 95% full would be more effective.

  • Jesse

    “…Jean Quan …heading up to the empty rooftop
    to take in the views.”

    Check out “Klunkerkranich” a project in Berlin utilizing the top of an underused parking garage in the middle of Neukölln. Now that this ridiculous project has been built, maybe one day (in 5 years?) something useful will be done with it.

  • Amanda Clark

    I take Fremont BART every single day, and the parking lot doesn’t quite get full by 0700-you’ll have to park at the outskirts of the lot, but its still quite doable. More like 0730. The problem I’ve had with the Fremont BART lot is:
    1. The parking lot is incredibly poorly designed. Its very narrow, and you often can end up really screwed waiting for people to cross the street. There’s like a 5 way intersection that’s like that.
    2. How are people supposed to get to stations like Fremont, and the newer ones built to the south? AC Transit? VTA 180 and 181? I’m afraid that’s being overly optimistic. And I don’t own a car and have relied on transit for the past several years.
    3. There’s a clump of parking spots close to the BART entrance at Fremont that require a permit, but are never, ever close to being filled up by 0700. *That’s* a colossal waste that should be remedied.

    Basically, stations like Fremont are at the intersection of the VTA and suburban southern Alameda county. It doesn’t seem like the kind of analysis used for the urban core stations to the north really applies. Its like someone form Oakland or SF asking someone in Santa Clara County “Why don’t you take the VTA more often?”

  • Richard Mlynarik

    He’s been an outsider and outvoted for two decades, that’s why.

    Want any change? Start with dumping that asshole Fang. He’s toxic in every way, and has caused immense and long-term harm to the Bay Area along side his contractors-before-riders and contractors-before-efficiency and contractors-before-economy and contractors-before-the-environment cast of inexplicably unindicted co-defendents on the BART Board majorities.

    But don’t rag on Tom who has consistently been on the right side on nearly every issue forever. The only wonder is that he keeps trying.

  • david vartanoff

    What a huge waste! Improving feeder services is where the money should have gone.

  • murphstahoe

    If instead of building that parking lot, they built housing complexes for thousands – people could walk…

  • Amanda Clark

    The amount of surface area at Fremont BART is such you could probably do both-have TOD housing *and* enough parking if you built a multistory garage.

  • jeannie marie

    can we get more secure bike parking at macarthur bart please???

  • DrunkEngineer

    As bad as this parking garage is, the complete lack of safe bike access is a much bigger problem. Oakland staff still opposes continuous bike lanes on Telegraph. And let’s not also forget that idiotic Green-Stripe they put on 40th St.

    Almost as many people bike to the station as drive. Just imagine how many more would bike if it wasn’t so dangerous to do so.

  • murphstahoe

    Check this story

    Bike lockers were added in some pretty obscure places in Santa Rosa. Most of them are at places of employ where cyclists just bring their bikes inside.

    Why aren’t the lockers at the transit mall? They were supposed to go into the transit mall. But they were designed to fit in the old transit mall, and didn’t fit in the new one!

    Which makes one grumble – if bike parking wasn’t designed into this garage, have they made it hard to retrofit it.

  • sebra leaves

    With attitudes like these to the BART customers it is no wonder customers and drivers don’t trust public transit officials and are fighting back with No on A and B and Yes on L campaigns. Many drivers coming into SF complain that they would take BART if the parking lots weren’t filled by the time they got there. That is why some smarter folks decided to build more parking lots near BART stations.
    Many SF residents who want more parking garages built near freeway exits and transit hubs are favor an elected MTA Board in order to get a more congenial group of people who will listen to their needs.

  • gneiss

    None of those measures have anything to do with BART. They measures you mention are all local San Francisco initiatives and won’t have a bit of difference on East Bay commuters, except for the fact that less money for MUNI and more parking garages in the city will encourage more people from the East Bay to drive.

    As for building parking garages near freeway exits, what a crock. Ask yourself Sebra – how are people going to get to their destinations after they park at these “freeway exit parking garages”? No – what you and your ilk want is parking garages in neighborhoods. Where we already have a housing crunch. And given the cost of land and the public review process already in place, that just isn’t going to happen. Until you tell me that you’re ready to donate your house to be a parking garage, I’m just not believing that you want to anything more than externalize your parking fetish on those other San Francisco residents who don’t live near you.


    Hmm. I actually like the idea of building parking right off the highway exits. If it is coupled with congestion pricing for driving in the city and the lots are served by intense transit services, and the parking facilities themselves doubled as transit villages to an extent, this would free local streets from non-local traffic (helping locals, muni, and cyclist).

    But just building parking next to highway exits itself is really not that useful to anyone for anything.

    As far everything else you said, ehh, same arguments. Regardless of what you think about BART there was absolutely no reason to replace any of the parking lost at MacArthur due to the construction of the new housing. There are some many transit lines, local area shuttles, and cyclist that serve that station that prioritizing any driving there makes very little sense

  • Prinzrob

    Yes, and it is already funded and on the way in the form of a BikeLink-access secure bike room to be installed at MacArthur BART as part of the plaza renovation set to break ground soon. This will augment the existing BikeLink lockers which will remain on site.

    The BART board voted recently to fund an additional 375 BikeLink lockers to be installed throughout the system (a bit over 1,000 exist already). I’m not sure how many will go to MacArthur, but the need is definitely demonstrated there.

  • Many drivers coming into SF complain that they would take BART if the parking lots weren’t filled by the time they got there.

    BART’s five busiest stations are here in San Francisco, yet none of them have any parking. Rather than wasting money of more parking, BART might be better off doing what’s proven successful in San Francisco: eliminate parking and provide more transit connectivity.

  • Many SF residents who want more parking garages built near freeway exits and transit hubs are favor an elected MTA Board in order to get a more congenial group of people who will listen to their needs.

    Sure, “many” residents might want to directly elect the SFMTA Board, but it was a “majority” of residents for voted to create the SFMTA with the structure it has now. The City Charter gives the Mayor power to nominate board members and as a check the Board of Supervisors most approve the candidate.

    Because of governance requirements, including there be board members with transportation or labor relations experience for example. It would probably violate some election law to put these kind of requirements on candidates running for election: if all the board members with labor relations experience are up for election, then any candidate running for office would need to have that background in order to run.

  • SF Guest

    It’s somewhat misleading to suggest other BART stations should follow the example of BART’s 5 busiest stations in SF with no parking. BART’s parking fees are based on demand. With the exception of the 4 following stations all other stations have increased their parking fees due to demand: Millbrae ($2), Richmond ($1), South Hayward ($1), South San Francisco ($2).

    Many East Bay cities don’t have the inherent fixed space limitations of SF. Sebra Leaves is fundamentally correct — if you were to take away the parking at East Bay BART stations, BART would lose riders because it would be too slow to take public transit to BART. The fact that BART has raised parking fees to $2.50 at most stations (soon to be increased to $3) proves there is a demand for parking, and the reason for this increase is to motivate more commuters to ride public transit to BART.

    Removing parking at BART stations will only lead to more people driving.

  • murphstahoe

    Your conclusion has a fallacy. Removing parking at BART stations would lead to more people driving *who are driving to that BART station*. Which is different than “more people driving”.

    If the goal is fewer people driving, building parking lots at BART stations in the exurbs may not be the answer.

    If one’s personal goal is to live in the exurbs and have a simple commute to a downtown job, that parking is the answer. But that personal goal may not necessarily align with the goal of fewer overall people driving. Among other things we’ve noted many many times that the BART line to the exurbs with a parking garage enables people to live in less dense areas, and while they may take BART to work, their overall VMT goes up substantially because all their other trips are done by car. Which is basically the Livermore extension in a nutshell.

  • Andy Chow

    Most of those stations are generally considered destination stations, where most riders exit in the morning and board in the afternoon. It wouldn’t be fair to suggest East Bay cities can have high ridership by cutting parking.

  • omaryak

    Agreed—adding parking just addresses a short-term need. In the long run we should be adding more housing near transit so that people don’t have to drive at all, and the money that would have been used on the parking garage could have been used for adding bus routes and improving walking/biking infrastructure.

  • omaryak

    Bike lanes are coming to Telegraph, and they are already on 40th, so that’s something at least. Wonder what would have been possible if parking garage money had gone toward bike/pedestrian improvements

  • Andy Chow

    The reason to get a garage built is to free up the rest of the land for housing. I am not sure how much housing is needed to be built to offset the loss of riders due to loss of parking (since people who live next to BART are not required to take BART everyday,) but the magnitude and size of such housing could exceed what the community is willing to accept.

  • murphstahoe

    Which station has more boardings in the AM – Powell, or Dublin???

    Thought so.

  • murphstahoe

    But the community is willing to accept the paving over of those other 500 acres of pristine farmland!

    Which has nothing to do with “the community” but what the owner of those 500 acres can convince “the community”, by telling them that the UN, ABAG, and Agenda 21 are trying to build housing near the BART station because ZOMG Euro Communism!

  • omaryak

    And there’s the rub: “what the community is willing to accept” —the largest developments should by defintion be near rapid transit centers like MacArthur because they produce the greatest potential to reduce car reliance. People’s aesthetic preferences are killing the environment and choking the roads with needless traffic.

    It’s good to know that the parking garage was built to offset lost land from housing, but MacArthur is a pretty urban area. We could still have had more housing and less parking.

  • Dave Moore

    I think they believe that there will be increased ridership and aren’t expecting to fund the parking garage only with the parking fees.

    I would agree that if the lot is always full then the fee is too cheap. There are a lot of variable pricing schemes that could be used.

  • murphstahoe

    There are very few changes to transit system that add riders which net out to a financial profit.

    Adding up the parking fees and fares paid by additional riders almost certainly will not pay for the creation and maintainance of the parking. It’s not like this is Wal-Mart where a parking spot services multiple paying customers per day. And if you do get a big boom in ridership due to parking, you have to run more/longer trains which would chew up all those gains.

    The system turns a “profit” by the external benefits – we don’t have to add another Bay Bridge, expand a road, we have less air pollution, roads are less congested and people get to work faster and have higher productivity, etc… This doesn’t exist in a vacuum though – if building the BART station out in the hinterlands means people build a house in the hinterlands and thus require the BART services we’ve now provided, it’s a net loss – modulo the positive internalities people get from living in the hinterlands.

  • Andy Chow

    Paving farmland is easy because the landowner will profit from it and there are no neighbors in the area saying no because of traffic or whatever. In an urban situation, there are fewer large parcels suitable for higher density development (unless you think that buying out single family homes and recombine the parcels is feasible.) and you got people who live and vote there saying no for whatever reasons.

  • Dave Moore

    I agree that these externalities are part of the equation. But I’ve been told over and over that increasing road capacity doesn’t decrease congestion. Why then would changing drivers to riders? It would seem that the only way to decrease road congestion would be to increase the cost of driving.

  • murphstahoe

    Or decrease the cost of not driving – including the time cost. This includes putting housing somewhere you can eliminate driving.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Definitely will be a lot of pushback from neighbors, especially if said neighbors are old rich white people. One particularly juicy parcel is the 8-acre parking lot of North Berkeley BART, but it’s been undeveloped for 40+ years at this point so I wouldn’t hold your breath. People in Berkeley think they are hippies or whatever, but in practice they love nothing better than free parking.

    A nice ripe 100-acre site is at the Oakland Coliseum.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    The article above claims that ridership at MacArthur increased even while parking at MacArthur was reduced (during the construction period). Are you saying that this couldn’t happen elsewhere? Especially with denser development around the stations?

    If you surround a station with a fortress of parking, then relatively few people will walk to the station, and the maximum ridership will be dictated by the size of the parking garage. But if you surround it by a dense mixed-use community, then you can get much higher ridership.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    “they … aren’t expecting to fund the parking garage only with the parking fees.”

    So the idea is that the parking is subsidized in addition to whatever subsidy goes towards operating BART? I can understand the social goal of subsidizing BART – it moves more people in less space, and gives people more options for how to travel. But is there a further benefit to the parking that deserves its own additional subsidy? (Maybe they think the parking will attract additional commercial development?)

  • Prinzrob

    Have you reviewed the Oakland Coliseum City project DEIR yet? Some land use improvements in there, but still A LOT of surface parking:

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Unfortunately I currently lack the technology capable of reading a 100MB PDF file. Should I assume that all of the area colored “sports and entertainment” is just parking?

    Seems like dumping those pro sports teams would be the best thing that could possibly happen to Oakland’s economy. Adding housing and jobs at existing transit stops is what the bay area need to do today.

  • Generally, but that’s why I noted Balboa Park.

    A monthly Muni+BART fast pass give unlimited use within SF and there’s enough San Mateo County residents getting a ride into SF to save money of the pass that it put Balboa Park at number 5.

    I shouldn’t have said eliminating parking, what I meant was really not expanding parking (which is what Sebra was getting at with one of those vague “what voters want” rambles where she says the opposite for what the voting record shows) over improving other methods of access.

  • Let’s break that trip up:

    It’s probably a walk from Powell because development has grown up around BART, pushing ridership to the point BART is studying how to add side-platforms to Embarcadero & Powell. That’s some good planning or

    On the Dublin side, what made driving a (hopefully) short distance just and pay a storage fee for your car while it’s neither accessible to you or sitting that garage your already paying for. Is it because the station was placed at the edge of the city on a freeway median surrounded by a sea of parking? The city itself is suburban sprawl planned on the idea everyone would drive? I’m asking this last one seriously, how is Dublin’s bike network?

  • You’re right, I mispoke and meant “not expanding parking” instead of “eliminating”

  • Dave Moore

    I don’t think it’s that simple. People live where they live for lots of reasons. Commute is one of them of course, but there are plenty of others. Lifestyle, schools, perceptions of safety, size of houses, size of lots. Everything I’ve seen says that there are commute thresholds. For most people if they can get the kind of life they want within N minutes of their job they’re happy. They care more about time than mechanism. So building new, most likely dense housing that allows people to commute without a car will work for some but not others. Those others will still drive, either to BART or to their destination. So you’ll get some people who want to take the tradeoffs that let them live closer without driving to work and that might reduce congestion a bit. But that reduction would allow more people to live farther away and still commute within N minutes, so you end up where you were conjestion-wise, probably using even more gas and polluting more. Or maybe something unintended happens. It seems hard to predict.

  • I was surprised at how progressive Livermore was with their decision to go with both a station downtown and one serving the lab instead of a freeway median station that’s within the city more in technical sense than being anywhere meaningly near the heart of Liv…

    And then they went and reversed that decision. Sigh…

  • murphstahoe

    They make these decisions rationally given the information as it pertains to them. The problem is their cost is being subsidized because we do not price the externalities of their decisions.

  • The wider question is why there’s a sea of parking around a transit station, not only on BART property but on nearly everything around it that isn’t a four-lane boulevard with a median to ensure faster driving.

    When I lived in Fremont the effect was heightened because the abutting mall was basically a dead mall. (These days, at least, it’s a place to get Indian food.) Land use patterns are the real culprit here.

  • Since the Yes on L campaign supports parking garages, its supporters should be happy about the land being gobbled up for it.

  • The phrase “fundamentally correct” is the last that comes to mind. You seem to be lumping the entire East Bay together, but in fact what might “work” for white flight suburbia makes no sense in urban stations like MacArthur.

  • murphstahoe

    Dublin has the distinction of having built arterials so wide that it was easy and non-controversial to add a lot of bike lanes after the fact. There are a lot of roads in Dublin that were built with 4 wide lanes, a big median, and parking on roads that have no driveways, abutting the backs of houses or even brick sound walls.

  • I hate to break it to you, but BART devotes a lot of money to parking. Suburban parking was extensive and free for generations, it’s only been in recent years that fees were imposed to recoup some of the cost.

  • SF Guest

    I didn’t intend to lump the entire East Bay together or to imply what works for one station works for all of them. My main point is to question the effectiveness and end result of eliminating parking at all BART stations which Mr. Wieser has amended. I concede the point that not all BART stations, especially urban ones such as Berkeley and some parts of Oakland, should not include parking as an amenity.

    My use of the term “fundamentally correct” refers to the idea of giving commuters an incentive to drive to a BART station vs. driving to SF. If BART were to remove parking in many cases it would become a disincentive for commuters to take BART.

  • SF Guest

    Thank you for clarifying this.

  • sebra leaves

    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. That is why the residents have been demanding parking garages for commuters for years. That is one of the driving forces behind Prop L. 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. Pretty much everyone on Potrero Hill and Dogpatch wants public parking garages near freeway exits, Third Street and the train stations. That is why the candidates running for Supervisor in District 10 all said they would support public parking garages if that is what the residents want. Meanwhile, SFTMA is cutting the routes on the hill that residents rely on.


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