Monday, April 16, 2007

Missed opportunity for eco-friendly garage

The Mountain View Voice had an interesting little article about a new parking garage in downtown Mountain View. It has architectural flourishes to blend in nicely with the neighborhood, along with eco-friendly solar panels. Only one catch - the garage provides free parking. Thus it becomes a giant subsidy for people to drive and park downtown. The possible savings in the solar panels are easily consumed by the increased traffic.

Mountain View currently has a nice suburban downtown that is fairly pedestrian friendly, and contains a large amount of free on-street parking. Local downtown residents are more likely to walk to the other downtown restaurants and attractions. Many of the other visitors are likely within a short bike ride of the area. However, bicycle facilities are significantly absent. Bike racks are extremely hard to come by on Castro street, and the narrow lanes with significant street parking make riding a bike an advanced obstacle course journey. Spending the money to improve the bike-friendliness of the area may help to provide access for the same number of people without creating additional traffic in the area.

In addition, pedestrian improvements could be made. From north of the railroad tracks, the only real pedestrian access point is at Castro. This crossing includes a grade crossing of Central Expressway and the Caltrain tracks. If you happen to be on the wrong side of the street when a train comes, the light cycle could lead to a 5-10 minute wait. There are overcrossings at the Stevens Creek Trail and Shoreline, however, these require a significant detour. A pedestrian access point or two would provide nice access from the north, and transform some 2 mile drives to 2 block walks.

Charging for use of the parking garage would decrease the people that would use it. However, there is currently no shortage of free parking in Mountain View. The garage could easily extract a premium for a guaranteed available spot in an attractive building. This money could help increase other facilities around downtown, and have a positive impact on the downtown and global environment. By making the garage free, the city is managing to throw-away money, increase traffic, and pollute the environment, without doing much to help downtown business.