Light rail light on parking

By: Jim Ratajczak
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When the Historic District Parking Structure opened last month, many hoped it would alleviate the parking problems on Sutter Street. For the Historic Folsom station light rail riders, the garage is just a $13.6 million symbol of their parking frustrations. “The lots (used for light rail parking) in Folsom are frequently full,” said Mark Lonergan, Sacramento Regional Transit’s chief operating officer. “It’s an everyday weekday kind of thing.” Lonergan estimates there are 149 designated rail rider parking spaces between the historic district’s two free park-and-ride lots. But when the Historic Folsom station is averaging 490 weekday riders, those lots conjure memories of parking at the Roseville Galleria in December. To put that number into perspective, the Iron Point station averages 492 weekday riders, the Glenn station 362. Stations in downtown Sacramento average more than 2,000 riders on a daily basis. “Clearly, the supply we’ve provided can’t keep up with the demand,” said Mark Rackovan, Public Works senior engineer. To help curb rising demand for light rail parking, it seems logical to allow commuters to use the new parking structure. It offers more than 300 spaces and is in close proximity to the station, but most of the spaces have a 3-hour time limit, making them unusable for most rail riders. And currently, the city doesn’t plan on changing its parking policies. But Rackovan said a consultant would begin a long-range parking needs study sometime next month which could lead to potential policy changes. “Even if we were to free up some parking today, we’d probably have to chase them out of there in a year (because of continued redevelopment),” said Rackovan. “(The structure) was built to meet future (Historic District) demand, demand that we may have to meet within a year.” As the city fights to meet that demand, it must also take into account out-of-city commuters from El Dorado County who use the park-and-ride lots. “You get people in from surrounding counties all the time,” Lonergan said. “I would not be surprised at all (if they added to the problem). But then it becomes more of a political discussion between Folsom and (El Dorado County). “I think a very significant percentage of light rail riders come from Placerville,” said Rackovan. Lonergan said Folsom has inquired about running light rail later into evenings as well as providing more frequent trains, two services that would cost more money and attract more out-of-city riders. “If that means the light rail services become more desirable for riders out of the region, it makes sense that Folsom would meet with El Dorado County and have them subsidize a portion.” Rackovan was unsure if any cost-sharing discussions had taken place. With gas prices going through the roof, light rail only stands to become an even more attractive commuter alternative. Until the parking policies, if any, are changed, rail riders will have to continue to fight for spots in the park-and-ride lots or park on the roof of the garage, which does not have time limits. Lonergan also suggests people use the Hazel park-and-ride lot on Folsom Blvd., which has 432 spots. “Hazel is very underused,” he said. “We’re lucky if 100 people park there a day. That would be the easiest thing people trying to park could do.”