This week, for the first time publicly, BART shared its current vision for exactly how much parking will be available at the North Berkeley and Ashby stations once hundreds of new housing units are constructed on-site.
For some, it was an exciting move toward a more sustainable future where alternate modes of travel will become increasingly popular and Berkeley will get closer to achieving its climate goals. Others saw it as a breach of public trust and a shift in the wrong direction that will make it harder for residents around stations to park near their homes.
Under the current proposal, there will be 85 parking spots at Ashby BART (which currently has 535) and 200 parking spots at North Berkeley BART (which currently has 700). These “recommended maximums” represent 16% of the current spaces at Ashby and 29% of the total at North Berkeley, Andy Kosinski of consultant Fehr & Peers told Zoom meeting attendees Wednesday night.
Interest in the project has been high since the start and more than 120 people attended Wednesday’s session. It was the project’s latest community meeting in a lengthy planning process that still has a long way to go: “Construction of mixed-income housing is targeted to begin at Ashby and/or North Berkeley in 2025 on the stations’ parking lots,” according to BART’s project website.
The parking maximums that were presented Wednesday are still just proposals: Officials are not set to vote on them until later this year. But the meeting was still significant because it was the public’s first chance to see the numbers.
Project team members said BART’s current policy is to “strive for no or limited parking replacement” in its housing developments. That’s because so many people who live near BART don’t have vehicles, as well as significant climate action goals that call for steeply reduced greenhouse gases, among other priorities.
For more detail, see the BART presentation from Wednesday’s meeting
According to BART analyses, 82% of riders get to or from the Ashby station, and 75% of riders get to or from North Berkeley, without parking there. In addition, 80% of people with a disability get to BART by walking, biking, taking the bus or getting dropped off, staff said.
According to transportation consultant Kosinski, most people will make different choices about how to get to the station if parking is reduced and becomes less convenient.
BART took its initial concept of no replacement parking at the stations and “adjusted up” in response to community interest, staff told attendees.
The project team also said it is investigating a variety of solutions in response to resident concerns, including expanding the city’s permit parking program for current residents, stepping up enforcement for parking scofflaws, and ensuring that BART station residents themselves are ineligible for street parking permits, in line with existing city policy.
The city also plans to look at whether more paid street parking, particularly during typical working hours, might be a possibility. Directing more riders to downtown Berkeley’s underutilized Center Street garage is also under consideration.
On Wednesday night, Kosinski said the idea of a shuttle to get people from their homes to the stations is not currently feasible, however. He said, depending on the service, shuttles could cost up to $2 million per year, and right now there is no money available. There’s often “high interest” in shuttle service, Kosinski added, but “people don’t necessarily end up using it.”
Members of an advisory committee focused on the issue of station access greeted BART’s proposed parking maximums with enthusiasm.
“I’m really excited to see the possibility of less parking at Ashby,” said committee member Sofia Zander. She said she lives within the 10-minute “walk zone” but is often guilty of driving to BART because parking is currently so easy.
“There will be parking for people who need parking,” Zander added.
Karen Parolek, another member of the advisory committee, said it will be critical on the climate front to make it less convenient for most people to park.
That’s because transit-oriented development (“TOD”) has been found to offset up to 30% of greenhouse gases by housing people at stations in dense urban corridors rather than in far-flung suburbs, BART said. In addition, TOD residents are more likely to use transit for more of their trips: 43% would commute by BART vs. 22% of “typical” residents, according to BART analyses.
BART said it would also look at having car-share sites available for TOD residents so they can access cars when they need them, in addition to other transportation demand management (TDM) strategies under consideration.
Parolek also said she appreciated that BART seemed to be taking the needs of people who have no choice but to drive into consideration.
Committee member Kim Walton said there would have to be a broad, deep education campaign focused on local residents to ensure they are on board and informed about the changes that will come.
“People love their parking spaces in front of their houses,” Walton said. “They will fight tooth and nail to not have you park in front of their house.”
Committee members also said AC Transit will be a huge piece of the puzzle and that Berkeley will need much better bus service — including on Ashby Avenue, which lost its Line 80 service in 2020 — if the approach to reduce driving is to work.
Nathan Landau, an AC Transit spokesperson, said bus ridership is still lower than what it was before the pandemic. Right now, he said, AC Transit’s focus is getting back to baseline. The agency also plans to assess the entire system as it looks to expand.
“Ashby Avenue is a particular concern,” Landau said.
During the public comment Q&A period, many residents around the North Berkeley BART station expressed anger and frustration about the plans to cut parking.
Cassandra Duggan said she was very concerned about all the new housing planned at BART: “I think you guys have lost sight of your mission. Your mission is transportation,” she said. People are just going to drive to San Francisco if they can’t part at BART, she added: “People don’t stand for inconvenience.”
Laura Klein, who identified herself as a jazz pianist who needs to park near her home because of her gear, said parking is already too hard in her North Berkeley neighborhood: “Shame on you, BART, for dumping your problem on our communities.”
Anthony Corman said the current plan would put everyone at odds: existing residents, new residents and commuters alike.
And Candace Hyde-Wang said BART’s plans were “not fact-based” and that too many of the ridership assumptions are based on pandemic-era behavior, which may change: “You do not know what Berkeley’s like.”
Other speakers said they welcome the plans and urged BART to go even further.
“I think just really slashing the amount of parking available is the way to go,” David Mendelsohn told the project team.
Local resident Blaze Syka said he appreciated the conversation about what he sees as much-needed housing at BART: “We’re in the middle of a housing crisis,” he said. Syka said he knows there are things that still need to be worked out, particularly in regards to AC Transit service and street parking permits. But overall, he added, “I like where this is going.”
A Berkeley City Council worksession about BART’s development plans is scheduled for April 19. All project materials are posted on the city website, along with information on how to get on the email list for updates. BART also has its own website related to station access in the Berkeley-El Cerrito Corridor.
Featured photo: North Berkeley BART circa 2018. Credit: Dan Brekke