Parking Near Transit Increases Ridership During Peak Commute Hours

By Tom Rubin­

Transit is not always an alternative to parking capacity.

The ridership for the Los Angeles Subway (now Red and Purple Lines) was
projected at 298,000 in 2000, the year it opened. In the best years, the
total barely got over half of that. What is interesting is that the stations South of the Hollywood Hills have always been far under their projections, but the two in the San Fernando Valley have far exceeded theirs. The ONLY stations with parking are the two in the Valley and Union Station and Metro had to increase parking in North Hollywood, and charge for it.

Sound Transit (greater Seattle) constructed its first light rail line without any parking, under the belief it was not necessary, because those that wanted to use transit would walk, bicycle, take a bus, or kiss-and-ride.  Unfortunately, initial ridership was far under the projections.

Parking is important to make transit work.

Particularly for suburban commuter rail stations, parking is essential. There is simply no way to run transit through low-density single-family detached subdivisions that can offer low-walk distance, frequent service to stations. If there is no parking, people will simply not use transit.

It is very fair to charge for parking at transit stations because such parking can be very expensive to build and operate.  However, if the charge is too high, it may restrict demand. A frequent tactic is to start with “free” parking, but announce that this will be reconsidered based on demand. It is very common to have to, or at least want to, add parking at transit stations as demand builds. Sometimes this is possible, sometimes it is very difficult or very expensive, or both, but, parking capacity should be part of the consideration when the transit line is first planned and approved. For older lines with demand, see what can be done and do what can be done.

If there is not enough parking at a transit station, drivers will make do by parking anywhere they can find a place to park nearby, in shopping center lots, on residential streets, and any and all other places you can think of. This tends to make the neighbors and businesses upset, so, it is important to understand that as demand increases you need to have a plan in place to respond.

This is a different way to think about pubic transit. Focus on reducing commute traffic during peak hours by increasing parking capacity at the stations. That was the thinking behind the parking garage hubs. Let people drive themselves home. How many double parked delivery vehicles could be eliminated if people did their own shopping on the way home? More people might go out at night if it was less of a challenge to get around.


Making the Most of Transit: Density, Employment Growth, and Ridership around New Stations

By Jed Kolko, with research support from Marisol Cuellar Mejia, Davin Reed, and Eric Schiff : (excerpt) Public Policy Institute (pages 21-22)

Summary In 2008 California adopted Senate Bill (SB) 375, which requires the integration of land use and transportation planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle miles traveled (VMT). A prime example of such activities is transit-oriented development (TOD), the targeting of residential, commercial, or mixed-used development to areas around transit stations…

“Employment Patterns Affect Transit Use More Than Residential Patterns Do”(more)

Research on land use patterns and their relationship with transportation has focused primarily on residential land use rather than on commercial land use…

14. Residential density around transit nodes, residents’ travel patterns, and residential land use receive more attention in the research and policy literature than employment density, workers’ travel patterns, and commercial land use do. One reason for this disparity is that data on population and housing for small geographic areas, like Census tracts, are more widely available than analogous data on employment, making it easier to measure patterns and trends in residential land use. Also, the classic land-use model that underpins the urban economics and planning literatures—the monocentric city model—assumes all employment to be at the city center, and that people make residential decisions based on commuting distance from their downtown jobs, the cost of housing, and other factors. Numerous policy studies and recommendations have focused primarily or exclusively on residential density and residential growth near transit stations (Transportation Research Board 2009; Calthorpe Associates 2010; Metropolitan Transportation Commission 2010). They rarely focus on employment patterns or growth.

Recent work, however, has challenged the traditional emphasis on housing density and residential land-use patterns by arguing that the location of employment matters critically to transportation behaviors. Employment densities and workplace proximity to transit are at least as important as residential patterns for achieving transportation goals (Frank and Pivo 1994). Theoretically, workplace proximity to transit should matter more for transit ridership than residential proximity to transit because “unlike the home end of the trip, where there are many options for accessing transit, generally, walking is the only available option at the work end” (Barnes 2005). Accordingly, employment densities at trip destinations affect ridership more than residential densities at trip origins (Arrington and Cervero, 2008; Transportation Research Board 2009).

  1. Furthermore, achieving high commercial densities is often more feasible politically than achieving high residential densities (Barnes 2005). Yet these research conclusions have not yet been fully incorporated into policy: “Connecting destinations to create ridership may seem like an obvious conclusion, but plans and policies have not reflected this approach. Most TOD policy have [sic] focused on residential development, rather than promoting agglomeration of jobs and commercial space in regional centers served by transit” (Center for Transit-Oriented Development 2009, p. 28). Our own analysis confirms this.
  2. Looking across all metropolitan areas in the United States, those with higher density have higher transit ridership, but the magnitude of the relationship between employment density and transit ridership is twice as large as that between residential density and transit ridership. Furthermore, metropolitan areas where employment is more centralized in downtowns have higher transit ridership, even after taking residential and employment density into account. At the neighborhood level, transit ridership is higher both among residents of a Census tract where tract residential density is higher and among workers in a Census tract where tract employment density is higher. And again, the relationship is slightly stronger for workers and employment density.
  3. Transit investments, particularly in fixed-line systems such as subways, railroads, and streetcars, involve large capital costs that make economic sense only if potential ridership is high: denser areas support more transit investment, offer greater transit access, and have higher transit ridership. California’s relatively low employment density—especially outside of the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area—is therefore a challenge for supporting transit investments and raising ridership… (more)

Comments by Arthur:  Data from the Bay Area shows that jobs near transit induce more transit use than housing near transit. And people have more destinations near their residences, like shopping, schools, entertainment. It is clear we need more parking near transit hubs, especially in suburban areas, not less.

Remembering what we forgot… from 2011 report.

  • Transit ridership depends on proximity to transit, especially workplace proximity.
  • Employment density is more strongly associated with transit ridership than residential density is.
  • In California, residential density is higher than the national average and rising, but employment density is lower than the national average and falling.


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