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January 28, 2009

RR Station Parking: A Fresh Look

What is wrong with this picture?

We say we are encouraging people to get out of their cars and try the train… yet, we have a six-year waiting list for parking permits at some stations!

But wait… there’s more: in a year we’ll finally be adding new M8 cars to our fleet, increasing capacity on trains. But we have no plans to expand parking at stations from Fairfield to Greenwich. (In fact, we may lose 800+ spaces while the Stamford garage is demolished and rebuilt for two years.)

Parking at rail stations in Connecticut is a mess. In Darien you’ll pay $315 for an annual permit. Next door in Stamford, it’s $840 a year. And at the South Norwalk station, $936! And that’s after waiting anywhere from 18 months to six years for the chance to buy a permit.

I’ve written before about possible solutions, including a Dutch auction that would let the market demand decide the value of the limited supply of spaces. But, instead, how about expanding the lots and adding more spaces?

A great idea, say the towns… as long as you do it someplace else. “We don’t want expanded parking in ‘our town’ at ‘our station” because it would only attract more traffic from “out of towners”, they say. The NIMBY’s rule!

Mind you, most of the rail stations and adjacent parking are owned by the CDOT, not the towns. But under their lease arrangements the towns set the parking rules and the rates and treat commuters as a convenient revenue source. Like commuters have any choice when the towns jack up rates?

This has got to change. And finally, Governor Rell agrees. She’s just told CDOT to form a task force with the CT Rail Commuter Council, the regional planning agencies and the towns to find a solution.

The issue’s been studied over and over again, but CDOT has seemed a reluctant landlord in imposing a solution serving the greater good if it risks angering the towns or jeopardizing the locals’ revenue stream from this “commuter tax”.

Here are some possible solutions:

In some places we might add parking lots or deck existing lots. But before we get asphalt-happy, let’s remember what we’re really looking for here.

What’s really needed is increased access to our rail stations, not just acres of more parking.

In some towns access might mean shuttle buses circulating through town, picking up commuters near their homes. In other towns, construction of sidewalks would make it possible to walk to the station without slogging through ice and snow. Or how about racks and lockers for bikes and mopeds… even “kiss and ride” drop-off points. Or subsidized taxi rides.

Where there is parking, why not incentives for those who bring more than one person per car to the station: better spots or lower rates?

And let’s not forget CDOT’s favorite three-letter word… T.O.D., transit oriented development… building homes and offices near the station eliminating the need for cars or shuttles.

We can’t bring these solutions to just one town or one station. We have to do it at all stations, spreading the pain and the benefit evenly across all the towns. We have to make all towns do what’s best for the region, not just their local fiefdom.

So thank you Governor Rell! Thanks for finally telling CDOT to do something and thanks for including the CT Rail Commuter Council as part of the Task Force.

After the Governor’s recent announcement, a reporter asked me if it wasn’t “too late for this effort?” “Heck no,” I said. “It may be a few years later than we’d have liked, but it’s never too late to start fixing this problem.”

So… let’s get going!


Moderator said...

Add decent pedestrian access to and bicycle parking at the stations, combined with a policy where parkers paid for the full cost of spaces, and demand for spaces could be dramatically reduced.

In addition to European-style bike parking, a state program needs to be created that mandates "complete streets" design guidelines on major routes leading to and from the stations. Routes need to be safe enough for an average person to ride or walk to. Unfortunately, many of CT's stations currently don't even have sidewalks leading to them.

Increasing bike/ped access to the stations should be a top priority of the state. It would also benefit TOD in surrounding areas, by making land within walking/biking distance far more valuable, and reduce our economically disastrous dependency on automobiles.

jmeade said...

has anyone ever thought about using a pedicab service to relieve the parking problem? A clean green approach would be a nice addition to many towns and allow people who may not be able to walk or bike short distances to access the trains.