Parking Madness 2015: Detroit vs. Walnut Creek

The Parking Madness competition has never been fiercer. In yesterday’s match-up, Parkersburg, West Virginia, edged Boston by a slim 12 votes, and before that, Amarillo beat out Nashville by just six votes. Your ballot counts.

We have two doozies to feast your eyes on today. The Detroit waterfront is taking on the Bay Area suburb of Walnut Creek, California.



Submitter Luke Klipp describes this crater as “a swath of surface parking lining the city’s waterfront just east of the Renaissance Center,” a cluster of office towers that serve as General Motors HQ.

Klipp says:

Detroit’s waterfront is really sad when compared to its Canadian neighbor across the river, Windsor, whose waterfront is 3 miles of uninterrupted parkway. By comparison, Detroit has a couple parks near the Renaissance Center and then lots of parking right up to the waterfront.

For all the wealth generated by GM, its corporate surroundings look incredibly barren. Another view:


Now let’s check out the competition.

Walnut Creek, California


This entry comes to us via commenter Claire B, who says:

Walnut Creek, California, is located only 35 minutes from downtown San Francisco by BART (metro). I live in Walnut Creek because my home is 1.5 miles from the BART station but also 0.3 miles from a trailhead accessing 500 miles of dirt trails around Mt. Diablo. Off the photo to the right is the Iron Horse Trail, a 35 mile-long paved separated class I bike/ped facility running north/south. As you can see from the photo, to access the BART station (bottom/left quartile of photo) from the trail (0.7 miles away) one has to pass by or through parking lot after parking lot on a busy road or sidewalk. The city of Walnut Creek could have a bustling people-filled downtown but instead allocates much space to car storage.

This is the second year in a row the area surrounding a BART station has been featured in Parking Madness. Last year, El Cerrito, about 12 miles west, made it to the Elite 8 on much the same argument.

Here’s another view of Walnut Creek:


The only question remaining is which landscape represents a more criminal waste of potential? Vote below.

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Detroit (57%, 191 Votes)
  • Walnut Creek (44%, 146 Votes)

Total Voters: 335


34 thoughts on Parking Madness 2015: Detroit vs. Walnut Creek

  1. On the one hand, it is a transit station so that’s good. On the other that parking crater is just sprawling… You could have more structured parking and development on top. If they dont have a long term plan to convert that space to TOD, that’s really too bad.

  2. We completely agree that vast parking lots are a poor use of space! That big BART parking lot will soon be home to the Walnut Creek Transit Village – 600 units, with underground parking for residents as well as a new parking structure for commuters. Look for groundbreaking some time in 2016. Learn more about the BART Transit village and other upcoming downtown developments at

  3. The proposal calls for 851 spaces of replacements parking for BART plus 775 new spaces for 596 units. How many spaces are being displaced? It seems like the city is doubling down on parking for a development that is right next to a transit station.

    A 1.3/1 parking to unit ratio seems high for something served so well by transit.

  4. Once again Streetsblog engages in a silly exercise that proves what?

    If the cities own the parking lots and are thwarting development and future property taxes by refusing to sell and redevelop, show where it is happening.

    If private owners own the parking lots and cities are refusing to approve development plans for these parking lots, show where it is happening.

    I get it, you don’t like parking lots. But until there is movement in the marketplace to redevelop these properties, nothing is going to change.

  5. One small quibble … Walnut Creek DOES have a bustling, people-filled downtown. Most suburban cities of Walnut Creek’s size in this country would kill to have as lively of a downtown shopping/entertainment/dining district as “the Creek.”

    Unfortunately, the BART station is just a little too far for most people (not me) to use it to access the downtown. (Although the City of Walnut Creek has tried hard to bridge the gap by providing a shuttle service.)

    Once the transit village goes in, perhaps the walk from BART to the downtown will seem more doable to more people.

    In any event, seems as though Walnut Creek will not be a Parking Madness contender in future years, and that’s a good thing!

  6. Detroit is probably worse, but it just doesn’t feel right to keep picking on it. I’d say Walnut Creek deserves it more in terms of the opportunity lost, especially if the proposed development is going to be over-parked as the post below indicates.

  7. Walnut Creek Bart currently has 851 surface parking spaces (not including the existing garage which will not change), all of which will be displaced by construction of the transit village. All of these spaces will be replaced in a multi-story garage built as Phase 1 of the Transit Village.
    The parking requirement for the transit village falls under the BART proximate reduction allowed in the City’s Parking Ordinance. BART Proximate is an parcel that is within 1/2 mile from the BART station. The BART Proximate Parking Requirements are I space per studio; 1.25 spaces per 1 bedroom unit; 1.5 spaces per 2 bedroom unit; and 2 spaces per 3 or more bedrooms unit.

  8. So does Detroit. 15,000 People work in the GM headquarters, tens of thousands at Quicken Loans, Blue Cross and dozens of other corporate headquarters literally with 3 blocks from these parking lots. Keep believing all the media hype about Detroit is a complete ghost town when its downtown is still very viable especially in this area.

  9. Fair enough, and I didn’t intend at all to knock downtown Detroit. I wish nothing but the best for Motown, and I’ve certainly read about the revival of downtown, Midtown, and other areas there. I just haven’t been there, whereas I’m very familiar with Walnut Creek.

  10. It’s basically a political impossibility to eliminate commuter parking for BART and not replace it. Walnut Creek has a lot of wealthy, entitled people who count on being able to drive and park at their local BART station, and who would be very, very upset if that ability were taken away. Even Berkeley couldn’t or wouldn’t do it with the site that became the Brower Center.

    So Walnut Creek could either do nothing, or replace the parking and get a project that will result in vastly improved urbanism in the area (plus deliver a whole lot of new customers for BART).

    This is a case of a half a loaf (or, in my opinion, three quarters of a loaf) being much better than no loaf at all. And a great example of past decisions being an unavoidable constraint on future ones.

  11. People look Closely at Detroits parking crater. It has 4-8 to 10 story large parking ramps among it. This land is also the most valuable land in the city. It was bulldozed and created 20 years ago for Detroits casinos by the city but the casinos balked at the price so they built on cheaper land. Now it just serves as cheap commuter parking lots for workers at GM, Blue Cross and other corporate offices near it.

  12. While in line with the requirements of comparable suburbs, 1.25 spaces is a lot for a single bedroom unit, especially in a transit oriented neighborhood (I’m living proof, by the way, that you can have a high quality of life in Walnut Creek without a car or parking space, as I live car-free near the other Walnut Creek BART station).

    If the city wants to get serious about using space well, it should reexamine those minimums, and even consider getting rid of them altogether. If people don’t want to rent apartments that lack dedicated parking, developers won’t build them. You can typically count on a developer building an appropriate number of spaces so that the units move. Locking them into an artificial floor locks us into poor urban design for decades.

    Still, I’m glad to hear that something is being built on these lots. As Mr. Wegmann says, above, it sounds like it’s a step up from what’s there now.

  13. I agree this is a step in the right direction. And yes the city should reexamine these minimums.

    There should be room for variances especially with housing directly next to a BART station. In Chicago, if you are within 600 feet of a CTA station (1200 feet on a designated pedestrian street) its 0.5 spaces per housing unit, regardless of size, and zero for office/business units.

  14. Wow. You’re right. The four nearest buildings to the parking crater are parking garages. That is crazy!

  15. Walnut Creek also has a ton of high density mixed-use development going in near the BART station. It’s really impressive. I think the challenge is that, once you get out if downtown, there are a lot of single family subdivisions that aren’t very transit-friendly and It’s hard to imagine Ygnacio Valley Rd ever being bike friendly without a road diet. It seems bike share could work really well between BART and the downtown area.

  16. The Feds actually thwarted the Detroit situation by bailing out GM and its horrific Rennaisance Center.

  17. Detroit absolutely deserves to be smacked when they take their own precious riverfront property and waste it. I am as left as it comes on Streetsblog and I am sympathetic to a lot of Detroit’s complaints about maltreatment but there is a consistent refusal among Detroiters (much less Detroit-area suburbanites!) to accept any responsibility for how things got so bad. This is part of it: taxpayer-subsidized waste, plain as day. The Renaissance Center is a disaster; there is no real street access for their People-Mover stop. It’s a fortress of cars downtown and it makes absolutely no sense except for the clueless suburbanites who work there and see nothing wrong with parking downtown, for free, next to the greatest natural attraction for 100 miles, every day. And having like 3 empty parking spots for every car on the busiest days, too.

  18. Or at least offset the number of private car parking spots with car share parking spots, as a single car share can serve many residents while enabling them to go car-lite and use it only for trips where it makes sense.

  19. Sometimes it’s also that no one wants to be the only building in the middle of a sea of parking, so none of the private owners are trying to redevelop. But if the city announced some plan that gave an incentive, they might all redevelop at once.

  20. The Detroit lot is all GM parking for the adjacent renaissance center. What’s most problematic is that it abuts the new, vibrant riverwalk.

  21. Detroit by a mile, since it is a parking wasteland downtown. (Although not exactly surprising — were you expecting GM employees to bike to work?)

    Walnut Creek is part of a damned-if-you-do trade. It’s a car based society, the cars are not going to entirely disappear. So do you bring the cars downtown and make a mess of that area (as in Detroit or some of the other featured downtowns) or get people to drive to transit in the suburbs and then take a train, thereby preserving a dense and walkable downtown at the cost of parking lots all over those transit station? Walnut Creek is really no different than GO stations outside Toronto, or any suburban stations on nearly any large commuter rail system, especially the newer (post-auto-age) ones.

  22. In Detroit, it is quick and easy to access the buildings from the waterfront. In Walnut Creek, the city has gone to great efforts to encourage driving and discourage biking and walking. The Iron Horse Trail (managed by EBMUD, not WC) is 3.5 blocks away, yet to walk takes 15 minutes because of the long intersection signal timing. The roar of 75,000 cars a day traveling along Ygnacio Valley Road makes for an unpleasant experience at best.

    There is no bike route to the East, West or North of the BART station (nor is anything planned). To the south, the bike lane exists on both sides for only one block, and even then is sandwiched between 35mph drivers and streetside parking. That is literally the only bike route in downtown. WC has a parking garage on nearly every block, and plans to spend$15+ million on another garage just three blocks south of the BART.

  23. For the record, Walnut Creek’s thriving downtown is several blocks from the BART station and an easy walk. Also, almost all BART stations in the East Bay are commuter oriented and require parking. However, that doesn’t mean surface lots are the answer. Both WC and the El Cerrito Plaza stations could benefit from transit-oriented development, namely the latter station. WC is hardly a “doozy.”
    Once again, a ridiculous comparison with meaningless results.

  24. I’m not quite sure what the point of this exercise is–perhaps to parody Curbed’s neighborhood beauty contests? But it seems like one point would be to highlight the communities that are the worst offenders–the places that aren’t trying to fix these massive parking zones.
    Walnut Creek doesn’t fall into that category. There was a lot of bad planning in the 60’s and 70’s–especially when the merchants insisted that the BART station not be built in the actual Downtown. It would ruin the downtown, don’t you know. But every single station on that BART line has masses of surface parking and most of them have no intention of fixing the situation.

  25. Riding a bike on Walnut Creek’s Ygnacio Valley Road between BART and the Iron Horse Trail is a thoroughly nasty experience. It’s the only place I’ve ridden with signage *encouraging* cyclists to ride on the sidewalk.

  26. Do you consider this street level access to their People Mover stop “unreal”? By the way, GM added it.

    You also forgot to mention GM spending $25 million to build a portion of the RiverWalk and Wintergarden along the River. Those developments replaced a parking lot.

    All of this was done long before GM’s financial struggles and tax-payer assistance.

    Who deserves to be smacked?

  27. Not sure what you’re referring to there, the link doesn’t work right for me. I can zoom into a Google Street View of the center but I don’t see anything I don’t remember: it’s possible to traipse across the lawn after taking stairs down all the way to a raised grassy area but there’s no street access to the stop, you have to go inside the building first. The waste to which I referred was the people-mover stop itself, actually, not the bailout.

  28. Actually it was the giant silos that were just east(you still see the footprints) and the railyard located here. Cost the city millions

  29. This is, unfortunately, a typical treatment for BART stations: add more parking, aboveground and underground, and call it a “transit village.” They’ve even used the new urbanist term Transit-Oriented Development for this.

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