Tue07222014

Understanding parking and traffic studies

Traffic studies are part science and part art. Traffic engineers first identify a need for a traffic study based on proposed developments, existing traffic congestion or anticipation of future growth.

The science is initially based on collection of data that show existing parking available, the frequency of use of parking spaces and the traffic generated as a result of the use of those parking spaces by adjacent businesses and residential and office space.

With this initial data, the engineer can determine whether there is adequate parking for the existing surrounding businesses during certain times of day. The ongoing Downtown Parking Management Study, however, does not address the impact or the limitations of more prosperous businesses and future growth. Nor does it address the issue of the loss of approximately 117 parking spaces due to the new development at First and Main streets and construction of the new Safeway on First.

Traffic engineers live by an 85 percent rule when it’s applied to parking. A parking lot is considered to be at capacity when it reaches 85 percent of the available parking based on typical parking and traffic patterns. The current parking study actually shows a number of the existing parking lots downtown at 92 percent capacity and a few above 80 percent capacity.

Essentially, downtown parking lots are full when we need them most.

Recent articles and letters in the Town Crier have indicated that the existing parking stock is adequate. However, the information gathered in the parking study to date is only the first step in a multistep process. Additional steps include:

1. Analyzing the impact of the loss of 117 existing parking spaces.

2. Analyzing the future parking needs based on build-out of current downtown zoning.

3. Developing a parking management plan to make better use of existing parking, including locations of white-dot spaces and possible restriping of parking lots.

4. Developing a master parking plan that meets existing and future business needs and promotes and anticipates future growth and prosperity downtown.

5. Using the information to help develop a comprehensive master plan for the downtown triangle.

I look forward to the continuation of this process and traffic engineers’ follow-up steps.

Bill Maston is an architect and former Los Altos resident who currently lives in Mountain View.

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