A lot has changed in the two years since I moved back to work in Downtown Stockton, almost all of it for the better. But one thing that has not changed (and I fear may never change) is one particular item: the debate about parking. It seems you can’t get two sentences in to a conversation about the rejuvenation of downtown without someone broaching the topic of the “lack of parking” in the area. Without context, you would think there are massive traffic jams and people circling block after block to find a parking spot. And to many, this is a sure sign that downtown will never actually succeed.
But today, I wanted to return from a brief writing hiatus to make a bold (to some), but completely substantiated statement: Downtown Stockton does NOT have a shortage of parking. I repeat: There are more than enough spaces in the downtown core to accommodate visitors and workers a like. And it’s not even close, and I can prove it.
If you know me, you know that I rely on quantitative information. And fortunately, we have data that shows just how much parking we have. In 2009, before the economy completely tanked, the state Administration of the Courts (AOC) conducted an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) assessing the impacts of constructing a new courthouse (the one we see nearing completion today). In this analysis, the EIR examined the impact that this new courthouse—with its increased workforce and new visitors—would have on the existing downtown parking supply. The conclusion: There would be minimal impact.
This conclusion was based on an analysis of available parking in late 2008. Specifically, the EIR found that at any given time during the work week– day, afternoon, or evening– there was a vast surplus of parking. See for yourself:
The first chart shows parking availability at various facilities at different points during the day. As you can see, at any given time, these facilities were only between 62% and 68% occupied, with over 1,000 vacant spaces. The second chart focuses specifically on three of the city’s largest parking facilities—the Eberhardt, Coy and Hunter garages— at two points during the morning hours and similarly found that at any given day there could be between 300 and 500 empty parking spaces. (And yes, I checked the dates of the analysis to ensure that they were not measuring on weekends or holidays).
At this point, you’re probably asking, can a study from 2009 really apply to Downtown Stockton today? The answer is yes. According to US Census data, 2008/2009 jobs outpace the number of current jobs from 16,000 to 17,000 back then to about 15,000 today.
Moreover, many spaces occupied in city facilities today are reserved for construction workers of the new downtown courthouse. A quick call to the city’s new parking provider, SP+, confirms this. This finding means when construction of the new courthouse is complete, dozens of new spots will open up once again.
Given this analysis, we can safely conclude that back in 2008, when downtown supported a significantly higher amount of jobs, our current parking facilities had more than enough space to meet demand.
For some, this analysis still may not be enough to prove that Downtown Stockton has ample parking. To that end, I submit the following visual evidence:
These photos are from the Market Street, Ed Coy, and Channel Street garages, respectively. These were taken recently during the work week recently around 10am. As you can see, entire floors of these facilities sit vacant.
All of this being said, I’m willing to concede that the city may be inefficiently using existing parking. It may very well be the case that the share of monthly permits to daily users is not balanced. In fact, the AOC EIR notes that their researchers observed garage workers closing off the garages to non-monthly permit holders despite there being vacancies available. Perhaps we reserve too many spots for “transient” cars, and not enough for monthly permits. This is definitely an area that should be examined to create a more efficient use of existing parking facilities.
However, I think the bigger issue here is behavior. Stocktonians are not accustomed to walking more than a few feet to get to their destination and, as a result, walking one or two blocks seems excessive to a lot of people. But it’s time we get over the expectation that parking should be free, convenient and abundant. This is not a realistic expectation in an urban environment. Downtown Stockton is not a strip mall and we should never strive to provide parking so plentiful that walking a block or two seems like an odyssey. While there may not be parking on the same block as a specific retailer or employer in downtown, it’s probably only a block or two away at most either in a garage or on a less busy street.
Part of this responsibility falls on the downtown community itself. In order to make visitors and workers comfortable with a short walk, more has to be done to activate the streets. We need more street-level activity that engages the pedestrian. We need better design so that there are no blank walls or barren sidewalks that make an 800 foot walk from the garage to the office seem like you’re crossing a desolate land.
Unfortunately, there will always be a sense of entitlement to free and convenient parking in Stockton and most of California, and that’s fine. For those able bodied individuals who are offended by the concept of walking, luckily most development in Stockton for the past 50 years accommodates their demands. Thanks to outdated parking requirements, there’s nary a big box store, shopping center or fast food chain that does not provide an overabundance of parking spots. But for those who want to see downtown return to the glory days, the “injustice” of parking in a city garage or paying for a parking meter is not a deterrent: it’s part of the urban experience of any large or midsized city worth its salt.