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Walnut Creek Mayor's Message

Jul 01, 2015 01:18PM ● By Jennifer Neys

Walnut Creek Mayor, Bob Simmons

by Bob Simmons, Mayor of Walnut Creek

The next several articles will focus on one of the most frequently discussed topics in Walnut Creek: parking. The topic was mentioned time and again during the recent “Conversations with the Mayor” and is definitely not a new issue, but it is a complex one. Let’s begin with a little history. 

In the 1920s, cities were struggling with parking.  The streets were designed for the horse and buggy era, but with the advent of cars, people would park anywhere in the street and leave their cars there as long as they wanted. So, cities began to consider ways to regulate parking time. The first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935.  Some claimed it violated their constitutional right of freedom of travel, but merchants and customers soon realized it made traffic flow better, which made parking spaces more available and made business increase! Walnut Creek’s first parking meter was installed in 1946, so the city has been in the parking business for almost 70 years. 

There were an estimated 6 million cars in 1940; today it is estimated that there are about 250 million cars in the United States. That’s a LOT of cars. So, how does a city like Walnut Creek, which is a regional destination for many things, regulate parking to encourage traffic flow and support business? The answer is that there are several components of the city’s policy.

Any review of policy should begin with General Plan 2025, in which the city adopted a policy of “park once and walk.” The city has now built three garages, and there are publicly available parking spaces in the library garage. In addition, the city is considering the possibility of building another garage in or near the downtown. 

Professor Donald Shoup, a nationally-recognized UCLA professor who is considered the expert on the subject of municipal parking, developed the theory that cities with both on-street and off-street parking should adopt a demand-based parking inventory management program for cities to manage on-street and off-street parking by using pricing and other incentives to achieve the objective of an on-street occupancy rate of 85%. Stated another way, this means that the goal is to use price to make sure that there is one vacant on-street parking space if a driver goes around the block. 

In 2013, the city council adopted this policy objective and implemented it with a series of changes. The council shifted the hours of operation for its parking meters from 9am - 6pm to 10am – 8pm and extended meter operation to Sundays, one of the busiest shopping days in the city. The council also set a range for parking rates (both meters and in garages) from $0.00 to $5.00 and directed that the first hour in the city-owned parking garages be free (with the exception of a special event charge in one garage). Finally, the council authorized the Transportation Commission to make changes within that range. Subsequently, the Transportation Commission has approved making parking in the three city-owned garages on Wednesday evenings from 5 – 9pm.   

The next article will focus on another aspect of parking in Walnut Creek, and a subsequent article will talk about the technological changes that are making it easier to find a parking space.



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