Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 7, 2014

Palo Alto eyes two new downtown garages

City Council to consider new structures on Gilman Avenue, Urban Lane

by Gennady Sheyner

With Palo Alto's commuters and residents battling over parking spots on downtown's increasingly congested residential streets, the city has stepped forward with a new proposal aimed at lessening the tension — a pair of new garages that together would bring close to 500 new spots to the busy area.

The plan, which the City Council will consider Monday night, identifies two locations that may be suitable for new garages — a lot on Gilman Avenue, directly behind the downtown post office, and a property on Urban Lane that could be geared toward Caltrain riders and developed as part of an expansion of the existing transit mall.

The proposed garage on Gilman Street would occupy what is known as Lot G. The lot currently has 53 spaces, a number that would go up to 166 under the most modest garage proposal. A more expensive garage — which would include a lower parking level and a parking attendant who could "stack" the parking — could hold up to 240 cars.

If the council approves staff's recommendation, the city would commence an environmental analysis for this parking garage, a study that is expected to cost about $1.5 million. The funds would be drawn from the city's "parking in-lieu fee program," which collects contributions from developers. The fund is expected to reach $4.5 million this year, largely on the strength of a $3.8 million contribution from new developments such as the Lytton Gateway project at 101 Lytton Ave.

In addition, staff is proposing a bigger and potentially more complex project on Urban Lane, which lies just west of the Caltrain tracks, between the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and University Avenue. The site is owned by Stanford University and leased to Caltrain, which uses it as a surface parking lot. This means that any proposed parking garage here would require cooperation with both entities, particularly if the project goes beyond rail improvements.

On the plus side, an Urban Lane project connected to the rail system could qualify for grant funds. Expansion of the transit mall and a new structure on Urban Lane could support up to 478 parking spaces, a city garage study estimated. Currently, the surface parking lot includes 164 spaces.

Given the complexity and potential high cost of the structure, staff is proposing reaching out to private developers for help. If the council approves the staff recommendation, the city would solicit statements of qualifications from developers willing to help the city increase parking supply.

A possibly cheaper alternative that staff also plans to introduce on Monday would take advantage of the underused Baylands Athletic Parking Lot parking lot on Geng Road, just east of U.S. Highway 101. This alternative would create a satellite parking lot in this area and would concurrently expand an existing shuttle program to help ferry passengers to downtown and California Avenue. The Embarcadero Shuttle is currently operated by Caltrain, which provides the service only during peak commute hours. If the city pursues the satellite parking approach, the city would take over management of the shuttle program and expand its services, according to a staff report.

One potentially thorny aspect of this proposal, however, is a reduction of lanes on Embarcadero Road from four to two, to accommodate 90-degree diagonal parking on the road's north side.

The satellite parking option would allow for up to 200 spaces, the report states.

On Jan. 29, members of the council's Infrastructure Committee discussed the concept of new parking garages and expressed a range of opinions on the topic. While Councilman Pat Burt said the city should see how its program to encourage solo-car commuters to switch to alternate forms of transportation is doing before it builds new structures, Councilman Greg Scharff argued that the time to act is now. The city, Scharff said, has "allowed it to become a crisis situation downtown."

"I do think it's really important that we build at least that first parking garage downtown," Scharff said. "I think we'll probably need to build a second garage sooner rather than later."

TALK ABOUT IT

Do you favor new parking garages downtown, and if so, which one(s)? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

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