Rail Station Access
Rail effectiveness has often been greatly diminished by what has happened around new stations. The first planning priority for all station areas should be "feeding the train". After establishing target passenger volumes, over time, the means of rider arrival and departure is planned.
One of the key issues has been parking around the stations, where people don't want their neighborhoods destroyed by an avalanche of cars, and therefore insist on an abundance of free parking at the stations to assure that there is no spillover onto their streets. The people who want to park free and ride the trains go along with this policy of course. The trouble with the policy is that it is a disaster for rail and for the neighborhoods. BART had lived with this mistake throughout its history, until a recent re-evaluation.
In Sonoma and Marin Counties, access by car will initially be essential, so sufficient parking will have to be provided. Densities along an old rail right-of-way are low, so there is undoubtedly plenty of room for surface parking in most cases. This must be regarded as temporary. Other modes of access should gradually take over, and the parking land converted to productive uses. In the beginning, parking charges can be nominal, then gradually rise to market rate.
The key policy for access is equal per-rider subsidy by mode. No more public funds should be spent to bring a car driver to the station than for a bus rider or a bike rider. This means that from the outset there should be secure mass parking for bikes. It also means that bus service will be improved greatly, requiring route redesign and increased service levels.
Within one mile of stations, mode priority should be given to walking, then cycling, then transit. Cities should undertake Safe Routes to Transit programs specific to each station.
Parking Benefit Districts/Zones should be arranged in areas around the stations. Parking meters or more modern means of charging for transit parking, in the neighborhoods as well as at the stations, would assure that parking spaces are always available for people that want them. Typically though, neighborhood people would rebel at such an idea, preferring to keep all their street parking available for themselves. Of course they would. But if they get the money from the meters, it changes things. Neighborhoods that set up Parking Benefit Districts will gain funds for public benefit projects or services that they would not otherwise have. We might start to see little signs saying "Welcome Train Riders".
Arrange for car-sharing (short term auto rental) near each station. If you want to learn more about this recent innovation that is taking hold in many places in the U.S. and in Europe, a good place to start is the website of City CarShare in San Francisco.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a comprehensive report entitled "Building Healthier Neighborhoods with Metrorail: Rethinking Parking Policies". This 1.2 MB PDF file can be downloaded from the Foundation's website publications page . Scan down the page for the title, "Building Healthier Neighborhoods with Metrorail: Improving Joint Development Opportunities"