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Opinion: In San Jose’s Diridon area, lots of parking will not be a good thing

Helen Chapman and Michele Beasley

In the not-too-distant future, even more buses, trains and subways will converge at Diridon Station in San Jose, making it the dynamic transportation heart of Silicon Valley. The Diridon Good Neighbor Committee — made up of neighborhood leaders, transit agency representatives, open space advocates and business people — worked hard to design a framework for growth that puts the community first, a plan that embraces change for the better.

The area around the station, which straddles a diverse collection of homes and businesses, has been the subject of many plans over the years. The HP Pavilion is a huge draw, and many hope a new baseball stadium will attract people and shops. Yet all these plans shouldn’t overshadow what’s right for residents.

Although high-speed rail, BART, Bus Rapid Transit and “The Alameda: a Beautiful Way” are coming in the next few decades, Diridon Station is already an active transportation hub. Many people ride Caltrain’s baby bullet, take buses to Santa Cruz, ride VTA’s light rail and walk and bike the Guadalupe River Trail. Toss in the proximity to San Jose State, and the fact that more than 18,000 parking spaces are within three-quarters of a mile of the station — even though only half of them are used — and it should be no surprise that parking and traffic are controversial elements in planning for Diridon’s future.

Some believe that plentiful, free parking is good for business. We argue that designing a place that attracts more people than cars is better for business. Too much parking comes at the expense of a dynamic destination. If there is one place in all of Silicon Valley to truly push the envelope in designing around people instead of cars, Diridon Station is it.

Bold leadership is needed to steer San Jose toward that more urban future. Consider:

  • American motor vehicles consume one-eighth of the world’s oil production, most of which is imported and paid for with borrowed money.
  • Young adults under 30 own fewer cars and are more likely to ride transit than their elders. Generation Y tends to view cars as a source of pollution.
  • 30 percent of Bay Area households within a half mile of a transit station own zero cars.

Other areas have set precedents for Diridon. Once defined by tired strip malls, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, Va., now benefits from building compact homes and office buildings with less parking around its Metro stations. Today, the Metrorail corridor generates half of the county’s tax base on just 7 percent of its land.

As one respected retired planner often says, “You can’t plan for the future while looking in the rearview mirror.” Diridon must be transformed into a hub that connects people to near and far destinations by bike, bus and train, whether for work, school or recreation. In turn, people will come to San Jose, boosting the local economy. Diridon itself must be a destination.

The visionary former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, said, “A great city is one where people want to go out of their homes. Public space is a magical good, and it never ceases to yield pleasure. “… Public good prevails over private interest.”

Diridon Station is a rare opportunity to design for people, not cars. Let’s keep the Diridon Good Neighbor group going by reappointing an ongoing committee to help guide projects as they develop and to remind the city of the community’s priorities.

HELEN CHAPMAN is president of the Shasta Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association. MICHELE BEASLEY is senior field representative for the Greenbelt Alliance, and both are members of the Diridon Good Neighbor Committee. They wrote this article for this newspaper.

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