San Diego Parking Craters Could House 8,000 Families Near Light Rail Stations

Photo: Circulate San Diego
Photo: Circulate San Diego

San Diego’s light rail stations are not what you’d call hubs of activity.

At most of its trolley stops, the Metropolitan Transit System maintains hundreds of parking spaces. And some of these park-and-ride fields are only 30 percent full on at peak hours, according to a new report from the nonprofit Circulate San Diego. It’s time for MTS to get busy redeveloping these sites as spaces where people can live, the group says.

MTS controls some 57 acres of prime developable land, according the report. Under current zoning rules, this real estate could support the construction of more than 8,000 homes. Circulate San Diego recommends that 3,000 of them be reserved for people making no more than 60 percent of the area median income.

Many transit agencies — notably Atlanta — have facilitated new development near key stations.

San Diego’s MTS is perfectly capable of inviting development proposals at its stations. However, the agency has not issued requests for proposals in more than 10 years, Circulate San Diego found.

“The result is a substantial amount of publicly owned land that is adjacent to a transit stop and not used by anyone for any purpose” writes author Colin Parent.

At the Amaya Drive Station, for example, just under half the 236 parking spots are used during weekdays, according to a survey by volunteers.

The specter of NIMBY opposition is one reason MTS might be hesitant to pursue development opportunities that would make the transit system more useful to more people. By leaving these parking lots untouched, Parent writes, “MTS can avoid difficult conversations with adjoining landowners, neighborhood groups, and other stakeholders.”

But that neglects the MTS Board’s obligation “to ensure the agency uses it real estate assets to benefit both the agency directly and other important public policy goals,” Parent writes. Circulate San Diego recommends that MTS inventory its land holdings and issue a series of RFPs to redevelop strategic sites.

14 thoughts on San Diego Parking Craters Could House 8,000 Families Near Light Rail Stations

  1. San Diego is a poster child of the dissonance between the well meaning theory of New Urbanism and the brutal obsession with private cars.

    The ‘walkable’ new urbanism of University Town Center ( UTC ) is a dystopian nightmare of 175’ wide streets, parking craters, and colossal flyovers.

    They are adding a commuter rail station to UTC and a light rail station to UTC. These stations will be located THREE MILES apart from each other – sad !

  2. You need to go to DC, Angie. The NoVA Orange Line between East Falls Church and Dunn Loring has over 9,000 parking spaces — with the Vienna Station having over 5,000 alone. Lots of people commute from Loudon County and West Virginia for DC jobs, and Park at the stations along I-66.

    There’s also more parking in PG County Orange Line Stations, and more Metro Parking on other Lines, too. Isn’t sprawl great?

  3. Brutal obsession, indeed! I work for a bicycle company with offices adjacent to multiple public transit routes. We just had a 10 minute strategy session on how we could move equipment to make it easier for employees to park.

  4. The better question is why we have parking near a light rail station to begin with. But it doesn’t defer automotive use it just puts the cars away from the city parking which is okay. I ride light rail in Baltimore to Camden Yards, so I don’t have to pay parking in the city. Nobody wants to live near light rail anyway

  5. The commuter rail line goes around UTC via Miramar Canyon while light rail will go directly into UTC. Options to reroute the commuter rail through a tunnel under UTC have thus far been rejected due to cost.

    The commuter rail and light rail do share stations to the south at Old Town as well as downtown San Diego and may eventually share a station at the south edge of the UTC area where their routes diverge.

    And, yeah, the major streets in the UTC area are auto-dominated and enormously wide. But the new light rail line will also serve UCSD, which is much more walkable, with a pair of stations.

  6. In most instances, I wouldn’t be too concerned about parking decks at transit stations. Our CBDs are choking on downtown parking infrastructure. It’s pretty clear we need to displace as much parking as possible to lower value land at the fringe of cities. At the same time, the land use outside of our CBDs is often so bad that the most effective way to improve quality of place is through some modest in-fill development, ped/bike improvements, and (sadly) a centrally located parking garage to support the commercial nodes.

    Santa Barbara CA does a nice job of this. Maintains a pedestrian scale but tastefully has added a gazillion parking spots in garages around the main street/train station. It’s not the perfect design, but it’s probably the best we can do in the framework we’re working with. The alternative of 14 story apartments over a shopping mall/transit station has it’s draw backs, namely existing residents hate it, it doesn’t create quality of place, and the displaced parking capacity at the fringe may drive up parking demand downtown (where we can least afford it).

  7. The problem for Metro isn’t the parking garages around certain stations but that there’s billions of dollars-worth of public investment into transportation assets that haven’t been allowed to be leveraged to create anything. At the same time that there’s a housing affordability crisis, we have places within beltway that are low density, large lot McMansions accessible to transit lines. Effectively, what should have been investments that generated new opportunities – homes, businesses, industry, jobs – has been mined by ultimately a small number of people for private windfalls.

  8. I agree that the Golden Triangle is not walkable. It’s full of car-oriented condo complexes linked together by wide suburban boulevards. The same faux urban design pattern was replicated in Chula Vista’s Otay Ranch. Car is king in both places, despite BRT circulators running around the Golden Triangle and a soon-to-open BRT line passing through Otay Ranch.

  9. “Nobody wants to live near light rail anyway.” Hmmm…..I am sure thousands, if not millions, of folks would beg to differ.

  10. Mixed-use development around light rail stations would improve the property value and quality of life around the stations. NIMBYs would be very short-sighted to object.

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