Parking Madness: San Bernardino vs. Houston

With Milwaukee, Tulsa, Dallas, LouisvilleCleveland, and Atlanta advancing to the second round of Parking Madness, there are only two spaces left in the Elite Eight of parking disasters. In this installment, we’re looking at two very different cities, each of which is extremely car-centric in its own way. It’s San Bernardino versus Houston.

Let’s start with San Bernardino. Here’s an old postcard of 3rd and F Street in downtown:

And on this site right now are a mall and its assorted parking lots, which obliterated the street grid:

Reader Kevin Dumler writes:

San Bernardino was, for a time, a very successful and independent metropolitan area in Southern California. In the last few decades, the expansion of hundreds of miles of freeways to the east of Downtown Los Angeles opened up vast tracts of land to affordable housing that had historically been used for a very successful citrus industry. Today, the area around San Bernardino is known as the Inland Empire, well known for endless suburban neighborhoods of single family homes, strip malls, and a reliance on the automobile. According to Smart Growth America, the Inland Empire is the case example of the worst sprawl in America.

In 1853, the Mormon founders laid out an efficient street grid system, based upon the grid of Salt Lake City. In the 1960’s, an “Urban Renewal” program saw the establishment of I-215 (which bisected the city) and the demolition of a large section of downtown to make room for “Central City Mall,” a largely abandoned building today. Today, the downtown area continues to struggle to attract businesses and is mostly home to a collection government offices (and parking lots).

Pretty striking example of the destructive powers cars can have on a place.

Now on to Houston. An anonymous commenter submitted this photo of “a light rail stop surrounded by blocks of parking on all sides.”

It’s bad enough to have so much parking around a valuable transit connection, like we saw in Atlanta. But there’s an extra twist in this case. This asphalt valley is directly next to an office building for Exxon Mobil (far left).

If you’d like to hunt around this area a little bit on Google Maps, here’s the link.

Cast your votes:

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Houston (51%, 150 Votes)
  • San Bernardino (49%, 143 Votes)

Total Voters: 293

36 thoughts on Parking Madness: San Bernardino vs. Houston

  1. I used to take the bus (before the Light Rail) to downtown Houston to work a summer job largely measuring offices in that Mobil (then Exxon) building.
    You’d get off the bus and then have to walk past blocks of empty lots. It has gotten better just outside of downtown, but that kind of wasteland used to extend for miles around downtown.
    Later that summer I got a car, and even as a very low level summer intern, they paid for my parking in a big downtown garage.
    This is why when I finished school, I booked it for the east coast (Boston) where there was more urban density.

  2. Like San Bernadino, Sunnyvale, CA also replaced its downtown with a mall in the 70s that slid into vacancies in the 90s. They’re now redesigning the area better to restore the grid somewhat and add offices. But they’ll never get back the cute little downtown they had. All that was spared was one very active block.

  3. I never visited San Bernadino when it had an active downtown. But I have visited recently, and it is just a very sad scene. The mall was obviously supposed to be “the answer”: using the logic (again) that some sort of retail “magnet” was needed to pull in suburbanites, and the magnet wouldn’t work if there weren’t large expanses of parking. Now you have an area that’s not relevant to anyone, with an enormous white elephant (literally white, as I recall) that might be impossible to repurpose, and expensive to tear down. The entire Inland Empire struck me as a lost empire: left in the dust….

  4. The San Bernardino example is so sad; their charming downtown and its street grid were obliterated. Theoretically, they could tear down the mall and restore the street grid, but the cost would be exorbitant. Even worse: while downtown San Bernardino’s beautiful and historic Santa Fe Station remains in use with fairly frequent Metrolink service (and infrequent Amtrak service), I-215 separates it from this area, making it difficult to leverage the station for TOD at this location, even though they are only six blocks apart. The Houston example is not as bad. It is shocking to see so much surface parking surrounding a light rail station. But: Houston’s light rail is relatively new, the street grid at this location remains intact and it is located a few blocks away from the downtown freeway ring, so it is reasonable to expect that the expansion of the light rail system will probably spur development of most of those lots in the future.

  5. And Sunnyvale is lucky to have the financial abilities to do so. San Bernardino is in bankruptcy.

  6. Double bummer for San Bernardino today. First it loses to Houston in Parking Madness and now The Bond Buyer is reporting that the City has filed a lawsuit against California claiming that if the state docks the city’s taxes to pay the $15 million the state claims San Bernardino owes as a result of dissolution of its redevelopment agency, the city will be forced to shutdown.

  7. For sure. Being in the heart of Silicon Valley is very different than being in the heart of an overdeveloped exurb.

  8. San Bernardino is doing some great things with its new multimodal terminal, new B.R.T. and light rail systems, and T.O.D. Overlay District, as well as AECOM’s Vision & Action Plan for the city center that repositions the city to compete in the category of first-tier cities, including the two existing metropolises in the mega-region: Los Angeles and San Diego.

  9. That characterization is completely inaccurate. San Bernardino is more than two hundred years old and was, historically, a significant Western metropolis that had its own suburbs.

  10. It should be noted that San Bernardino has reduced its parking requirements in its B.R.T. and light-rail station areas, and most of its street grid, the most extensive in southern California’s Inland Empire, is intact.

  11. The municipal bankruptcy is the result, fundamentally, of the shift from trains and trolleys to cars on freeways and to airports in coastal counties. The Inland Empire used to be the residence of choice for wealthy Easterners moving to southern California. And, that vitality was sapped from the region when the fixed-guideway systems were dismantled.

  12. There are some advantages to San Bernardino’s parking problem. It does create a great land bank, which is serviced by underutilized infrastructure. Mid-block streets and passages are much easier to add. A diversity of ages in the building stock is easier to achieve. And, the tremendous population growth in the region can be accommodated through smart growth there without some of the usual obstacles that come from motorists that are currently experiencing constraints.

  13. No disrespect intended. I can see from the photo that San Bernadino had a thriving downtown as recently as recently as the 1950s and I don’t doubt it has always played a huge role as the center of the Inland Empire.

    However, like Stockton, the city experienced a rapid housing expansion caused by people buying homes and commuting to distant jobs in the Los Angeles basin/San Francisco Bay Area that has taken its toll financially. If these cities didn’t have so many exurban commuters, they probably wouldn’t be in bankruptcy.

    That’s what makes San Bernadino different than Sunnyvale, which didn’t have the space to build out with new homes in the housing bubble.

  14. San Bernardino is making major changes. It is the first and only jurisdiction in southern California’s Inland Empire to have reduced minimum parking requirements, and they are on track to be eliminated entirely.

  15. Wide sidewalks, bicycles, angled on-street parking, trolleys, and mixed-use buildings in San Bernardino

  16. The sbX system opened a month ago, and a T.O.D. ordinance with regulatory architectural standards is in place.

  17. Optional Station Location in San Bernardino for California High-Speed Rail at the New Multimodal Terminal that Is Now Under Construction

  18. San Bernardino International Airport and Conceptual Rendering of Multimodal Terminal (Metrolink, sbX, light rail, California High-Speed Rail, etc.)

  19. This is the old San Bernardino station, which is very busy with Metrolink and Amtrak trains along with the San Bernardino History & Railroad Museum, The Iron Horse Cafe, and new T.O.D. across the street.

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