Menlo Park may increase free parking time downtown


Visitors to Menlo Park's downtown area may no longer have to race against the clock to complete their business before their parking time runs out.

The Menlo Park City Council will consider on Tuesday, Oct. 20, a six-month pilot program that would increase to three hours the free parking time in the city's eight parking plazas. The current limit is two hours. On-street free parking time downtown would be doubled to two hours, from the current one-hour limit.

Merchants and shoppers have been calling for the higher limits.

Two of the parking plazas offer an option to pay to extend parking time. The city is looking at a way to offer such an option at the other six plazas.

The six-month pilot program is expected to cost about $10,300. If the council decides to make the longer free parking time permanent, the city would pay about $64,000 for 60 signs to be replaced in the parking plazas and 215 to be replaced along downtown streets, according to a staff report prepared by Kevin Chen, assistant engineer of transportation.

The cost of installing a pay system option at the six lots that don't currently offer it is estimated at $210,000, using the system now in use at the other two plazas, the report says. However, with the council's authorization, the staff could dive into a cost-benefit analysis of newer technologies that may offer a less costly method of monitoring and collecting parking payments.

If approved, the pilot would begin in January 2016. Results and recommendations about whether those changes should be made permanent would be presented to the City Council in July 2016.

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10 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Longer time limits mean less turnover for parking spaces, making it harder to find parking. Fast forward a few months after this is implemented, and instead of complaining about parking tickets and vigorous enforcement, there will be complaints about how much harder it is to find parking.

There is no such thing as free parking. We are all paying for it, even those of us who walk or bike to downtown.

9 people like this
Posted by MP resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Seems like increasing the parking time to 3 hours will be counterproductive. There will be less turnover of the parking spaces with a 3 hour parking limit. Employees will be more likely to take spaces which are intended for customers. Why not keep the parking at 2 hours and let people who want more time park in the pay lots (it's not pricey)?

We need more bicycle racks to encourage people to bike downtown rather than drive.

11 people like this
Posted by ABS
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Doesn't anyone from MP city hall read these comments? I thought that this had already been approved last Spring. At that time I suggested that the 'greener' and less expensive alternative to replacing signage was to simply print out stickers to change the 1 to 2 and a 2 to a 3. I imagine that it could be done for a couple of hundred bucks.

5 people like this
Posted by Don C..
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Those of us who pay a substantial fee for annual parking permits find it difficult presently when we leave for an appointment mid-day and return to a completely full parking lot with no place to park legally. Extending to three hours will make the situation worse. Maybe assigned parking spots for annual permits and other spots left for "visitors"

5 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:51 pm

I support the idea of this particular parking trial. Not expensive and easy to monitor. I simply hope the City has established clear goals and success criteria and that residents understand them BEFORE the trial starts. The City needs to show how trial results compare to the goals and criteria. Otherwise, many residents will likely dispute the value of the findings. Let's conduct a sound trial!

3 people like this
Posted by MP Central
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:11 pm

This is a great example of the city council not understanding the issue. 2 hours is plenty of time, 1 hour is not. Why not simply make the on street parking 2 hours rather than changing ALL the parking times. IMO there is plenary of parking in MP. I'd like to see a lot get built so some of the space could be put to better use.

6 people like this
Posted by Tiger Bachler
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 2:04 pm

This is music to this downtown business owner's ears! I truly hope the council adopts these changes and KEEPS THEM. My husband and I have owned Alys Grace in downtown Menlo Park for the last 7 years. We also have a store located in the more business friendly downtown of Los Altos (more on that in a bit). Many of my fellow business owners and I as well as employees throughout the downtown area have commiserated over the parking issue FOR YEARS. Punitive parking time limits in our downtown encourages shoppers to go to Stanford Mall where they do not have to worry about getting an expensive ticket. It also discourages qualified employees from wanting to work for a downtown business, because 1 parking ticket eats into their hard earned wages for the day.

I believe the issue of turnover in parking is negligible and should not supersede the desire of our city to have it's citizens shop and eat in downtown (and does the City of MP realize some hair color appointments can take 3+ hours?!). I would love for my customers to be able to have lunch at a local restaurant for 1-1.5 hours and then come and shop with us without worrying they have overstayed their welcome downtown. 3 hours is a much more reasonable time frame. The varied types of visitors to downtown will naturally result in turnover in parking.

I personally either get 6-10 tickets a year OR sometimes get diligent and park in the paid lot. My employees on the other hand should not and also do not want to pay for parking so they are forced to move their cars every 2 hours which often times can affect the customer experience. To keep employees from parking in prime spots, Menlo Park needs to do better for it's workforce and provide more affordable parking permits with designated spots for parking. The cost of an annual permit in Menlo Park is $592 and they are not always available. Guess what the cost of an annual permit is in Los Altos? $36!!! Our company purchases 5 or 6 depending on how many our manager thinks she needs to share amongst the employees. They are transferrable, proratable, and there is also a quarterly option. We are so happy to be able to provide these for our Los Altos employees. The spots that the permits are valid for are located further away from the main drag but employees are incentivized to park there because the permits are reasonably priced (and in our case paid for by their employer). It is a very business friendly policy. In Menlo Park, small businesses cannot afford to buy multiple parking passes for employees. Further, the permits are NOT TRANSFERABLE and if you have multiple cars you have to pay additional instead of switching your permit to your other car. Everything about parking in Menlo Park feels unreasonable and hostile to local business owners and the local workforce.

The last point I wanted to make is that a previous poster suggested that leaving the parking at 2 hours and anyone who needed more time should park in the paid lots. I think the issue of employees parking in prime spots could easily be taken care of by my suggestion above. But for our customers, they don't often know they will be in our shop for an extended period. Usually it's accidental. But every instance of a CUSTOMER to any downtown business getting a ticket contributes to the likelihood that they will choose to do business elsewhere.

I hope that the City of Menlo Park will continue to look at ideas and policies that encourage business and vibrancy in our little downtown.

Tiger Bachler, Owner
Alys Grace

11 people like this
Posted by Bill Kirsch
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Extending free parking time downtown is a terrible idea. It will encourage more people to drive automobiles downtown, but those folks will find less parking available, as spaces are occupied longer with empty cars, and retail workers can park for free for longer periods.

What we should be doing instead is to make bicycling downtown safer and more convenient, with buffered bike lanes and more adequate bicycle parking downtown. I'm guessing most shoppers are visiting from our community, and many of them may be willing to leave their car at home if bicycling downtown was more safer and more pleasant.

7 people like this
Posted by A Real Test, Please
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 16, 2015 at 5:51 pm

A great idea. Easy to implement. Agree that setting quantifiable measures is very important to make the test meaningful. if the overall goal is to improve the downtown shopping experience, then feedback should come from business owners and shoppers/parkers. Would be great to understand the impact on city revenues from sales tax (this would probably need to be an estimate, but should go up) and parking ticket fines (should go down). Also, appreciate Tiger Bachelor's comments. I recently shopped in Los Altos, and agree that worry-free parking led me to visit more shops and buy more things. (Good for LA shops, not necessarily my wallet.) I also like her idea of reasonably priced employee parking on the periphery of downtown lots.

4 people like this
Posted by MenloResident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 16, 2015 at 5:58 pm


Has it occurred to you that not everyone can or wants to bike everywhere?
And that biking is not particularly a good mix with many sorts of shopping?
And that even those of us who cannot bike want to be downtown. What the owner of Alys Grace describes is my experience. I have done a good deal of business both with the retail stores snd the restaurants, and I have received 3-4 tickets for saying in a spot s bit longer. No one can afford it. These days, I frequently go to Town & Country because I know I won't be harassed in this way. Additionally, the work has a cafe based working culture these days. Many of us like to sit in the coffee shops and work. This is probably a great source of revenue for mp, but my personal approach is to go to one of the many neighboring coffee duos and eateries to avoid the parking harassment - which included getting a ticket for allegedly being parked on the line. This ticket caused me to visit the downtown police station to ask for proof. There was no picture. They dismissed the ticket, this is really not a great way to treat residents or visitors who need to take a car into town, for whatever reason. This is all to say that I am delighted with the goals of the pilot and hope it stays this way so that I can return to frequenting our city businesses. Must agree w poster who says change the number on signs with a sticker instead of replacing sign.

8 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 17, 2015 at 7:40 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.


Bill Kirsch isn't saying that everyone should bike downtown. He made two points, which are absolutely correct: First, encouraging more cars downtown will bring more cars downtown. (Duh.) So if you are arguing for more cars downtown and also complaining about traffic congestion on El Camino or cut-through traffic in our neighborhoods, you are wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Second: many of the trips made downtown could easily be done by bicycle instead. A trip to the ATM, to eat lunch, to pick up some new fuses at the hardware store, no car needed. Lots of folks who can ride bicycles downtown don't do so, because they don't feel safe. If the city did more to make biking an attractive option **for the people for whom it is an option** then there would be more parking spaces available for those who can't.

People asking for better bicycle infrastructure are not the enemy. Making downtown safe and appealing for people to walk and bike to will benefit everyone, including the folks who continue to drive.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

I continue to applaud the City for its recent transportation-related experimentation. But, without proper data gathering and analysis methods, we'll have no idea the effect of this particular change.

4 people like this
Posted by Mixed on test
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2015 at 6:32 pm

While it is fine to do a small test, perhaps in just one lot, it does not get to the root of the parking issue and, of course, it does have a revenue impact that likely does not come back to the city via sales tax. The primary reason downtown lacks vibrancy is not the lack of three hour free parking. It is a lack of many quality stores and restaurants -- there are some, but not many and, importantly, parking policy is not the culprit. If we had more offerings, shoppers would find their way to our town. In addition, by allowing some shoppers to stay for free for three hours, it means that those who need to park quickly for simple errands will find no parking or pay parking. It is an unfair balance, benefiting those who need it least. Ultimately, a garage is the answer as it benefits all equally. Of course, some merchants, serving a very small piece of the population, want more free parking to increase their sales, but is it worth excluding local errand shoppers from free parking and for the cost the city will incur? Probably not. If we are looking for draws to town perhaps some merchants can reduce their high prices to attract more visitors and help the vibrancy of downtown?

3 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2015 at 12:41 pm

It is true that not everyone can bike to downtown. Nobody ever said that everybody can bike to downtown, but if you are a normal, healthy adult or teen, you can bike to downtown. I do all my shopping by bike. Chances are, you can too.

3 people like this
Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Menlo Park is way behind the curve on: planning for and funding a parking garage; getting in-lieu fees from Specific Plan/Downtown area developers; turn reducing on-site parking requirements for new development to be in line with Mountain View and other neighbors; drastically reducing parking permit fees for Downtown employees; extending and modernizing paid parking. A garage will take years to build with development happening now and in the near term. The city therefore needs an in-lieu program and to revisit parking ratios for new development, with their fees used to ramp up planning and design for the new garage.

5 people like this
Posted by Cindy Welton
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

I understand many business owners and some constituents would like extended "free" parking in downtown Menlo Park. Theoretically more people will come to downtown and stay longer to spend more money. "Free" parking isn't actually free. All of the tax payers pay for the incredibly valuable space that cars are parked on for "free".

If you want to allow people to stay longer than what we already allow for "free", they should pay a fair price for it. That way we'd still encourage turn over of spaces, but people who want or need to stay longer could easily pay metered parking prices for that privilege. All plazas could charge for extended time so people can avoid getting parking tickets. The solution to getting parking tickets is to make it convenient to pay for extended time. The money we collect could then be used to fund downtown improvements. Instead, we are now going to pilot a change that could result in unintended consequences as outlined in the staff report: enticing more employees to park in spaces intended for customers.

What are we doing to encourage anyone to do anything other than drive to downtown? We actually should be managing our parking and circulation using some kind of principles to achieve the goals and objectives that make sense for a family friendly city…decisions that reduce pollution and congestion and encourage community and health. Compelling businesses and a better retail mix along with a more family, pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment are what will bring people downtown.

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