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Against Park and Rides

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On the handful of times I’ve used BART to get somewhere besides the urban core, I’ve been dismayed by the land use choices at some of the outer stations–extremely valuable land in an area with an acute housing shortage, devoted to nothing but the subsidized storage of cars. This staggeringly inefficient land use choice is often defended, as newishlawyer does, as a half-measure; better to get people using transit for some of their commute than none at all. Jarrett Walker makes the case against park and rides well here. (Walker, by the way, is not the kind of wonk who chooses journalism over politics–he’s an active transit consultant who’s been involved in transit reform in many cities, and is well aware of the politics involved.) I’ll summarize and add a few thoughts of my own. There may be some cases in which this is true, but as a general rule the problem is, as usual, that this ignores the ‘scarce resources’ problem in two ways and contributes to perverse incentives in two others. First, the scarce resources issue.

1) Land. If you’re doing high-speed, high-capacity transit right, it dramatically increases the value of the land within the walkshed of the station, by declaring it to be for nothing but car storage, without seeing what other uses people are willing to pay for. By taking dense development and economic activity off the table, you diminish the potential for economic growth, and the potential to take some of the market pressure for housing, offices, etc off San Francisco. Of course, one way to alleviate this is to build parking garages, which use less land to store more cars, leaving more left over for potential TOD. The problem with this, of course, is that parking garages are expensive to build, and it generally falls on the agency to build them. Which leads to the second scarce resources problem:

2) Dedicated funding for transit. Every time in my life I’ve had the opportunity (and having spend most of my voting years in Seattle this is a bunch of times) I’ve voted for higher taxes in exchange for funding more and better transit. In every case, the taxes I’ve voted to authorize have been insufficient to meet the transit needs they’re aiming to meet. At no point is the level of service great enough, the funding for capital improvements to improve service sufficient. On the other hand, there’s lots and lots of government spending on roads and other amenities for cars, most of which I never get the chance to vote against. We’re often too quick to assume this is a reflection of what people want, rather than a reflection of greater power for interests who enrich themselves with road construction than those who enrich themselves with transit construction. If we had train and bus manufacturers in every state, things might be different. Certainly in Washington state, transit does better at the ballot box than roads do, and there’s some evidence to suggest that WA voters not alone in that preference. But whether the imbalance is driven by our preferences or by our politics, it’s something we have good reason to be frustrated with from a variety of perspectives. So when pressure is used to take some of that too-little money we have available to subsidize transit and is used to subsidize car use instead, we have very good reason to push back against that.

On the perverse incentives:

1) It’s easy to understand why suburban communities gifted with a high speed high capacity transit option might think the demand for a park and ride is a reasonable one to make. It’s only a few miles away, after all, so from an environmental perspective it might seem reasonable–creating a structure that allows people to drive 3 miles rather than 23. The problem, of course, is that when park and rides are constructed, they don’t just offer a place for people in town to park. They offer a place for people who live even further out to park, if they get up early enough. In an effort to provide low-carbon transit for people 30 miles from downtown, you up providing medium to high carbon access for people 55 miles from downtown to park, if they don’t mind getting up at 4:00 AM to get them. (I’m not sure about other agencies but in the case of Sound Transit, because it’s a regional authority it’s not allowed to build municipality-restricted facilities. The towns themselves could acquire station-adjacent land and build something only for their town’s residents, but of course then they’d have to spend their own money, which is a great deal more difficult politically. The expectation that parking should be free really is at the root of the problem here.) So park and rides supported to incentivize low-carbon commuting and local access end up incentivizing ever longer commutes, and getting up really really early.

2) The above scenario–teasing suburban residents with the sweet free parking next to the train station, only to be taken away by the early risers, leads to a fairly predictable political demand–more free (or heavily subsidized) parking. Why wouldn’t they? This cheap, convenient solution to their transportation dilemma is already there, we just need a little more of it! Of course, there are other ways to get them to the station: walking, busing, biking, cabs and kiss and rides. And these can be better or worse. If we didn’t tease people with the illusion of free, convenient parking right next to the station, we might incentivize them to put political pressure on their local governments to improve local transit, or maybe better bike access, to the transit center. What they’re probably willing to pay for car storage almost certainly couldn’t compete with what people are willing to pay for other land uses for that extremely valuable land, if forced to compete. If they were exposed to the real cost of car storage, the personal and political efforts to find a good way to access the station would be directed more productively from the start.

I’m not a dogmatist. I know that some political projects require sub-optimal elements to generate sufficient initial political support, at least initially. But that doesn’t make it good policy. If we’re going to build park and rides, they should at least be priced according to demand, rather than a willingness to get up really early. (I’d say that means charging enough that there’s generally still some spaces available after, say, 9:30.) Newishlawyer is concerned we need to better “sell” urbanism and density before we make a policy change like this, but I disagree. There are places where urbanism and density arguably need a better sales pitch; I happen to live in one of them. But in much of the country, including most places where serious mass transit investment is likely to be made now, it’s already in increasingly high demand. We need to legalize building more of it, so people who aren’t extremely wealthy or winners of the low-income housing lottery can live close to their jobs, and whenever possible stop using limited transit dollars to subsidize ever greater sprawl.

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  • Becker

    I’m sorry to mention this here, but since this is the only blog I comment on, could I request, at some point, a China currency/stock market thread? I don’t really understand what’s going on right now, I’m kind of afraid and would like to read some smart people who could either talk me down or just tell me how fucked everything is.

    Again, sorry for the off-topic comment.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Off-topic? Au contraire! We’ve parked our lifes’ savings, and now we’re being taken for a ride.

    • Crusty

      Buy low, sell high.

      • Ahuitzotl

        measure once, cut twice:)

    • Franklin Daley

      No one here no anything about investing; they work for public universities and uncle sugar takes care of that for them.

  • Murc

    If we’re going to build park and rides, they should at least be priced according to demand, rather than a willingness to get up really early.

    Two things. One, how sure are you about where peoples political energy will end up directed? Speaking as a suburbanite, when you expose me and my ilk to the actual cost of parking, we don’t respond by demanding alternative modes of access that don’t involve needing to pay those costs; we respond, viciously in many cases, by demanding that the cost be socialized, that parking be provided for “free.”

    Two, let’s have a bit of sympathy for the people “willing” to get up at four a.m. Many of them can only afford to live way out from the city where land is cheap. If I were to suddenly find myself making 75% of what I am now, I would seriously consider extending my commute by 45 minutes to live way out in the sticks, where I could pay much less than what I’m paying now for as much or more living space.

    • Rob in CT

      I read the “willing to get up at 4am” thing and wondered how a price signal is supposed to be more effective here.

      I think this is stupid. Do you want people taking the bus or not? [edited to add: I’m thinking bus b/c the park & ride lot in my town is for a commuter bus. It’s also not using up prime real estate…]

      • djw

        Like I said, I’m not a fan of park and rides in general. But the price isn’t just a signal, it’s also a way to recoup some of the money-for-transit that was transformed into money-for-cars-and-sprawl.

        Unless the parking fees prevent the lot from filling up (in which case, as long we’re stuck with this land use choice I’d suggest lowering them), we’re getting the at least same number of people on the bus, and quite possibly more, as it might lead to more efficient use of the car storage space by incentivizing cost-sharing via carpooling. In fact, it makes serving that population by bus/train easier because the commuting population will be spread out more, and not showing up early to crush-load the first couple of runs.

        • Rob in CT

          I guess it depends on the P&R. In the case of the one closest to me, I don’t recall ever seeing it 100% full. I live in a tiny town 20 miles from where I work. There is no rail service. It’s bus or drive.

          There are incentives to using the bus. One is that our company subsidizes bus passes. Granted, they also subsidize parking costs (adjusting somewhat for pay level, even), but parking is still pretty expensive even with the subsidy. There is a clear signal there to take the bus if you want to save money. Charging at the P&R would undo some of that.

          I do know people who drive a fair distance (like 1/2 their commute) to a park and ride and take the bus the rest of the way. So I do see the issue being raised.

          • djw

            If land values are low and there’s no serious competition for the use of it, I don’t have a huge problem with that. (When I say the parking should be priced at such a level that there’s still spaces available at 9:30 or whatever, I say it with full knowledge that in some cases that might be zero.)

            In the summers when I’m back in Washington I occasionally use a commuter bus from Mt. Vernon (~20K) to Bellingham (~90K) as the last leg of a Seattle to Bellingham on public transit journey. It’s about 25 miles on a freeway. At the halfway point, it gets off the freeway and goes to a gravel lot where it picks up usually between 5-10 people. The land doesn’t appear to be worth much of anything, and there’s no development or density around, nor any real prospect for it. It’s obviously serving the pre-existing population who’d rather not drive/deal with Bellingham parking, and it’s not preventing other land uses. I don’t have much of a problem with that sort of thing.

            • Rob in CT

              Yeah, it sounds like you’re taking aim at park & rides that are different than the ones familiar to me.

            • earl

              oops, replied to the wrong comment

      • JMP

        The buses need to be much better for people to take them as anything but a last resort. City buses are usually good, but in the ‘burbs, at least in the bay area, most only run only once every half hour or forty-five minutes, even at rush hour. Of course almost no one uses them when they run so rarely. And this is coming to and from BART, the least reliable public transit system that I have ever taken.

        • djw

          this is coming to and from BART, the least reliable public transit system that I have ever taken.

          BART’s on-time performance is surely better than MUNI, no?

          • earl

            Yes and no. Yes, bart is generally better about being on time. However, some areas of muni at some times have enough service that you don’t need to care about the timetable. Second, when bart breaks (and it breaks often), you don’t have many alternatives unless you’re willing to pay uber $80 to get down the peninsula, *and* you have the requisite hour to sit on 101/280. If uber is even available, given you aren’t the only person being fucked by bart.

            I have a 7pm childcare retrieval deadline. I have to allocate 75 minutes for a 27 minute bart trip in order to moderately reliably make the deadline.

    • JL

      Many of them can only afford to live way out from the city where land is cheap.

      Hmm, but is living way out, such that you have to drive even to the commuter rail station, still cheaper than living in an inner-ring town (not necessarily a city center), when you factor in the extra costs of having to own a car and pay for gas and insurance and maintenance for it (and, presumably, drive it to get most places, which ups the gas and maintenance costs)? I haven’t ever owned a car, but my spouse, who has health conditions that make it hard for him to use mass transit, does, and it seems like an enormous money sink. I haven’t run the numbers, though.

      • djw

        I’m not even convinced the initial premise is correct. A lot of the far-out megacommuters are coming from exurban areas with lots of new construction McMansion-style housing that’s probably more expensive than houses in some less prestigious but closer to transit suburbs. I don’t have data to point to, but my wager would be the typical mega-commuter probably doesn’t have a lower income on average than that of the suburbanite whose spot they’re taking up.

        And your right that in general people underestimate the cost of driving, by ignoring depreciation and wear and tear in their everyday calculations about cost.

        • Murc

          A lot of the far-out megacommuters are coming from exurban areas with lots of new construction McMansion-style housing that’s probably more expensive than houses in some less prestigious but closer to transit suburbs.

          You’re right about this, and I should have been clearer that I absolutely wasn’t talking about those people. I don’t GET those people. If you’re spending four hours a day commuting, when precisely are you enjoying your giant waste of space of a house?

          The people I have met who mega-commute are people who took any job they could get during the recession, no matter if it were a crazy distance away from their home, people who just straight can’t afford to live closer, or people who willingly sacrificed a commute for a “good” reason. (A common one I encountered was “anyplace I could afford that’s closer doesn’t have as good schools.”)

          • djw

            Yeah, the recession absolutely created a lot of involuntary horrific commutes deserving of sympathy–people who have to take any job they can get, no matter how far, and can’t move because they’re underwater, or broke, or spouse still has a job in the current location, etc.

          • nixnutz

            In my office there are four guys who bought houses in Pennsylvania. One of them is in Kutztown, 115 miles from work, and the other three are close enough that they carpool. These guys are all immigrants who have done well at the company, they probably make 80-100k, and their houses are new construction and largish but not McMansions by any stretch. On the one hand it’s kind of cool that the sticks are that much less white but these are probably guys who would have bought houses in Queens or Long Island 10 or 15 years ago. I don’t know exactly what to make of that anecdata except that it’s not something they were reduced to, it’s the best brass ring they could grab when they’d “made it.”

          • Ahuitzotl

            Thus, the most effective way of improving the commute/land use problem is to reform the education system so as to distribute education taxes evenly across all counties/parishes ?

            No, I’m not taking the piss.

            • nixnutz

              I think that equalizing educational opportunity is maybe the number one thing but it’s striking when you look at how much the tax bases of e.g, Boston and San Francisco have grown over the last 30 years and how little they’ve done to improve their public schools. There’s more to the problem than the distribution of taxes.

              • cafl

                You don’t understand school funding in California… it is only indirectly a function of the local tax base after the Serrano decision. What I observe is that school improvement is impacted by the steep housing costs. For one thing, communities only benefit from the rise in real estate prices after property changes hands, including commercial property, thanks to Prop 13. Also communities that have great schools have housing no longer affordable for young families, thus communities that have expanding apartment and condo populations have space problems in their schools that can only be rectified by the passage of school bonds (that require a supermajority to pass).

                • nixnutz

                  It is true that I don’t understand the details of school funding, although I almost edited my post to add that props. 13 and 2 1/2 probably explained a lot. The fact remains that the value of the property in those cities has increased 10 or 20-fold over the last 30 years and there’s been no political will to turn that into more stable funding for public schools.

                  If you look at those two cities there is a conspicuously low number of white school-age kids, there were plenty of strollers in Noe Valley when I lived there but those people leave before their kids go to school. And once they move to the suburbs it’s in their interest to maintain their kids’ relative advantage, so the problem only gets worse. Distributing revenues between districts could break that cycle but politically it’s impossible.

        • earl

          Not for bart. If you’re unaware, nimby assholes broke the original construction plan. Bart only extends down the peninsula to Millbrae; lots of people commute from eg san jose which is substantially cheaper to live in than sf or the peninsula. From the east side across the bay, the farther out you live the substantially cheaper it gets to live.

          The expensive areas to live in sfbay are, ranked by price decreasing, suburban peninsula towns such as Atherton/Palo Alto, sf proper, then Marin. Cheap — relatively — are San Jose and south, or across the bay. Of course there are pockets of mcmansions such as ruby hills in pleasanton, but that’s a minority of e bay commuters.

      • Murc

        Hmm, but is living way out, such that you have to drive even to the commuter rail station, still cheaper than living in an inner-ring town (not necessarily a city center), when you factor in the extra costs of having to own a car and pay for gas and insurance and maintenance for it (and, presumably, drive it to get most places, which ups the gas and maintenance costs)?

        It is if you have to own a car in both situations, yes. Many cities make it difficult to get by without a car for anyone but a single person or childless couple living and working in the city center, and next to impossible for people with kids.

        In my specific case and city, for example, every job I’ve ever had has been in an office park in either the inner or outer ring, because that’s where the jobs are. Bus service there is spotty at best. I live in an outer ring suburb because that’s where my extended family live and it’s where I’ve lived for thirty years; I got roots there. Mass transit there is nonexistent except for a single stop on a long bus line.

        I could, theoretically, get by without my car if I were willing to deal with bus lines and live in a postage stamp sized apartment in a real bad neighborhood. It would be difficult and stressful.

        • ajp

          It is if you have to own a car in both situations, yes. Many cities make it difficult to get by without a car for anyone but a single person or childless couple living and working in the city center, and next to impossible for people with kids.

          My wife and I currently live in Upper Manhattan (and currently pay as much in rent for a one bedroom as many of our friends in less expensive parts of the country pay monthly for their mortgages for decent sized houses).

          We think it’s expensive, but we both work primarily in Manhattan (although I go to Hudson County several times a month) so public transportation means we don’t have to pay for a car or gas or anything.

          We’ve priced out various other options-buying a home in Queens, Nassau, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, and in Jersey Bergen, Essex, even as far down as Monmouth. For all but Queens we’d need a car, and even there not having a car would be pushing it.

          We work different enough hours that we might even have to settle for two cars. Taking out the city tax but adding the price of cars, and transportation, and tolls, we’re not really saving any money. We found that for a decent place in a decent neighborhood, overall it’s about the same-all we get is a little more space-which is not nothing, but even a place four times the size of our current apartment is not worth the commuting hassle if we’re not really saving any money.

          On the other hand, if the mass transit in Manhattan sucked and we needed a car, then hands down we’d move to the burbs-not worth the expense of living here without the transit system.

      • Franklin Daley

        In the Real Wold most people want to live in the suburbs no matter how many times you try and use social engineering to force them to live in the cities against their will.

  • Lee Rudolph

    The expectation that parking should be free really is at the root of the problem here.

    The Boston-area MBTA does charge for parking at (at least some of) the ends of its various rail lines; contrariwise, all the free-park’n’rides that I know about are far out and served by (private) bus lines. I have no personal knowledge of park-and-rides at intermediate distances, but surely many here do.

    • Matt McIrvin

      Ah, Lee beat me to saying this. Yeah, when I think of a transit-system park-and-ride, I definitely am not imagining a free lot; more a pay parking structure. Though the fees are always a lot cheaper than the ones downtown, and there may well be a large subsidy involved.

      Whereas the Boston Express bus line’s park-and-ride in Salem, NH is free with your bus fare. And there is a free public park-and-ride at the Dascomb Road exit in Andover, but it’s a MassDOT facility, not MBTA, and private airport shuttles and such use it.

      • Matt McIrvin

        …MassDOT actually has a whole bunch of these park-and-ride lots throughout the suburbs. They generally are free to use, and I think MBTA bus routes serve some of them. But they’re not associated with rail transit stations.

    • SEPTA (Philly) park and rides for commuter rail seems to top out at $1/24hrs or some such. This is for big lots or small lots or busy lots or largely empty lots.

      Not free, but cheap as free. I don’t know why people park on the metered street in some locations.

    • Yeah, I was going to ask how djw was defining P&R. What he’s describing, I would call a satellite parking lot. The closest P&R I know of is on a weird plot of land near the turnpike entrance, and serves commuter carpools, and users of short and long term bus services.

      edit: where the commuter rail station is in the old downtown, which isn’t especially high rent tbh and probably could use some satellite parking instead of opening more stations in more towns with their own limited parking

      • djw

        Just the normal way–a place where parking (generally free but in some cases heavily subsidized with a nominal fee) is provided next to a bus or train stop for the purpose of facilitating bus/train ridership. The term can cover 10-12 spots by a bus stop or a massive lot near adjacent a major train station.

        • Hm, I’ve always seen it used for a massive lot in the middle of nowhere, that you pass while driving by on the highway. In my town there’s no bus station and the long haul buses used to pick up at the mall. What you describe (commuter rail lots, driving closer to the city to get better or cheaper parking), I wouldn’t use that word. Search MBTA park and ride and Google knows what you mean but the site doesn’t use that term. Anyway, I think traffic and development patterns are different here than elsewhere. The town where I live was founded three hundred years ago and has been industrialized almost that long. There’s a state prison. It’s crowded and yet more spread out (mostly) than Boston itself (about 25 miles away). I don’t see a solution for reducing sprawl that eliminates the need for things like parking lots at train stations.

          • djw

            Hm, I’ve always seen it used for a massive lot in the middle of nowhere, that you pass while driving by on the highway. In my town there’s no bus station and the long haul buses used to pick up at the mall.

            I don’t understand–what do you do after you park in these middle of nohwere lots? If there’s no buses or trains, where’s the “ride”? Carpool meet-ups, I guess?

            • Yeah, I thought they were pretty much all carpool meetups. But the one here is used by private buses too, like the Chinese NY ones, and IIRC charter trips. There’s no big sign that says “bus here” at it.

              I’ve never heard anyone call a commuter train lot a park and ride. You can walk there too, in most cases. It’s just, you know, a train.

            • So the closest I found searching “[town near me with big commuter rail lot] park and ride” was this: https://www.massdot.state.ma.us/highway/TrafficTravelResources/ParkandRideMap.aspx, which isn’t what you’re talking about but reminded me that one of these so called P&R’s is just the movie theater’s overflow lot.

              It sounds like what people are talking about in LA is more like, why are the new stations set up around big lots instead of being “lifestyle centers”, unless I’m missing something, I don’t really understand where the trains are going and who’s supposed to be using the,,

              • djw

                Interesting. Some of them on that map are park and rides in what I understand to be the standard sense of the term, as express bus stops are located there as well, but they treat carpools as the main purpose. (I’m sure some park and rides in Seattle are used for carpool meetup, too, but the main purpose is understood to be for connecting with transit). It’s also interesting to me that there’s a mode distinction I wouldn’t recognize, as they leave off train lots as something different.

                Anyway, New England particularities aside I think my usage is pretty standard. It comports with account offered by the august authority that is wikipedia

                At any rate, the question of whether to build new park and rides/expand them significantly is different than the question of should we keep ones that have been around forever and are more or less working OK. If the ones in Boston are filling up early, I’d advocating charging some money (or charging more), but if land value really is low that’ll be fairly minimal. Whatever contribution those lots have made to sprawl, they’ve pretty much already made it, since the regional population isn’t really growing.

                • Since I don’t know what is even being objected to–the big parking lot, the fact that the lot isn’t in an already developed area, the fact that the spot where the station is isn’t slated for residential development–the objections would seem to apply to expansions of the existing lots to relieve overuse, too–I’ll bow out now.

            • Rob in CT

              Commuter busses and carpooling. Mostly the former, I think.

              e.g.:

              https://www.google.com/maps/search/41.85310777+-72.42992972/@42.022545,-72.145695,1211m/data=!3m1!4b1?hl=en

              CT DOT labels this a “PLSE” lot, meaning:

              P : Paved
              E : Express Bus Service
              L : Lighted
              S : Shelter

              • Rob in CT

                I see from the DOT website that there are a lot of simply “PL” lots – no service. Those must be pure carpooling P&Rs. Just quickly scanning the town names, they seem to be way out in the sticks.

  • dilan

    I can’t comment on the political aspects of this, but one thing I know from having lived near park and rides is that if you build a big lot, it will prevent the sort of development near the station that is normally one of the big advantages of transit. Many Metrolink stations here in Southern California are basically impossible to use without a car, because if you try to walk to them, you have to walk across acres of parking to get to the station. Which makes transit-focused development far less useful.

    • Matt McIrvin

      I actually live about a thousand feet from the platform of an MBTA commuter-rail station, but it’s on the other side of the train tracks and there is no direct walkable route there: the minimum safe route is over a mile long and most conveniently navigated by driving. That’s not directly because of the parking lot, which is on the other side, but the place is not particularly designed to be walked to.

      • djw

        I’d really, really like to see the money available for improved access currently used for subsidized parking to go to pedestrian/bike bridges that increase the walkshed. Sound Transit has yet to commit to a pedestrian bridge over I-5 for the coming-in-2021 Northgate station in Seattle (which will have massive parking facilities) that would double the walkshed of the station for private residences alone, as well as provide access to a community college.

        • Matt McIrvin

          I could see people getting worried about the bridges as conduits/magnets for crime (some NIMBYs freak out about non-drivers getting access to their neighborhood, period).

          • djw

            True in many cases, although not (to my knowledge) in the one I mention, where the neighborhood sentiment is largely pro-bridge. It’s a not particularly dense single family neighborhood, but it’s next to a community college and in the city, so you get a little less suburban nonsense there.

            • ColBatGuano

              There is an overpass not too far south of the proposed Northgate station. It might make the walk a little too far some folks though.

          • MaxUtility

            Given that transit itself is often viewed as a “conduit/magnet for crime” I’m sure any improvement in pedestrian access will be viewed the same way.

            I’m not a big fan of building expensive bridges/pathways for bikes and peds that mainly serve to avoid them inconveniencing drivers instead of actually making it easier for pedestrians. But when dealing with freeways, etc. they probably do have real potential to open up the walkshed.

            • Lee Rudolph

              I’m not a big fan of building expensive bridges/pathways for bikes and peds that mainly serve to avoid them inconveniencing being maimed or killed by drivers

              Fixed!

              • MaxUtility

                Point taken, and these things can vary a lot depending on specific locations. But I’ve seen several pedestrian bridges that cost millions, add a lot of walking distance and time just to get people over fairly standard urban intersections. The clear purpose is to avoid making drivers wait an extra 15-30 seconds while people cross the street.

    • MaxUtility

      Sadly this is even true at some of the central city Los Angeles Metro stations where free parking lots surround light rail stops in fairly dense neighborhoods right on major bus lines.

    • CP Norris

      Furthermore, as Cap’n Transit pointed out, you risk creating more people who self-identify as drivers and vote as such.

      There is one more way that this works: in self-identification. You might think that transit riders would identify as transit riders and drivers as drivers, but it’s not that simple. There are people who drive to the park-and-ride, people who drive when they’re off work, and people who only occasionally drive up to the mountains for a weekend. Whenever they’re not riding, they tend to be on foot or on transit. We might therefore expect them to identify at least partly as transit riders, but in my experience they all identify as drivers first, even if they hardly drive.

  • Morse Code for J

    What is your model city for transit done correctly?

    Just thinking generically about it, I still think parking lots or garages are the answer, only situated in some kind of beltway a given radius out from the station and connected to it via shuttle bus, maybe on a dedicated lane for that purpose.

    • Atrios

      Every city where transit isn’t primarily seen as a way for “choice riders” (drivers) to improve their commutes slightly.

      How many cars should be able to park at a rail station? How much do those garages cost/ how many acres to they take up? Alternatively, how many people could you fit in reasonably but not too dense housing within a half mile of a nice walk of that station, especially considering that you can fit plenty of non transit friendly development nearby but not close enough?

      When expensive to build mass transit requires a park-n-ride it’s a fail.

      • MaxUtility

        This seems to be the big mental challenge at many transit agencies. I’ve seen officials talk about the usefulness of investing in parking lots as a way to attract riders. But they don’t seem to have any answer to how many more riders they would attract if the took the millions they’re subsidizing the parking with and instead invested that in better service, etc. “Choice” riders seem to be some sort of magic ponies that bring unquantifiable benefits to transit that the unwashed regular riders can’t complete with.

        • Morse Code for J

          Investment in parking lots is probably more about giving taxpayers outside of the walkshed a reason to vote on an excess levy or other tax increase needed to pay for the maintenance, expansion or improvement of public transit they will otherwise find it very difficult to use.

      • One area I’d like to understand better is long distance park and ride (as opposed to normal commuter based p&r).

        Intercity public transportation can get pricey and slow rather quick esp. as you scale up the party (e.g., with a car, the more people you fit in, the cheaper the trip becomes per capita). But having the car once you get to a lot of cities suck. And indeed, when we went to see Fun Home (in NYC from Philly) we drove to a big park and ride spot and took the subway.

        I often wish the intercity buses would do that. Going from Manchester to London often spends a huge chunk of time going through London to get to victoria station, which isn’t where I’m going. I’m pretty sure the tube would be faster.

        • And the price gap is huge, esp the marginal cost. One might hop into the car that someone was already driving, but most of us aren’t going to hop an Amtrak. Maybe a MegaBus.

  • Denverite

    Of course, there are other ways to get them to the station: walking, busing, biking, cabs and kiss and rides.

    OK, so we finally pulled the trigger and became a one-car-for-every-adult-driver family last week (i.e., we became a two car family). The reason is that after nearly a decade in Denver — a relatively public transportation-friendly city! — the above alternatives to getting me to and from the train station that’s about a mile away just became too painful, and when we did the math, we were spending about a car payment’s worth in workarounds (uber, car2go, cab).

    Here was the deal. I usually work until around 7:00 pm. The train ride to the closest station usually puts me there around 7:20 or so. Then I have to walk a mile-and-a-half home. Is that doable? Of course. Do I want to do it after a day that sees me get up at 5:15, exercise for 50 minutes or so, take care of three kids and get one or more of them to school, work a 10.5 hour day (albeit a cushy day at a desk), and then take the train home? Nope. (This is setting aside the string of robberies that happened last year that made it borderline dangerous.)

    So what are the alternatives? There’s the bus, but that runs every 30 minutes, and I’m not waiting half an hour to save myself a fifteen minute walk. There’s having my wife pick me up. After getting three kids home from school, fed, and calmed down, that’s not going to happen. Sometimes there’s a car2go, sometimes not. So, at the end of the day, getting from the train station to my house becomes painful enough that I just don’t take the train.

    All of this is to say that if you make the alternatives to park-and-rides* too painful for neighborhood commuters, they’re going to do what I did and just say screw it, I’ll drive in to work.

    * Is there any empirical evidence supporting the notion that park-and-rides just incentivize far-suburban commuters to drive from way out to the park-and-rides? Most of the Denver train stops are park-and-rides, at least outside of the immediate downtown core, and I’m not aware of this being a huge problem. Although that may reflect the relatively small cost difference between public transportation and downtown parking (taking the train from a neighborhood park-and-ride there and back would be $4.50, and you can usually find downtown parking for $8, so far-suburban commuters would be saving $3.50 for the hassle of pulling off the highway, parking, waiting for a train, walking from the train stop to the workplace, etc.).

    • A walk of that length would replace a lot of that exercise.

      • Denverite

        Not really. Walking a mile-and-a-half burns about 135 calories. That’s the equivalent of running about a mile-and-a-quarter (running burns slightly more calories than walking because it’s less efficient). So my morning run is 5.75 miles instead of 7 miles and I save nine or ten minutes.

        • Lost Left Coaster

          Look, if you’d rather buy a car than slightly modify your workout routine, what can anyone say?

          • djw

            Also, if Denverite is a normal human, then building some heart rate elevation and calorie burn into his daily life, rather than relying on time set aside for exercise, tends to produce better health results in the long term, because it’s easy to get busy or tired and bail on time set aside for exercise. I myself am terrified of how fat/out of shape I might get if I had a car, because when I’m feeling busy or stressed my gym time is too easily sacrificed, but my 20 minutes each way bike ride is non-negotiable.

          • JMP

            If you have little free time in part because so much of it is dominated by a very time and energy intensive hobby; well then, that hobby is your priority.

            • Denverite

              How on earth does 50 minutes a day to exercise carved out at 6:00 am when I’d otherwise be sleeping “dominate” my time?

            • ajp

              “Hobby” in this case meaning “cardiovascular exercise,” presumably to avoid the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease. Yeah, hobby.

              I’d say his lack of free time has more to do with working 10 hours a day and having three kids as opposed to exercising so he doesn’t die, but that’s just me.

          • Denverite

            Look, if you’d rather buy a car than slightly modify your workout routine, what can anyone say?

            That’s not the point. The point is that the exercise I’d be able to save by walking a fifteen minute walk would cut a minimal time from the exercise I get in in the morning. Now, running in to work is a different issue, because that way I can 100% combine commuting and exercising (and I do do this when I have early meetings, but it really screws over my wife, because then she has morning and after school kid duty [in addition to HER full time job]).

            [ETA: I should also say that getting the kids to their various schools with one car was also becoming such a huge hassle that this was also a big reason for the second car purchase.]

          • ajp

            I occasionally find Denverite’s comments obnoxious, but even I think this is unfair. I think the focus on his exercise routine is sort of missing the point.

            Take exercise out of the equation for a second, so he gets an extra 50 minutes of sleep (just a little over half an extra sleep cycle).

            I used to, while living in Manhattan, work in a suburban office park in New Jersey in Morris County. Couldn’t afford a car, and moving was impractical given my wife’s job and the expense of moving, so I walked 20 minutes (about a mile and a half) between the train station and the office before and after work. Sometimes I biked, but there was no sidewalk-pain in the ass. All this just to get to Penn Station, so I could transfer to the subway and ride that for another 30 minutes after 80 minutes on NJ Transit.

            Shit, if I could’ve afforded a car I would’ve gotten one, exercise be damned. Would’ve been so nice to just get in my car after a long day and drive, instead of walking 20 minutes and taking 2 different trains.

            So is it so unreasonable that Denverite is sick of riding a train just to be able to walk for 20 minutes after a 10 hour day that includes helping take care of his kids? And isn’t interested in waiting for a bus that would take longer than just walking (an annoying public transportation inconvenience I’ve often encountered). Zeroing in on his exercise is basically just saying “haha fuck you, yuppie.”

            • Denverite

              As someone who also occasionally finds Denverite’s comments obnoxious, djw’s bike suggestion was totally fair. If I hadn’t (a) already bought a second car and (b) didn’t have the kid transportation issues, I’d likely give it strong consideration.

            • djw

              I didn’t mean to come across as judgemental or anything; it sounds like he’s got a number of reasons to prefer a car. (I also didn’t mean for this post to sound critical of people who use park and rides. I think lots of policies are bad ideas all things considered but begrudge no one for taking advantage of them.) I really do find it odd that so many people seem to not consider bikes as cheap-and-easy solutions to the “last mile” problem that bedevils non-car commuting. I think the image of the hard-core bike commuter, covering 20 miles in spandex in all weather and feeling rather proud of himself, sometimes obscures the fact that bikes are simple tools accessible and useful in all kinds of ways.

        • ajp

          It’s not just burned calories, it’s elevating your heart rate. I guess it depends on the intensity of your walk, but my doctor tells me that a sustained heart rate of 120-140 best promotes cardiovascular health. Somehow I doubt most people get there simply by walking.

          • djw

            Most people can get over 120 by walking briskly, at a 3.5-4 MPH pace. I tend to hover around 125 when I maintain a brisk pace.

          • LosGatosCA

            Perfect cardio health is 2 miles in 15 minutes.

            I’m pretty certain there are as many people who can do this as have a handicap under 15.

            • Denverite

              Just got in the door. Seven miles in 53 minutes. This thread actually prompted me to check my pulse a couple of times. Both in the 135 range.

    • djw

      From a study of your very own city:

      The survey included about 2,000 riders who drove single-occupancy-vehicles to park-and-ride facilities and rode light rail for part of their commutes. Their points of origin and destination were used by researchers in this study to calculate GHG emissions. Using this information, researchers calculated vehicle and transit mileage for each trip; determined mileage for a hypothetical car-only trip; estimated the fuel used and GHG for all the trips; and, lastly, calculated the impact of GHG emissions.

      The results? Park-and-rides can encourage drivers to make long trips — as much as 30 miles! — by car to reach a park-and-ride facility. Plus, it “was not unusual” for drivers to skip several, closer park-and-rides in order to park at another locale closer to downtown offering free parking. “The vehicular emissions from these unnecessarily long SOV transit access trips limited the significance of the environmental benefits that could be gained from the use of public transit,” reported the study.

      Another downside: Park-and-rides also contributed to extra trips. Up to 46% of drivers drove short distances — less than two miles — in order to access a park-and-ride, rather than biking or walking the short distance to the transit hub. As the researchers explain, “When parking is overabundant, users become less inclined to walk and bike to the stations, and they instead make a short driving trip, which is counterproductive to the overall goal of a sustainable environment.”

      I’m curious why you ruled out biking? It seems like the obvious solution for that distance, presuming no massive hill.

      • Denverite

        Oh, I’m not surprised that if there is empirical evidence, it’s from Denver. Like I said, the train stations here are almost exclusively park-and-rides, and the way the traffic works, there are a couple of choke points to the south and west that if you live past that, it would actually save time to drive to just before the choke point and then take a train. (And I live within one of those choke points, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I don’t see many far-suburban park-and-riders.)

        As for the bike, part of it is that the way to my house goes through a big highway overpass that effectively creates decent hills going each way, part of it is the hassle of getting a bike on and off a train and then into my office, part of it is that if I’m going to be biking, I can just bike the fiveish miles into work and probably get there quicker than taking the train, and part of it is that I’m the only person in Colorado who doesn’t own a bike.

        • djw

          part of it is the hassle of getting a bike on and off a train and then into my office

          Does Denver not have secure bike storage faciities at train stations? That would surprise me.

          • Denverite

            You know, that’s probably right. Like I said, I don’t own a bike, so I’ve never checked.

          • MaxUtility

            Good god, it’s Denver, not a “NY from the late 70’s” hellscape. Get a piece of junk old mountain bike and lock it up outside at the station. Couple hundred bucks for something perfectly functional, no one’s going to mess with it, and it will have nice low gears that make going over those hills easier than walking them is. 1 1/2 miles you can probably do it faster than in a car.

            Being Denver, you’re probably surrounded by super bikers with custom frames that they would never leave outside. Bikes are not hothouse flowers. Their made to be banged around and left outside.

            • Marc

              Riding a bike is nice in the summer, but I despise riding in the snow, sleet, and rain, and it’s not all that when it is below zero either. If you’re not in southern California, weather is a real factor in biking or walking a substantial distance to a transit hub.

              • ColBatGuano

                This is what I don’t get about the “just get a bike” response. While lots of folks do bike in Seattle year round, the idea of riding in the dark on rainy urban streets nine months out of the year has very little appeal.

        • ajp

          I dunno, biking to work seems a little iffy to me depending on what you do. My office doesn’t have a shower, and there’s no gym nearby I’m a member of. So I’m going to bike to work in my business casual clothes? Or change in the bathroom? I hate starting off my day all sweaty.

          I know some people who actually have showers in their offices. Or are members of gyms like Equinox that are only a couple of blocks from their office, so they can easily bike to work and shower. But for people who don’t have that available, it’s kind of gross.

          • Denverite

            I’ve been lucky in that there’s been a shower everywhere where I worked except for a nine month window in one building. Some of the showers have been super skeevy, but it’s better than nothing. I used to commute by running pretty regularly and then take public or a cab home — I’d take two days of clothes in on Sunday, then run at home on Wednesday and take two more days of clothes in. But once the number of kids hit critical mass, it became totally unfair to my wife to expect her to handle kid duty from the time they woke up until 7:30 or whenever I got home.

            • LosGatosCA

              You’re not in the blog demographic.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        I’m curious why you ruled out biking? It seems like the obvious solution for that distance, presuming no massive hill.

        I was actually going to suggest “get a skateboard, dude!” but I figured I’d be laughed at. If the sidewalks are decent and one’s personal dignity is somewhat flexible, though, it’s a perfect solution.

        • Ahenobarbus

          Can’t imagine that working in the winter.

    • JustRuss

      Is cycling an option? I realize it gets a bit chilly in Denver, but you’ll be wearing a coat anyway, toss a pair of (very light and compact) rain pants on and you’d be ok for 1.5 miles.

      • Bill Murray

        snow is likely a bigger problem in the winter than the cold

      • Michael Cain

        I’m a long-time Denver suburb cyclist, with two new light rail stations going into my suburb next year, each about 1.5 miles from my house. There are two winter problems of note. The first, as Bill Murray suggests, is snow. Unless the snowfall is big, none of the cities plow the side streets. Even on the bigger streets they seldom plow the bike lanes. While much of Denver’s snow fall melts quickly, shaded areas turn into rutted ice and take a much longer time to clear.

        The second is the daily temperature swings. I’ve put in plenty of miles in the middle of sunny winter days when it’s in the 40s and that’s no problem. Those same days it’s in the teens or single digits until the sun comes up, and drops back to that fairly quickly after the sun sets. If you’re going any distance, that’s gloves/facemask and pay attention to how hard you’re breathing sort of riding.

        FWIW, at the larger of the two stations the parking garage will take up about a third of the existing bus parking lot and the rest will be redeveloped. Because of the terrain, it won’t block access from the directions where most of the new higher-density housing is going to go. There’s something like 800 new high-end apartment, condo and townhouse units in various stages of commitment within a half-mile walk of that station. The first of those is already under construction even though the station won’t open until sometime in 2016.

  • Yankee

    OTOH, it’s a step towards closing off the urban core to unlimited pov access, which would be a wonderful thing.

  • Stag Party Palin

    Talking about park-and-ride lots means the transit system has failed. The longer-distance trains should be only part of the system. Without good local short-haul transit that you can walk to and thus connect to longer-distance transit, you cannot make good use of the trains. There’s just no way you can park enough cars to fill the buses and trains to a truly useful level. Arguing over whether the parking should cost X or be free, or use passes, or only occupy cheap land, or whatever, misses the point.

    Case in point: Santa Monica CA will have a new Metro connection to downtown LA. The parking will be completely inadequate (some say there won’t be any added parking, but I don’t know. I find it hard to believe that it is even possible to build enough parking to accommodate demand.). So we will have a choice between spending an hour driving the 20 miles to LA after 2 in the afternoon, or spending an hour and a half using bus transit to get to the train and get to LA. Because local transit is typically convoluted, inadequate, and infrequent.

    • MaxUtility

      Santa Monica to downtown LA isn’t a suburban commuter rail line that is bringing commuters from far flung areas into the urban core though. It’s a intracity rail line serving a dense corridor on its whole length. You’re right that it’s not “possible to build enough parking” because whatever they build will just attract more people to drive there. There shouldn’t be any park and ride on any of LA’s inner rail lines. Especially somewhere like downtown Santa Monica where the value of land means you’re paying something like $250K per parking spot.

      I’m sure Santa Monica’s bus system isn’t utopia, but it looks like there’s many local and rapid lines that converge right where the rail station will be and I would assume they’ll tweak schedules and stops to serve the rail stops better as soon as the trains start running.

    • djw

      Hopefully–presumably?–the Big Blue Bus will engage in some route revisions to better integrate with the new Metro line when it opens? The massive, absurd commitment to parking works against that but doesn’t entirely rule it out, I’d think.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    New Jersey Transit’s NE Corridor line to NYC is maybe the Platonic Ideal of everything you hate about this. It’s largely built around gigantic Park n Rides at the major stations, which are almost completely inaccessible anyway besides by car (though parking is paid), and enables people to commute to NYC from New Brunswick, Princeton, etc. The smaller stations like Metuchen are much more integrated into the surrounding towns & foot traffic, perhaps because they don’t offer vast swaths of parking. NJ also has park n rides for commuter buses (public & private), with the exact same results.

  • Morse Code for J

    So here’s the D.C. Metro map (http://www.wmata.com/rail/maps/map.cfm). I live in a small town in eastern West Virginia. If I were to go from my present job to one at FAA HQ, I would not be moving into D.C. unless my wife also found satisfactory work in the same area, so commuting it would have to be. I would also not be driving the whole way into D.C., or any more of the way than absolutely necessary.

    My first choice would be to use the Brunswick Line of the MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) train system. My station has a parking lot with ~250 spaces maybe 5 miles from my house. Since it’s on reclaimed cornfield beside a railroad track in West Virginia and no one but commuters parks there, it’s first-come, first-served free parking. If for some reason the Brunswick Line were closed or out of service, I would drive about 45 minutes to the Shady Grove stop at the end the Metro’s Red Line between Rockville and Gaithersburg, Maryland, where there are 5,745 all-day parking spaces.

    These are park-and-rides in low-density areas. The land adjacent to either stop is not particularly valuable from a residential development perspective. Are these park-and-rides really problematic from your perspective as a transit advocate, or did you have a different scenario in mind?

    • sonamib

      I presume the train line is going to DC, so why are you saying that the land next to the stop is not valuable? The very presence of the stop makes it valuable. You’re just a short ride away from the urban core! Housing prices in DC are going crazy, I hear, so there is a lot of pent-up demand for walkable city-like neighborhoods. You could do that around the station.

      That’s the whole point of transit-oriented development, you orient the development around the transit. That’s what they do it in Japan. The suburban towns are typically built around train stops. (People who love their cars and their big house can still live in the outer suburbs, away from the stations.) The result is that their core cities are dense but not outrageously so, the big difference is in the suburbs, who are way more dense than suburbs in the US or Europe.

      • Morse Code for J

        I presume the train line is going to DC, so why are you saying that the land next to the stop is not valuable?

        Because it’s not, or at least not noticeably so, compared to the areas from which probable commuters are coming.

        You’re just a short ride away from the urban core!

        An hour and 45 minutes from the Duffields stop, and forty minutes from Shady Grove. I guess it depends on what you’re comparing them to.

        Housing prices in DC are going crazy, I hear, so there is a lot of pent-up demand for walkable city-like neighborhoods. You could do that around the station.

        This is the first one (https://www.google.com/maps/place/Duffields,+WV+25442/@39.3618696,-77.826469,2639m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x89c9fddd5c5cc41b:0xf910d722a1d8c43), and having grown up nearby, I would disagree about how desirable a walkable urban neighborhood is to the majority of homeowners and renters here. As for the second (https://www.google.com/maps/place/Shady+Grove+Metro+Station+Parking+Lot/@39.1201557,-77.1634089,2647m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x89b7d2916142026b:0xb639b84214509819!6m1!1e1), I would ask which people you want to displace in order to develop around the Metro station in the desired fashion, and how much that would cost relative to the status quo.

        • sonamib

          Ok, I misjudged how far away they were from DC. The first one is clearly not very valuable land. The second would be at an acceptable distance if it were next to a really huge metropolis like New York, but I guess for DC it’s too far away. So, no problems with P&R! I’ll just note that you wouldn’t need to displace anyone in the Shady Grove example, you would just need to build in the parking lot.

          I’m sorry, I should have trusted you on the specifics. I just wanted to make the point that land that is not currently valuable may become valuable if you build a train station there and allow development around it.

          • Morse Code for J

            I’ll just note that you wouldn’t need to displace anyone in the Shady Grove example, you would just need to build in the parking lot.

            Shady Grove’s parking is heavily used, with 85% of its spaces occupied on average and an average paid utilization of 91% for the last FY. If they were all charging the all-day rate (which they aren’t, there are reserved spaces and short-term parking options which cost more), then $5.10 for one day of parking, times 313 days where one pays for parking, times 5,725 spaces, times 91% utilization rate, gives you $8M of annual revenue for very little in terms of maintenance. Even if Metro sold a moneymaker like its lots and garage space and weren’t worried about pissing off riders who used that space, who could afford to live in the development to follow?

            Here is my point: generalizations about how development should proceed versus how it actually does proceed only get you so far.

            • sonamib

              Well, I already agreed that Shady Grove is too far away from DC to build a city-like neighborhood there. So I’m not sure where is the disagreement is! Let me quote myself :

              So, no problems with P&R!

              See, fine with the Park and Ride! I just made a tangent saying that you wouldn’t need to displace any residents to build something else there (housing, retail, whatever). You would obviously need to displace parking lots. And again, I already conceded that Shady Grove was too far away from DC for the type of development I was imagining.

  • PSP

    This ain’t exactly new. I remember my Dad telling me how Wall Streeters living in Greenwich in the 30s through the 50s would have two cars. The wife would ride around in a chauffeured Buick (Caddys were tacky) and the husband would have a rusted out barely running station car to drive back and forth to the New Haven line.

    When I was a small child, the parking lots extended probably half a mile down the tracks, but the shopping district on Greenwich Ave started only a block or so from the station. I drove by on the Connecticut Turnpike a couple weeks ago, and it looked like all those lots were now 6-10 story garages or office buildings.

  • mtraven

    The expectation that parking should be free really is at the root of the problem here.

    BART parking isn’t free, although it’s pretty cheap ($2-3 for the day).

    Unfortunately the feeder transit systems to BART stations are mostly terrible. I tried going without a car for awhile, but having an hour-long wait for an hour-long bus ride from Daly City cured me of that pretty quick.

    Everything you say about park-n-ride is true but until there are alternatives, there wont’ be alternatives.

    What the world could really use (barring improved public transit) is a non-douchey version of Uber (that is, a computationally sophisticated ridesharing platform).

    • sonamib

      Everything you say about park-n-ride is true but until there are alternatives, there wont’ be alternatives.

      I think the point of this post is precisely to advocate for alternatives, so we aren’t stuck with the sucky statu quo.

  • LosGatosCA

    Slightly out of the demographic for this blog, but my exposure to people who have excessively long commutes including/excluding public transportation involves a stay at home spouse.

    A single income household in Silicon Valley can’t usually support a 2-3 child family with a stay at home mom. Even though the median price in SF is over $1M, on a national scale $800K in San Mateo and $700K in Santa Clara are still pretty far off the affordability chart.

    In my limited experience, most of these child bearing age folks have two three choices – move out of the area, commute from out of the area, or have kids in their late thirties/forties after their professional careers are well established and their home equity was established starting in their late twenties when school system quality was not an issue.

    • LosGatosCA

      And poor Denverite – factoring in his parental responsibilities in as part of the formula of commuting alternatives,, how ungreen of him.

      If he saves 60 minutes on a commute each day to spend the additional time with his children or just take the burden off his wife, that’s 220 hours * $85/hr net, close to $20K of after tax life value.

      That’s what real people are balancing.

      Because, unfortunately, silly stupid short sighted people think they live in suburbia even when they live in a county of over 1M people (Nassau, LI) or worse in a metropolitan area of 7M people (SF bay area) and don’t want to invest in mass transit scaled to the need. The Bay Area is especially priceless because with a high tech BART ringing the bay with spurs to Santa Rosa, Gilroy, Santa Cruz, even out to connect unseamlessly with Sacramento could be a real crown jewel.

      I can’t speak to Colorado civic planning, but California schools are the perfect example of the current state of civic commitment in this state. I.e. stupefyingly ignorant.

  • Richard Gadsden

    To me a Park-and-Ride is a car park attached to a transit node (railway station, tram stop, bus stop) where parking requires you to have a ticket for the transit node. Parking can be free (ie included in the transit ticket) or a park-and-ride ticket can be more expensive than a plain transit ticket, but you can’t buy a parking ticket alone.

    Most of the ones I know are one stop on each branch of a line – usually either the terminus stop or (where the terminus is in the centre of a commuter town) one or two stops closer to the city. Usually the Park and Ride is at a point where a big car park is the only acceptable development (commonly because it’s adjacent to the green belt, so urban development isn’t really an option) and have very good road connections – the idea being to divert people who currently drive into the city to using the park-and-ride.

    The usual public-policy objective is to reduce the need for car parking in the city, which allows land to be switched to higher-value uses.

    A P&R at every stop seems to be pointless – the rail link will run along one axis into the city, so people commuting from further out will hit the outermost P&R, and have no need to use any that are closer in.

    • djw

      Usually the Park and Ride is at a point where a big car park is the only acceptable development (commonly because it’s adjacent to the green belt, so urban development isn’t really an option) and have very good road connections – the idea being to divert people who currently drive into the city to using the park-and-ride.

      On the first point, it’s a choice: zoning the stops for little or no housing or other economic activity isn’t obvious or natural, and limits the housing options for people who’d prefer to live low-carbon lifestyles. To use an environmental argument along the lines of “we can’t put apartments there, it’s a “greenbelt”, let’s but a giant paved car storage lot there instead” is common enough in our zoning politics but absurd on its face–cars are just as great a threat to the things we’re supposed to like about greenbelts–animals, clean air, etc–than apartments are. (Europe is finally realizing the insanity of this, and is including green housing developments in their definition of greenbelts.)

      On the second point, it works for some goals but not others. As the Denver study showed P&R’s increase GHG emissions, by providing an option for people who live even further from the city. When P&R users open up freeway space close to the city others, who might not have been driving before, tend to fill it up. What that suggests is that if your goal is for the maximum number of car drivers to conveniently enter the city every day, P&Rs are a fine idea. If your goal is to fund and facilitate usable alternatives to driving, or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, their impact is considerably more ambiguous and quite possibly negative.

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