A recent feature in the Journal News highlighted the parking constraints near Metro-North stations. According to the report, nearly half of the 43 Metro-North stations in Westchester County “have wait lists for one or more of their lots,” as well as three of Putnam’s seven stations, and one of Rockland’s five stations, despite the fact that commuter parking has increased five-fold since the 1990s.
To meet demand, Metro-North has added 5,124 parking spaces to its stations in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam over the past two decades, bringing the total to 6,382 spaces. But Metro-North says it has just about maxed out the parking it can build, other than a 500-space garage planned to replace a 109-space facility at the North White Plains station.
What if instead of trying to maximize the number of parking spaces, there was an emphasis on making it easier to get commuters to and from stations without cars at all? One means to that end is to follow the lead of New Jersey and Connecticut, which both appear to be embracing transit-oriented development (TOD), as well as some communities in the Hudson Valley. This may seem strange for people who are used to seeing commuter rail stations surrounded by asphalt, but before the onslaught of the automobile it was once the norm to build residential and commercial buildings around train stations.
Providing ample amounts of parking around transit stations only makes sense if nobody wants to live near transit. But that’s just not the case. True, parking can help transit agencies attract riders, but not without substantial opportunity costs. In other words, dedicating vast amounts of land for parking near transit stations instead of housing and commercial space is literally paving over tremendous economic development potential.
Tri-State’s associate director Ryan Lynch echoed this sentiment in the article, acknowledging the need for some parking, but also that too much surface parking can create “dead zones in the middle of urban centers” where housing, offices, retail and restaurants — the type of development that provides both vitality and tax revenue — could be situated instead.
Providing access to transit shouldn’t stop at parking and TOD. In order to better manage how commuters, especially in Westchester, get to rail stations, communities must make walking and biking viable options. This starts, of course, with making sure that streets provide safe, convenient access for all modes. Westchester County may be on track to do just this. Today, Westchester County’s Government Oversight Committee of the Board of Legislators passed a Complete Streets Act, an act that would prioritize biking, walking and transit access in street design and implementation. That bill is now headed to the full County Board, which is expected to meet next month.