- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — The Westfield San Francisco Centre has everything you might expect at the biggest urban shopping mall west of the Mississippi: an enormous Bloomingdale’s, a nine-screen movie theater, 170 specialty shops on nine levels.

When developers completed a $460 million renovation last month that tripled the mall’s size to 1.5 million square feet, though, there was something they didn’t add: more parking.

It wasn’t an oversight.

Building a megamall without new parking might seem unfathomable just about anyplace else in America.

But here, developers and city officials cordially agreed on that point in an effort to encourage public transportation and reduce downtown traffic.

Not requiring — in fact, not allowing — any new parking was just the latest result of a downtown growth management policy developed in 1985, said Joshua Switzky of the San Francisco Planning Department.

City leaders “came to the realization that we can’t grow and have economic vitality downtown [by] accommodating additional automobiles,” Mr. Switzky said.

In addition to the mall, about 16 million square feet of office space has been built in downtown San Francisco since 1985.

The number of new parking spots added since then has been almost none, Mr. Switzky said.

Other big cities — most notably New York, Boston and Chicago — also limit downtown parking.

But San Francisco’s policy of refusing to allow almost any new parking flies in the face of city planning elsewhere, where new construction almost always comes with a mandate to build new parking, too.

It might be something that other cities should consider — especially places battling traffic nightmares, such as Atlanta, or those that are in the midst of major downtown redevelopments, such as Austin, Texas, said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“This doesn’t happen elsewhere because cities prohibit it,” said Mr. Shoup, who wrote “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

Typically, city leaders say that “shopping has to come with parking or you can’t have [new] shopping at all,” he said. “And you wonder why places like Atlanta are at the top of the heap of cities with [traffic] problems.”

Though few U.S. cities have tackled parking and downtown traffic problems as vehemently as San Francisco, what’s happening there is indicative of a trend nationally, said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

In Dallas, Washington and elsewhere, developers have built or are planning housing and retail shopping centers that rely on public transit as much as on public parking.

Even cities that are just developing public-rail systems, such as Austin, are counting on them to reduce downtown traffic congestion and the need for more parking lots. Rail service is scheduled to begin in Austin in 2008 and is tied closely to a revitalization of the city’s downtown core.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing cities … willing to reduce the amount of parking developers are required to build,” if their projects are tied to public transportation, Mr. Millar said.

At the same time, he added, “More and more developers are becoming confident that public transit can bring them the customers they need.”

Reflecting that attitude, the new Westfield San Francisco Centre doesn’t even have a parking lot. The nearest mall parking is across the street at a city-owned lot that also serves the Moscone convention center and other attractions. It can hold about 2,600 cars.

Officials expect about 68,500 people a day on average, or about 25 million a year, will visit the mall. That works out to one parking spot for every 26 mall shoppers.

Even so, officials say the parking garage almost always has spaces available. They predict it will be full only on big shopping days during the holiday season.

San Francisco and the location of its new mall are unique. The 49-square-mile city is one of the most densely populated in the country, and one of the best for pedestrians. Its narrow streets and steep hills were built for cable cars, trains and horses, not SUVs and sedans. The new mall also is smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest hubs for public transportation outside New York City.

More than 30 different public-transit sources are within a few blocks of the mall, including the Powell Street end point of the city’s famed cable car line, several stops for the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system, and stops for municipal trains and buses.

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