Tell the Bridge District No to Larkspur parking garages

Larkspur Landing at dawn

Larkspur Landing at dawn by udpslp, on Flickr

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) could approve a parking garage at Larkspur Ferry Terminal in the next few months. Such a concession to a single mode would be bad news for transit-oriented development around Larkspur Landing and for ridership and would be a waste of money by the District.

Today I sent letters to all 19 members of GGBHTD’s Board of Directors asking them to reject the garage in favor of other solutions, such as a Transit Center shuttle or a parking district. I also sent letters to General Manager Denis Mulligan and Deputy General Manager of the Ferry Division James Swindler, asking them to recommend against a garage.

If you want to do the same, sign this letter and let your GGBHTD Board members know. Feel free to use the letter below, either to email or snail-mail your response or as talking points for a phone call. You can find members’ contact information on the Board website. Click on their portrait for more info.

Together, I’m confident we can defeat the money-wasting garages in favor of a solution that is more financially sustainable and better for our county and the region.

Dear Member of the Board,

I’m writing to you to express my concerns about the construction of parking garages at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. In short, I feel this is an expensive solution to the problem of getting passengers to the ferry terminal. There are two less expensive ways to achieve the same ends:

Utilize unused parking stalls in Larkspur Landing.

  1. According to the parking survey conducted in the Larkspur Station Area Plan, there are 520 surplus parking stalls in the Larkspur Landing neighborhood. The survey found that these stalls will never be used by the buildings that own them.
  2. The larger garage under consideration by GGBHTD would add a net 569 new spaces, barely more than are available in Larkspur Landing at present.
  3. A shared parking arrangement would allow GGBHTD to use those 520 spaces.
  4. A shared parking arrangement would be beneficial to building owners, who would be able to charge the same parking fee as GGBHTD would on its parking lot.
  5. A shared parking arrangement would be beneficial to the owners of Marin Country Mart, whose parking lot is also at 100% capacity on weekends.

Implement a shuttle from the Transit Center to the Ferry Terminal.

  1. This replicates the promotional periods of the previous shuttle program, the only successful periods of that shuttle’s existence.
  2. Since this replicates the promotional periods, ridership estimates should reflect those of the promotional period. This is approximately 550 trips per day.
  3. Even if the shuttle has low ridership, the fare collected from each shuttle passenger remains $6 each way.
  4. Every passenger who takes the shuttle will open a parking spaces for a new passenger, which means another $2 parking fee and two $6 ferry fares.
  5. Therefore, each passenger on the shuttle will result in gross income of $26: two $6 fares from the shuttle passenger, two $6 fares from the driver who takes the shuttle passenger’s parking spot, and one $2 parking fee from the driver.
  6. If ridership reflects the promotional periods, GGBHTD would receive $785,000 in new revenue per year. Less the cost of a dedicated shuttle, this means GGBHTD would receive a $125,000 profit from the shuttle.

Option 1 is free except for staff time to make the arrangements with the City of Larkspur and neighbors. Option 2 is free to implement and would be profitable. In contrast, both the small and large garage will require subsidies to operate, on the order of $14,000 and $30,000 per year apiece, assuming the cost of replacement is included in budgeting plans.

I urge you to reject the garage proposals in favor of one or both of these alternatives. A chart of costs is included below. Detailed proposals can be found at:

Thank you for your time.


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.

20 Responses to Tell the Bridge District No to Larkspur parking garages

  1. Richard Hall says:

    I want to question some of the logic here. Clearly the car park is being considered as car drivers, not transit users, aren’t finding the parking they need to use the ferry. This translates to suppressed demand by drivers who would and otherwise will use the ferry if parking is available. They are likely simply going to resort to 101 if this parking is not available, further congesting it and adding to CO2 emissions through the additional traffic jams.

    Transit may work for some, but not for others.
    – many (myself) have to drop off kids
    – many do not live near bus stops
    – many would have to leave an unrealistic amount of time earlier in the morning to make the ferry, taking time away from family
    – some (myself) have to drive as we take morning conference calls with Europe and India; it just isn’t feasible to take conference calls on a shuttle bus, it’s anti social

    I’d like to understand the economics of running a shuttle. I’d also like to understand the actual sustained ridership numbers over time as unless the shuttle is filled consistently by a reasonable number of passengers it will add to CO2 emissions and have higher per passenger CO2 emissions than drivers.

    The station area plan may identify over 500 new spots, but where are they? Most drivers simply want to turn right into the parking lot and know there’s an available space – would the spaces suggested require hunting a multitude of parking lots which people are either not going to attempt (hunt the lot and then the spot) or not know where to go.

    What is so wrong with “such a concession to a single mode would be bad news for transit oriented development”? Cars are sometimes the only way that people distributed across Marin, often in houses away from bus stops, with school runs to do, can get to the ferry in a reasonable time.

    Finally I find it a little disconcerting that someone who lives in Washington DC , and never even uses the ferry, would go to such lengths to impose their view on how transit should work 3,500 miles away, and encourage others, who are also not ferry riders to do the same.

    Do you really think that by not providing the parking that the suppressed demand by car drivers for using the ferry isn’t going to go onto 101 and is going to take transit instead? Where is your evidence for this?

    • Agreed, transit doesn’t work for everyone, but it could work for some. When the shuttle ran, there were 275 or so of them who could do transit, which freed up space for the people like you for whom transit doesn’t work. Implementing the shuttle again will provide access for 275 people who would otherwise drive and use up your parking space and 274 others. It’s about segmenting the market more efficiently. I address this, as well as the evidence for it, in the original post on the subject.

      I also address where the 500 spots are in the original post on that subject, too. In short: a voluntary shared parking district would put some or all the street and commercial parking spaces in Larkspur Landing into a single pool of spaces. The SAP identified that 520 spaces would never be used even at full occupancy of all the offices and shops. It’s inefficient to spend $25 million on 569 spaces when 520 go empty every day within walking distance of the ferry terminal.

      While people would learn roughly where the good spots are, if optimization is a problem, a sign at the entrance to LL or LFT, along with an app, could show people which lot has how many spots left at any given time. Other signs at lot entrances could show that, too. If things really become a problem, different lots might charge slightly different prices, to reflect the increased demand for the ones closer to the terminal. And, if office employees are afraid of getting crowded out, parking lot owners could simply reserve enough spaces for the number of employees in a building at the request of the lessees.

      I am concerned about this despite my distance because I’m concerned about the efficiency and well-running of GGBHTD. Building the garages seems like an expensive but easy way out of the parking crunch. There’s no doubt it exists, but there are better ways to deal with it than garages. Those may come in handy, but those ought to be the last step, not the first.

      • Richard Hall says:

        Your logic is concerning and based on flawed thinking, proven out by the market even when what you suggest was attempted:

        From your previous article you state:

        “the shuttle was a monumental failure with riders, principally thanks to free parking… It is not unreasonable to assume that 10 percent of riders, the same number who used it during promotions, would use the shuttle. If 10 percent of ferry riders switch to the shuttle, another 275 people can drive to the ferry….A ferry shuttle, however, would be a loss leader. ”

        This makes some remarkable leaps of faith:
        – 10% of riders will switch to transit, why, how…what will make this happen? They didn’t before. Why now?
        – even if you charge for parking people will people really switch to transit? (the complexities of dropping kids to school, or that most people live >0.5 miles from bus routes, and will still need to change from bus > bus > ferry wasting time are not going to change)
        – GG Transit, and by implication taxpayers, should subsidize this shuttle service

        Cars get people in a convenient amount of time, for far less CO2 emissions than buses, from their homes to their ferry or directly to their work. People take the ferry because the cost of parking in downtown SF is exorbitant (and rightly so).

        This also neglects to mention that the near empty, failed shuttle service will cause emissions of significant incremental amounts of CO2, needlessly.

        People are not (and did not) simply switch to transit.

        Your plan is adding to 101 traffic, adding CO2 emissions and not addressing market realities.

        • 1) The 10 percent is how many went on transit during the promotional periods. With paid parking, which is a given for any of these plans, GGT will replicate the conditions of the promotional periods. It is not unreasonable to suspect that that similar condition will beget a similar outcome. The shuttle can only succeed with paid parking. Of course it will fail without paid parking. I do not dispute that.
          2) However, even if the shuttle is an abject failure despite paid parking, there is no sunk cost. Run it on a trial basis for six months, see if ridership sucks or not.
          3) And, even if the shuttle is an abject failure the solution isn’t to build a garage; it is to explore the parking district.
          4) GGT will subsidize the construction and maintenance of the parking garages. They aren’t free, and they will be money-sinks for their 30 year lifespan, to the tune of $159,000 per year for the large garage and $380,000 per year for the small garage. (The small garage is more expensive per year because of less capacity, which means less new ridership, which means less new income.)

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  3. Richard Hall says:


    Oh my, I just saw the map with your extra 520 spaces. It hardly serves to reinforce your point!

    The more I look at this the more your proposal seems unrealistic … so you’re thinking that people will park as distant places spread over a huge area?

    You suggest someone could park outside 50 Drakes Cove Rd and then walk to the ferry terminal – that’s a 16 minute mile long (OK, 0.8 miles) walk according to Google maps! Let’s allow a good 5 to10 minute ahead of the ferry leaving. Adding the additional time to hunt for the parking that would add nearly half an hour to someone’s commute…

    – will ferry drivers really spend time seeking out those many obscure places?
    – won’t residents object when they can’t find parking due to all the ferry parking (assuming the ferry parkers even find those places)?
    – won’t businesses object as ferry drivers start to overwhelm the nearest parking lots and prevent shoppers getting convenient parking? (they will all start to concentrate around the nearest spots crowding out Larkspur Landing mall)

    • Reminder: use the reply function!

      You’re just now reading the background? Okay, before you critique a concept take some time to read the background. I’ve provided links and I don’t want to repeat myself. Like, the chart just a little way down the page – it says nothing about residential parking. The parking report, too, says nothing about residential parking. My proposal doesn’t mention residential parking.

      However, if residents want to join a strictly optional parking district, then they’d get to rent their parking spaces for the day, which is currently illegal. If an office landlord doesn’t want to join a parking district, they don’t have to. If they only want to allocate a third of their spaces to the district, they could do that, too.

      That’s the wonder of something that’s voluntary – it’s voluntary. “Won’t residents object when they can’t find parking?” No, they won’t, because only those people who want to rent out their reserved spots will. You might wonder, People can’t find parking for shopping! If Marin Country Mart is concerned, they don’t need to participate, though they’re 100% occupied on the weekends (and have 15% vacant parking on weekdays) so they’ll probably want to. “It’s a 16 minute walk!” The Airporter overflow lot is a 10 minute walk, and more spaces are available closer than the few on Drake’s Cove. And maybe the Drake’s Cove folks don’t even want to be part of the proposal.

      There are solutions to each of the problems you see. Out of the way spaces? Fine, don’t invite the small lot-owners to participate. Still hunting for parking? Implement a board with the spaces available at each participating lot. Can’t find the lot? Label them. Office workers can’t find parking? Reserve spaces for each of them – there’s still more than enough. Afraid of overcrowding nearer to the terminal? Charge $2.25 for those, or charge $1.75 for the more distant spots.

  4. Richard Hall says:

    Can you point to more information, I’m confused: I’m trying to reconcile these two statements that you made:

    “The 10 percent is how many went on transit during the promotional periods. ”


    “the shuttle was a monumental failure with riders, principally thanks to free parking”

    Even if the shuttle was a success, this doesn’t account for the unserved latent demand of car drivers needing to park at the ferry terminal who are taking 101.

    • Promotional periods were for a week or a few weeks at a time, but weren’t the normal. During those times, usage went up to 10%. Once the period ended, usage dropped back to failure level. Since the baseline was always going to be failure level, I call that shuttle “an abject failure.” If the promotional periods were permanent, as they would effectively be with priced parking, we could expect 10% of ferry riders to take the shuttle.

      And those potential transit riders are now driving, using up spaces that could be occupied by “car drivers needing to park at the ferry terminal who are taking 101.”

      • Richard Hall says:

        So during these promotional periods the ride was partially or entirely subsidized? (What was the subsidy?).

        Can you elaborate why taxpayers should subsidize a particular form of transit? Consider that these shuttle buses are no better at CO2 emissions than cars (arguably worse, but lets call it marginal). Also the buses that the riders would switch to are no less CO2 friendly than cars (or marginal).

        In any case this all serves to switch people from unsubsidized, convenient, increasingly environmentally friendly cars to subsidized ferry transit. So your plan seems to depend heavily on all of us paying for the increase in subsidization to get people to use a mode of transport that you happen to prefer, that is no more CO2 friendly (marginal or possibly worse).

        • I think it was American Express who paid for the promotional periods, and I think it was that if you rode 4 days in a row you got the 5th, and the round-trip ferry ride, for free. A free transfer under the proposed paid parking scheme saves $3.60 per day, or $5.60 over driving.

          The parking garages will be bought and paid for by GGBHTD at $40,000 per new space for the larger one and a bit less for the smaller. The parking fees from the garage won’t be enough to cover its cost, so that money will come from some other pot. Since the ferry itself is subsidized, that means it will have to come from some other pot in GGBHTD’s budget, probably the parking fees paid for by the drivers who aren’t using the garage.

          And surface parking isn’t free, either. It costs about $200 per year per space to maintain (compared to $500 per year for the garage). Since GGBHTD is giving those spaces out for free now, that’s another subsidy. But if you care to read the article, you’ll see that if the shuttle works it will be a net financial gain to the system, not a net drain like these garages.

          Though I don’t want to get off-topic into the broader issue of car subsidies (I’d be happy to do so over email), user fees like the gas tax only cover 34.4% of California’s roadway cost.

          • Richard Hall says:

            [Agreed this is off topic]
            That’s odd. If you look at the 2007 National Transit Database spreadsheets covering operating expenses, capital use and fare revenues you get that user fees covered at least 85% of highway costs, but only 28% of transit costs.

            This then needs to account for per passenger mile. Translating this to per passenger mile you arrive at the following ROI on your subsidies:

            Highway 0.6c / passenger mile
            Transit 60.9c / passenger mile

          • Alai says:

            @Richard Hall:

            You know what’s hilarious? All the money spent by GGBHTD on buying, constructing and maintaining parking lots and garages? That’s counted as transit costs. Transit costs subsidizing auto use.

            You want user fees to cover a greater portion of transit costs? It might help if we stopped insisting that they subsidize their competition.

          • Richard Hall says:

            Welcome to the thread. Thankfully the subsidies are much lower if people drive to Larkspur Ferry Terminal rather than take transit to it.

            If those parking lots were closed wonder how many riders would be on the ferry, watch passenger mile CO2 emissions spiral upwards for the ferry and 101 traffic get worse (with congestion adding to CO2).

          • Alai says:

            @Richard Hall

            1. Charging for existing parking (assuming you don’t charge so much that the parking lots are unused) will raise more revenue while serving the same number of passengers, and thus raise ROI (in fact, I’d argue that it would increase the number of passengers, since some who are dissuaded from driving and parking by the fee might still be willing and able to take another mode–carpool, bus, bike, walk–while others who can only drive will be able to come later in the morning).

            2. If people take existing transit to the ferry, subsidies are reduced, not increased, because GGT gets additional fare revenue at no additional cost.

            3. I bet dollars to donuts your passenger mile subsidy numbers ignore parking costs.

            4. I’d only support closing or shrinking the parking lots IF it resulted in greater ridership and fewer subsidies for the ferry– for example, there are currently very few people on the ferries going in the anti-commute direction. If turning an area of 50 parking spaces into businesses which attracted 50 employees and customers a day from San Francisco via the ferry, that would be a good idea, because GGT would maintain the same ridership, get additional rental income, even while helping alleviate capacity issues on the ferries themselves.

  5. Sprague says:

    I am thankful that David Edmondson is questioning GGBHTD’s interest in building a large parking structure at the ferry terminal. It seems very reasonable that other options should be explored (and tested) prior to deciding to invest finite funds in a very costly way to maintain and grow ridership. Given the beauty and convenience of commuting by ferry, perhaps the GGBHTD should implement parking fees (with higher rates for the better/closer parking spots). It seems like the current arrangement has walkers and cyclists subsidizing automobile commuters – which isn’t an environmentally (or fiscally) sound policy.

    • Richard Hall says:

      @Sprague: I don’t think it would be a bad idea to charge for parking. This needs to be automated / quick – I wouldn’t like to be late for a ferry (e.g. for work) and have to spend a lot of time mucking around with complex payment machines or hunting for the right change.

      A pre-paid option should be provided, or better yet a nice little mobile app where I can pay online (just like with London congestion charges). Such an app could likely be done for under $2,000 – a fraction of the cost of the parking

      • Sprague says:

        Ideally, the price of parking at the ferry lot should be whatever the market can bear. If the lot can be filled with enough drivers who are willing to pay to park, that would be great for the GGBHTD. For those who can not afford or don’t want to pay any parking fees, “free” parking could be available further away (ie. in those spots that would otherwise remain empty during weekdays, as proposed by David). (Of course, even the free parking really isn’t free – it is being paid for in the form of retail/office rents or property taxes – all of which are passed onto customers/residents, including even those who don’t own or operate automobiles.)

        Certainly with Fastrak or other technology the parking charges could be easy to pay and collect.

        • Richard Hall says:

          Just curious – how many of you regularly use the ferry, like I do?

          • Sprague says:

            I’ve mostly been a Sausalito ferry rider. That ferry, by the way, does very well without free parking at either end of its line. (Yes, I know that the Sausalito ferry market is generally different than Larkspur’s. Aside from that, I think it is very likely that many or maybe most of the current Larkspur ferry patrons who drive to the Larkspur terminal would be willing to pay to park their automobiles.)

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