Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beefing up the Norwalk Green Line Station

An aerial view of the Norwalk Green Line station and its two parking lots.
Image: Google Maps.
In my experience, there's one thing you'll encounter if you get to the Norwalk (California) Green Line Station by car in the middle of a weekday: frustration. This station is so popular with motorists eager to ditch their cars to ride the train that runs down the middle of the 105 Freeway or catch one of several bus lines that have a hub there, that all of its 1,502 car parking spaces are routinely filled up.

It doesn't have to be this way. The success of this park and ride should be built upon in at least two connected ways: charging for parking and building parking structures. Currently, the entire parking supply at the station is made up of two connected surface lots that are free to park in. The first reason charging for parking is a good idea is that it will help to manage demand. There are few things more frustrating as a driver than having to waste your time and gas circling in vain for a parking space that doesn't exist. How much to charge? I don't know, but I do know that the right price should be found by experimentation. Start low, say a dollar to park for the day and see how that affects the lot. If the lot is still jammed, up the price. If the lot is half empty, lower the price. Try to hit a price point where most of the spaces are full, but there are enough empty ones that people aren't frustrated.

Now on to phase two of the plan: what to do with all of that parking money. I say use it for bonds to build two parking structures. Normally, I'd be all in favor of mixing in a lot of transit-oriented development, that is, people living or working right by the station. However, in this case, that strategy would prove problematic. First of all, the site is immediately adjacent to the 605 Freeway, meaning any housing would be subjected to a massive amount of noise and pollution. Retail development wouldn't have the arterial street exposure that is typically so desirable in LA County, although I think a couple of small storefronts in the parking garages could do pretty well just from the transit traffic. Office development is probably a better option than residential, but I worry about losing too many parking spots at such a popular park and ride. Any building would have to be tall to use land efficiently enough, and the site is directly adjacent to detached houses, whose residents typically don't take kindly to such abrupt changes in scale.

Proposed locations for parking structures.
Why not build two parking garages, one at a time? Build them along the western edge of the larger eastern lot. By avoiding the eastern edge of this lot, the parking structures will be set back from the surrounding houses and thus not look as bulky. This will lessen opposition to the project and spare the houses from some of the visual and noise impacts of building and operating the parking garages. In fact, placing the structures in that part of the lot might even reduce some of the noise coming off the freeway. By building one garage at a time, fewer parking spaces will be taken out at any given time. Once the first structure is complete, there will probably be more spaces than before even with the spaces you lose while you're building structure #2. Since we've started to price parking already in this scenario, the price can be shifted up to control demand when parking is most scarce. The structures could even create a visual signal to motorists on the 605: "get out of that miserable traffic and come ride transit!"

Let's beef up the Norwalk Station and help transit in southeast LA County reach its true ridership potential.

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