Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Talking Transportation: Rail Station Parking – A Fresh Look

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

What is wrong with this picture?  We say we are encouraging people to get out of their cars and try the train. Yet, we have a six-year waiting list for parking permits at some stations.

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But wait, there’s more: in a year we’ll finally be adding new M8 cars to our fleet, increasing capacity on trains. But we have no plans to expand parking at stations from Fairfield to Greenwich. (In fact, we may lose 800+ spaces while the Stamford garage is demolished and rebuilt for two years.)

Parking at rail stations in Connecticut is a mess. In Darien you’ll pay $315 for an annual permit. Next door in Stamford, it’s $840 a year. And at the South Norwalk station, $936. And that’s after waiting anywhere from 18 months to six years for the chance to buy a permit.

I’ve written before about possible solutions, including a Dutch auction that would let the market demand decide the value of the limited supply of spaces. But, instead, how about expanding the lots and adding more spaces?

A great idea, say the towns—as long as you do it someplace else. “We don’t want expanded parking in ‘our town’ at ‘our station” because it would only attract more traffic from “out of towners,” they say. The NIMBY’s rule.

Mind you, most of the rail stations and adjacent parking are owned by the CDOT, not the towns. But under their lease arrangements the towns set the parking rules and the rates and treat commuters as a convenient revenue source. Like commuters have any choice when the towns jack up rates?

This has got to change. And finally, Governor Rell agrees. She’s just told CDOT to form a task force with the CT Rail Commuter Council, the regional planning agencies and the towns to find a solution.

The issue’s been studied over and over again, but CDOT has seemed a reluctant landlord in imposing a solution serving the greater good if it risks angering the towns or jeopardizing the locals’ revenue stream from this “commuter tax”.

Here are some possible solutions:

In some places we might add parking lots or deck existing lots. But before we get asphalt-happy, let’s remember what we’re really looking for here. What’s really needed is increased access to our rail stations, not just acres of more parking.

In some towns access might mean shuttle buses circulating through town, picking up commuters near their homes. In other towns, construction of sidewalks would make it possible to walk to the station without slogging through ice and snow.

Or how about racks and lockers for bikes and mopeds—even “kiss and ride” drop-off points. Or subsidized taxi rides. Where there is parking, why not incentives for those who bring more than one person per car to the station: better spots or lower rates?

And let’s not forget CDOT’s favorite three-letter word, TOD, transit oriented development—building homes and offices near the station eliminating the need for cars or shuttles.

We can’t bring these solutions to just one town or one station. We have to do it at all stations, spreading the pain and the benefit evenly across all the towns. We have to make all towns do what’s best for the region, not just their local fiefdom.

So thank you Governor Rell. Thanks for finally telling CDOT to do something and thanks for including the Connectcut Rail Commuter Council as part of the Task Force.

After the governor’s recent announcement, a reporter asked me if it wasn’t “too late for this effort?” “Heck no,” I said. “It may be a few years later than we’d have liked, but it’s never too late to start fixing this problem.”

So let’s get going!
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James Cameron (Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 18 years. He is chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, and the Darien Representative Town Meeting. The opinions expressed here are his own. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or http://www.trainweb.org/ct.  For the full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit http://www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

21 thoughts on “Talking Transportation: Rail Station Parking – A Fresh Look

  1. Theses are all good points Jim and you’re right the longer we talk about it the longert it will take to get things on a drawing board to get it done. Five or ten years from now we’ll look back and say, if we only started this back in 2009 we’d have solutions by now. Now is the time to “start” and find solutions that are new and on the edge maybe.

    Beign there is such limited space to build and or increase teh amount of parking spaces, your advice of “outside of the box thinking” is what our officials need to do to solve this challenge. We need blue sky thinking on this one for sure.

  2. Don’t forget that a second parking deck was considered for Saugatuck Station back when it was raised above sea-level (2002?), and it was shot down for two reasons: it would block people’s view (huh?) and the Police Chief felt it was a safety/security hazard (double huh?).

  3. Although I’m not sure I quite agree with that reasoning (block views of the 20 foot embankment that the train tracks sit up on?); I do know that whatever increase in parking capacity is decided upon, it must be done in concert with CDOT. There are not enough seats on the trains as it is with the parking we have. More parking will only further exacerbate the seating availability issue.

  4. How’s this for blue sky thinking:  Use the federal TARP bailout money to actually DO SOMETHING WE CAN SEE…like this:

    1) Incentives for commuters to buy Domestically prodiced electric-plug-in vehicles, like the long awaited, 2010 Chevy Volt (available just in time for item #2 below) at local dealers to keep them in business.

    2) Build additional plug-in only parking spaces for plug-in vehicles.  Get the zoning approved!

    3) Cut a deal with CLP and all the newly un-employed electicians to make it happen.  great PR opportunity here.

    4) Take names of cash-strapped commuters, who would be willing to sell, donate, their gas guzzling, rich running, lousy mpg, daily station cars, and buy, at deep discounts above said plug-ins.

    5) Monitor stict use of these spaces to avoid the wait-list issues we have now.

    Call me crazy. 

    I called & wrote Dodd’s office.  Still waiting for a reply.  Not holding my breath.

  5. Jim,
    What EXACTLY is “fresh” about CT looking at transportation now?  You say they have known about these things for 10 years or more! What the state needs is “action”- instead the state does nothing.  We study things to death in CT without ever doing anything.

    Also, CDOT doesn’t know what TOD is- it is the cities of CT that are doing it.  They are doing TOD because, again, the state is doing nothing.

  6. Ahh, sorry Mr. Karrel, perhaps you might like to return to a place and time where there was outright censorship and propaganda was the norm (and hopefully your point of view was the one being championed) but here, on this forum and in this country, you are going to have learn tolerence when points of view that you don’t agree with are expressed, rather than call for their deletion.

    Might I suggest you respond to the poster’s argument with which you disagree with your own [hopefully cogent] argument?

    Of course, I would not object, at all, if Ms. Flemming “moderated” this post, as well as those of Mr. Karrel, to the wastebin since they are not on the transportation topic but rather the “tolerence for a healthy exchange of views” topic.

  7. I should probably follow up my last post by saying that I now understand that the last post by Mr. Karrol’ was meant as “tongue in cheek” – so effective was his wit that I fell for it and took him to task!  ; )

  8. Mr Whittle,

    I am not sure how to take your last post as the cynic in me thinks I’ve been insulted. 

    Please share with us your ideas on how to fix the country’s problems. 

    Begin with the subject of this article so as not to offend Big Brother,

  9. Mr. Schorr:

    I neither addressed my last post to you or one of your posts, nor did I refer to one of your posts in my post; and even if I had I certainly would not have insulted you – that is simply not my style of debate on a community forum. However, and since you asked, I will respond (in a general sense) to your post of substance above – which seemed to focus in one way or another on electric automobiles: you seemed to have missed the topic of Mr. Cameron’s article: availability of parking at the Metro North train stations, and solutions to address this problem (ranging from building more parking spots, to letting the free market determine the price of a RailRoad parking permit, to increasing local transportation solutions (remote parking or leave the car at home), to encouraging the use of transportation methods that don’t require an automobile parking spot.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think electric cars are a great idea for local driving needs, but the use of an electric car does not address the issue identified in the article – availability of parking for said car.

    I do have a thought to share on this topic, and it aligns with Rich Groblewski’s point: the current passenger loads are determined in part by these same parking and train station transportation issues; if you deck the parking lot at Westport, for example (might I suggest doing so on the NY-Bound side) a happy consequence will be a marked increase in ridership, which will need to be accommadated with more seats (adding trains or cars).

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