Burlingame has longed discussed the need for a parking structure downtown, but members of the public and some city officials believe there needs to be more data before making a decision on building one.
The Traffic, Safety and Parking Commission is supposed to give the City Council recommendations for a plan in February, but commissioners and residents don’t seem convinced there is enough information yet to make that deadline. The commission is set to give recommendations on where the best location would be for a structure, if it should focus on short-term, long-term or a combination of both, if it’s needed and other alternatives to improve parking. Some of the information city staff has includes a 1998 study which states there is a 350-space shortage downtown. Augustine Chou, a Burlingame transportation engineer, said the number has stayed pretty level in the last few years.
“We don’t know if that’s the right or wrong number,” said Commissioner John Martos. “We know it’s a 15-year-old number. There’s not enough information to give a recommendation to the council in February.”
Additional data includes a 2012 report on the feasibility of a parking structure by the consulting firm CDM Smith, along with data from public workshops and a sidewalk survey in 2013.
Public Works Director Syed Murtuza did point out there is currently no funding for such a project and it would be at least a year or two before it would be approved.
Commissioner Jeff Londer shared Martos’ concerns that a structure is not necessarily needed.
“I’m not convinced we really need a parking structure,” he said. “The Saturday or Sunday before Christmas, lots F, N and G all had vacancies and those are the number one shopping days. I would certainly not be in favor of encouraging cars in the core.”
Chou noted the parking garage discussion is in the early stages and nothing is set in stone, but that some movement is necessary.
The CDM Smith study looked at various locations for a lot including updating Lot J with or without the purchase of adjacent property; updating Lot E with or without the purchase of adjacent property; Lot N with the purchase of adjacent property; a combination of Lots A and C; and a combination of Lots C and D together with the purchase of adjacent properties. Lots A, C and D are located on Donnelly Avenue. Lots J and E are in blocks between Primrose Road, Burlingame Avenue, Howard Avenue and Lorton Avenue. The group considered the efficiency of each garage, cost per space, traffic impacts and capacity of each structure.
The company dwindled it down to four best plans including building a garage in Lot C with 279 spaces, which would have the lowest overall cost, but would be hidden from the avenue. Lot C, with parcels from Lot D, would have 596 spaces and has the lowest cost per space, but does require acquisition of property and increased traffic congestion. The J option would have 518 spaces, been able to possibly expand to include Lot W and have a potential revenue stream. This option might lead to increased traffic congestion and has the highest cost per space. A Lot A and A-3 option would include multiple access points, more congestion and a complex structure design, according to the CDM Smith report.
Members of the community have also discussed alternatives to easing parking in the downtown core, including offering employees free or reduced priced parking in less-used parking lots on the perimeter of downtown.
Laurie Simonson, a former commissioner, suggested wayfinding signs for the current lots could be effective and said the city shouldn’t proceed with a garage unless it’s determined it will be money well spent.
“It (wayfinding) could be $5,000 a year,” she said. “Significantly less than a $30 million parking structure. We should look at cheaper, shorter term alternatives.”
Others suggested putting a parking structure at the Burlingame Caltrain Station while others said people should be encouraged to walk. City data revealed 65 percent of participants were willing to walk only a block and a half to get to their downtown destinations. Thirty-five percent were willing to walk a little farther. Notably, most of those who visit downtown are from outside of Burlingame or Hillsborough, data showed.
“We’ve lost sight of the downtown plan,” said Jennifer Pfaff, president of the Burlingame Historical Society. “We’re going after money and people can learn to walk more than a block and a half. … I don’t like the idea of converging on one single lot.”
Mayor Michael Brownrigg said looking at more of a holistic approach to parking solutions would be wise.
“There should be lower scale things employed before looking into a structure to really know how many spaces are needed,” he said. “Better machines or free parking for employees to go park outside [of the core] could be encouraged. [For some of the machines] you have to have a dollar and it has to be a crisp one.”
Meanwhile, former councilman Russ Cohen said figuring out how the city wants to proceed with parking matters all comes down to good urban planning. He suggested the city look into multi-use buildings with parking on the top floor and retail or office space on the first.
“Look at best practices and what are the trends,” he said. “Look at parking garage design today.”
The findings from the CDM Smith study can be found on Burlingame’s website burlingame.org.
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