The Larkspur ferry crunch, part 1: There’s already enough parking

All the parking lots in Larkspur Landing. Image from Google Maps.

All the parking lots in Larkspur Landing. Image from Google Maps.

There’s no question that Larkspur Ferry has an access problem. If you drive, there’s a vanishingly small chance you’ll get a parking space after 8:30am. If you don’t drive, your options are to live in the neighborhood, walk for almost a mile along the freeway, bike for 15 minutes from the Transit Center, or take the miserably slow GGT Route 29 bus.

In response to this perceived lack of access, GGT is again investigating some exceedingly expensive parking garages paid for by a new parking fee. (They had last discussed a parking solution in 2007, when ridership was about what it is today.) While this would expand access, this solution fails to take into account the breadth of options available, including 520 unused parking spaces in Larkspur Landing that already exist.

Organization before electronics before concrete

An old adage marks best practice for facilities design: organization before electronics before concrete. The first, organization, rearranges existing resources to maximize their utilization. The second, electronics, upgrades the systems you already have so you can make even better use of your resources. The third, concrete, adds resources to your now-optimized pool. By prioritizing cheaper solutions before expensive ones, organizations can save a lot of money.

In the case of Larkspur Terminal, GGT’s supply of access to the ferry (the parking spaces, bus seats, bicycle racks, housing units, and office space in the vicinity) is the resource. As currently designed, there is a shortage of access, but GGT doesn’t need to add more garages just yet.

The Larkspur Station Area Plan revealed that, during the day, 520 parking spaces in the neighborhood went unoccupied. Though GGT does have a parking problem on its own property, the area’s parking supply is more than ample to meet the demand.

Graphic and data from City of Larkspur.

Graphic and data from City of Larkspur. There’s a lot of demand for parking, but a lot of unused space, too. PDF here.

These spaces aren’t being used because the parking supply isn’t well-organized. People driving to the ferry have the option of parking for free on the street, for free in the ferry parking lot, or for $4 per day at the Marin Airporter. The other lots aren’t an option to them, as they’re reserved for more office workers than exist and patrons of Marin Country Mart who mostly come on the weekend.

Through a reorganization of the neighborhood’s parking supply, GGT could expand ferry parking by 520 spaces essentially for free.

GGT, Larkspur, and the businesses in Larkspur Landing would need to work together to figure out the precise rules, but the core of any plan would be pricing: a $2 charge per day for anyone parking in the area who doesn’t get parking validated by a retail store or who doesn’t have an employee parking pass. The owner of each lot would get income from their charge. Larkspur would earmark on-street parking charges to neighborhood improvements.

Coincidentally, 520 spaces is nearly the same number of spaces GGT wants to add in a large, 969-space garage. Since it would be built on 400 existing parking spaces, the garage would net 569 parking spaces. Unlike the essentially free 520, however, the 569 spaces would cost an astounding $44,000 apiece.

No need for concrete

Organization before electronics before concrete means other options should be explored before investing in costly new infrastructure. An examination of the neighborhood finds that parking already exists to meet demand, if GGT can harness it.

Of course, if the politics prove impossible and those open spaces can’t be used for ferry riders, GGT will need to turn to the parking equivalent of electronics: a shuttle from the Transit Center. We’ll tackle that question next.

About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

16 Responses to The Larkspur ferry crunch, part 1: There’s already enough parking

  1. dw shelf says:

    Seems the classic screwup from the anything-but-cars politicians.

    Real transit solutions presume that cars will be used for the home-to-something-else leg. That part of the equation works FAR BETTER in America as compared to Europe/Asia, and we’re not likely to give the politicians 1-2 more hours of our day.

  2. Groshkin says:

    If Larkspur is going to do this neighborhood parking district, they’re gonna need a way to let people know where the empty spaces are. Circling LL Circle won’t help. Maybe an electornic sign on SFD saying how many spaces are left in each lot? Or at each parking lot entrance like the ferry terminal has now?

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  4. V_Taylor says:

    The problem at Larkspur is not a shortage of parking; it’s an oversupply of cars. The neat solution is to use parking charges to offer another way to get there. It goes like this:
    – Charge $2 a day for parking.
    – Use the parking fees to run shuttles west on Sir Frances Drake to/from Fairfax, and on 101 north to/from Novato.
    – Use the masses of parking at shopping centers along the way, which are virtually empty on weekdays, as Park and Ride lots. On SFD, many would just walk to the shuttle from their home.
    – Time the shuttles to the boats, and guarantee that the boat won’t leave before the shuttle gets there.
    – Using Clipper, shuttle passengers could “beep on” and pay $1, then when they “beep on” to the boat, the dollar is subtracted from their boat fee. That makes it free to boat passengers but charges others a nominal fee to get to that area.
    Charging for parking is an essential part of this. The “stick” of the parking charge is required to move people onto the buses, and also funds the buses. Additionally, people who live within walking distance who are currently driving will walk, and others will choose to carpool to reduce the cost. It’s all good.
    Providing transit timed to the boats reduces traffic in the area, reduces parking demand, and gives access to the ferry to those who can’t or choose not to drive – an option that doesn’t exist at present.

    • I’m addressing the shuttle problem tomorrow, actually. My own analysis agrees with yours, though I’d just run it from the Transit Center for the sake of reliability and keep the 29 going on Sunday. As a sneak peak: TOD comes next, and overall ferry capacity will come after that.

      By the way, be sure to let GGBHTD know your opinion! They need to hear it.

      • V_Taylor says:

        The farther up 101 you can get them onto transit, the fewer cars, less congestion, and cleaner air. I understand about reliability; one plus is that the bus will be in the (currently sparsely-populated) HOV lane most of the time, so that should help.
        The shuttles would also have to radio ahead to the boat and let them know how many ferry riders were on board to reserve that number of seats on the boat.
        Come 2014, we’ll have SMART coming to somewhere near the boats, that will be a big help with reliability of travel time from further north. Now we just need to get them to put the train station where it belongs – over the gate to the boat.

      • Did I say I’d have it today? I meant as soon as I can scrape an hour together to finish it. Well, whenever it comes, it’s about the shuttle. Then comes TOD. Then comes ferry capacity.

    • Sprague says:

      Great suggestions. (I know that years ago, GGT did operate ferry feeder routes which were eventually discontinued. It sounds like it’s time to try them again.) Also, David’s point about utilizing existing parking resources before expensively building new parking is very logical. SMART (especially if it makes it closer to the ferry landing) should help, too.

  5. Suz Lipman says:

    Until we have systematic changes of the sort V. Taylor suggests, Marin Country Mart needs to be a good neighbor and share its parking spaces, for the community good. (If that needs to be incentivized, so be it. It will be far cheaper than building additional and unnecessary parking.)

  6. Gwen Froh says:

    Another solution would be to have a Bike Share program by the ferry terminal providing access to existing remote parking locations.

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  9. Vicki A says:

    Parking at marin country mart is always crowded, weekdays and weekends. It makes going there unattractive. The cost of commuting is high enough. I won’t pay for parking.

    • C_Marshall says:

      I won’t pay any more for public transportation than I already do. It is too expensive as it is. When fares to ride buses and ferries are almost as expensive as driving and parking in the city, there is NO incentive to take public transportation. It has gotten to the point where it is not worth the inconvenience to use the ferries and buses in Marin. Public transportation has to provide a convenient service at a reasonable price, substantially less than driving one’s own personal vehicle. There needs to be a “fast pass” monthly pass like SF Muni has, that is affordable for unlimited rides on ferries and buses in Marin.

  10. Pingback: GGBHTD responds to my series on ferry parking | The Greater Marin

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