Image courtesy Cyclelicious

In the near future Santa Cruz city officials will start pedaling to work, downtown merchants will hop on the bus and busboys will carpool if the Campaign for Sensible Transportation has its way.

Currently, over half of the parking spaces downtown are used by its workforce. To track worker commuting habits, the advocacy group has concocted a survey to see if an alternative system to reduce the number of cars used by employees is possible.

The survey, which asks questions like how much respondents spend on downtown parking each month and what makes it difficult to use alternative transportation modes, was spurred by the proposed five-story parking garage on Cedar and Cathcart Streets, home of the weekly farmers market, which for now has been put on hold by the City Council.

“There are two choices: build a new garage that requires fees being raised across the board or put the money into other transportation benefits that would only cost a portion of what a garage would cost,” says Rick Longinotti, Sensible Transportation spokesperson.

Opponents of the garage see an employee transportation program modeled after the one at UC Santa Cruz, which offers alternatives and incentives like low or no-cost bus passes, free Zipcar membership, discount carpool parking, credit at bike stores and emergency taxi rides home.

The UCSC program has proven effective in reducing congestion and demand for new parking—UCSC has 60 cars for every 100 people arriving on campus compared to the average 80 cars for 100 people commuting to workplaces in town, according to a 2003 Master Transportation Study.

As it stands now, the city operates 3,067 downtown spaces and sells 1,643 parking permits. A vast majority of the permit holders are downtown workers, not counting the employees who use parking meters or scramble to move their car every three hours.

Last year, the parking shortage during busiest times was about 127 spaces. And with the General Plan update set to increase density in future downtown projects, the deficit could inflate to 700 spaces by 2030.

While a new garage would add as many as 700 more spaces, Longinotti says, “There’s got to be a better way.”

The proposed $15.4 million garage would be funded through fee increases on parking permits and meters, as well as converting downtown free lots to paid ones.

Since last summer, the Campaign for Sensible Transportation has worked to persuade the city to investigate alternatives to a parking garage and anticipates the survey will yield promising data. The findings will be presented to the Santa Cruz Downtown Commission later this month to obtain recommendations for the city council.

According to Longinotti, the cost of implementing an alternative transportation system would be much less than the cost of building the proposed garage—approximately $1,250/year per commuter, which could be funded from current parking meter and parking permit revenues.

“And more alternative commutes means more parking spaces freed up for customers in an environmentally friendly way,” Longinotti says.

The survey runs until May 21 and can be taken at http://sensibletransportation.org.

The Downtown Workforce Community Meeting will discuss the results of the survey on Tuesday, May 26 at 5pm in the Calvary Church Hall, 532 Center St., Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz Downtown Commission will meet to hear the survey results and vote on recommendations for the City Council Thursday, May 28 at 8:30am in the City Council Chambers, 809 Center St., Santa Cruz.