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December 14, 2009

Some Progress on Rail Station Parking

Finally some good news: we’re making a little progress on getting more parking at our rail stations. The CDOT Rail Station Parking Taskforce, created with great fanfare by Governor Rell in February, is starting to reach consensus on some solutions to our parking problems. An interim report is due this month, but it looks like the group will continue its mission of increasing access to our trains into the new year.

Given this year’s five percent decline in rail ridership caused by the recession, it hasn’t been too bad when it came to finding parking or seats on the train. But with the new M8 cars due to come online in 2010 (admittedly, a year behind schedule), now’s the time to plan for an expected increase in rail ridership. Heck, that’s something we should have done a decade back.

The recession also seems to be squeezing out some parking permit “hoarders”… the folks who waited years for their permits, don’t use them often but don’t want to give them up. This year, a lot of those hoarders took a pass on renewals. And that means new permits can be issued and some names can come off the waiting lists.
Towns have also done a better job of “scrubbing” those lists, removing the names of the dead, those who’ve moved away or got permits elsewhere.

One experiment that didn’t work was Darien’s plan to offer discounted parking permits for more distant lots. Priced at $200 vs the usual $315, almost nobody was interested. But that’s Darien.

Other ideas to increase parking that came from the Taskforce include…

1) Building decked parking structures at some stations. Of course, there’s no money and dubious interest from the towns.

2) Offering a centralized website showing real waiting list times in each community.

3) Developing a legal secondary market for parking permit “rentals” or sell-backs to issuing towns.

4) More bike and moped racks at all stations.

5) Offering incentives for car-poolers: better spaces, lower rates.

6) Improving pedestrian access to stations, such as sidewalks.

7) Offering a “guaranteed ride home” from stations for those dropped off.

8) Providing ZipCars (hourly car rentals) at key stations.

9) Improving security in station parking lots.

10) Providing van-pools from stations to key employers.

Meantime in Stamford, the gridlock continues. Plans to replace the existing station garage have not moved forward, despite a waiting list of hundreds of would-be parkers.

CDOT’s initial attempts to find a private developer who would turn the garage into an office building / condo palace turned up little interest. So now the agency is pumping money into temporary repairs to the crumbling structure.

The city of Stamford would have some say over use of the parking garage site for anything other than just parking, so they commissioned their own study of the station and surrounding roads. Of course, their recommendations don’t have to be followed by CDOT, which owns the garage and the station and didn’t even participate in the consultant’s work.

Private developers seem ready to build parking within walking distance of the Stamford station, but at what cost to users? It already costs $70 per month to park at the state-owned lot adjacent to the station, so what might the market rate for parking be at a private lot? And will commuters really want to walk several blocks to the station having been spoiled for decades with a state-owned lot with a sheltered walkway right into the waiting room?

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