This review is more urgent due to the current and planned construction projects. While there are currently about 500 unused spaces for personal vehicles a day at the Lab, over the next five years staging and building these projects will temporarily reduce our parking supply by up to 175 spaces per day. Some spaces will be available when construction is completed, but some will be permanently gone.

The working group will also make sure the policy is consistent with the Lab’s values and the IDEA principles, especially the equitable treatment of all Lab citizens. Please note that paying for parking or imposing vehicle access fees is not being considered as part of the review.

John Chernowski, Senior Manager, Transportation and Parking Demand, and Aditi Chakravarty, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, co-chair the Lab’s Parking Policy Modernization Working Group. Recently they discussed the goals of the effort and how everyone at the Lab can participate in an upcoming survey.

Elements: What is the charter of this working group?

John Chernowski: The working group has representatives from each area of the Lab, and our goal is to review and update the Lab’s parking policy. We did some research, and it looks like there have been a few significant changes in the policy in decades. The pandemic, planned capital projects, and the Lab’s Future of Work modes — along with a focus on Lab values — are some of the reasons now is the time to review the policy. We know our current parking demand from our daily badge-ins, and we also know projections for future onsite populations from the data in the Work Mode Tool. These factors will inform our new policy. We want a sustainable policy that will meet the need for parking now and later, especially since the number of parking spaces will diminish during the next few years as construction projects ramp up. 

One thought we keep top of mind is a question Director Witherell asked when the working group was formed. He asked, “If we were designing a parking program today, would it look like our current parking policy? If not, let’s design something reflective of our Lab values for now and the years to come.”

Aditi Chakravarty: Parking is a topic that concerns many of us and can be a proxy for other important issues we care about as a Lab community. As we design this new policy, one of our primary objectives is to ensure that considerations of equity, which we define as fairness around access, are front and center. This doesn’t seem to have been explicitly part of the process when our current policy was crafted four decades ago. For example, Blue Triangle passes are distributed based on income; employees with higher salaries receive access to premium parking, while those with lower salaries and wages do not. As Director Witherell asked, would we have designed this system this way today? Is this the best way for us to uphold and honor our stewardship values and IDEA principles? While we are embarking on this redesign process without many preconceived notions, I’d venture to guess (and this is reflected in preliminary employee feedback) that the vast majority of us at the Lab would say, “Probably not.” 


Elements: What is the breakdown of parking permits by type?

John: Of the approximately 1,700 personal vehicle spaces at the Lab, 208 are blue triangle spaces with 722 active blue triangle parking permit holders. That leaves approximately 1,450 spaces for 2,500 general parking permit holders. Off-hours parking, which is after 3 p.m. and on weekends, is offered to students and affiliates. 


Elements: What are some interesting things you found in the policy’s initial review?

John: It was interesting, but the first thing that stood out was that almost 50% of the blue triangle parking permits are issued to affiliate joint faculty appointments. They are primarily faculty from UC Berkeley.

Aditi: The other noteworthy aspect is that the Blue Triangle holder population does not mirror the breadth of diversity we have in our Lab population. For instance, from a gender standpoint, while ~68% of our total population identify as men, they represent 82-88% of Blue Triangle holders. This trend is more exaggerated along the dimension of race/ethnicity. In other words, Blue Triangle holders, as a group, show an overrepresentation of individuals who self-identify as white and as men compared to the overall population of the Lab. It is possible that this group simply drives more than other demographic segments, but that seems unlikely. 

Blue Triangle holders are also more likely to be from research areas and are disproportionately represented compared to the overall Lab population. Of course, several factors lead to an outcome like this. One is the long history of gender- and race-based exclusion in academia and STEM. We are working to mitigate the effects of this history today and in the future, but this requires us to be very intentional. People with the highest salaries and/or occupy more senior positions tend to be, although not always, those who have been in their fields the longest and belong to social groups that have been welcomed into academia and STEM for generations. Higher salaries are also generally found in our research areas compared to our operations areas. In our current state, operations divisions tend to have higher gender and racial diversity levels. Therefore, with a parking policy based solely on salary levels, we’d expect to see an overrepresentation of the existing majority. And we do. 


Elements: One argument for premium parking is that the Lab loses when highly compensated people spend time looking for parking. How do you reply to that argument?

John: The Lab has made a significant investment in our improved shuttle services, with a shuttle stopping at every onsite stop every seven to eight minutes and travel to most locations at the Lab taking no more than five to ten minutes after that. In other words, people can generally park anywhere at the Lab and still reach their work locations in about 10-15 minutes. This significantly mitigates reduced parking convenience. I’ll also add that the Bay Area is a dense, urban environment, and free, convenient parking is rare. Additionally, the hybrid nature of work today eliminates a lot of travel to meetings which was very common pre-pandemic.


Elements: Would parking policy changes impact those who need medical permits, for example?

Aditi: No. The new parking policy will not affect existing protections related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and will not prevent access to parking for those who need temporary or permanent accommodations based on medical needs.


Elements: How do changes in the Lab’s transportation infrastructure play a role in revising the policy?

John: We have worked to improve the shuttle service in the past few years. About 50% of the Lab community lives within five miles of the Lab. We have added additional routes to serve more residential areas and will add a new route that serves the MacArthur BART station this fall. We’ve increased the frequency of the shuttle routes on the hill site, with a shuttle available every seven minutes. This means areas such as the pit are more accessible to those working in all Lab buildings. With this new schedule, you can get to most Lab hill locations in 11 minutes or less using the shuttle, including wait time. 


Elements: What about orange parking permits?

John: All parking permits are being reviewed by the working group.


Elements: With all this preliminary review work, has the working group come to a conclusion?

John: No, we know our current parking availability and our projected future of work onsite populations, but we need input from the community. A survey is available now through Oct. 8;  we will schedule focused discussion sessions as well.  This big topic impacts most of the community, so we want to hear from everyone before we write a policy. 

Aditi: After conducting this survey and understanding the diverse needs and sentiments across the Lab community, we will draft a new policy and be as transparent about the drafting process as possible. When the draft is ready, we will open it up for a comment period, so anyone at the Lab has the chance to offer feedback and suggestions. We rely on each of you, whether you are personally affected by this policy or not, to help us implement something visionary and innovative, something that better serves the needs of our evolving population. As minor as this may seem, it is an opportunity for us to guide the Lab (and the other organizations who follow our lead) towards a more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accountable status quo. We are all stakeholders in this question. And each of us has the opportunity to influence how we move forward. 


Elements: No matter the final outcome, you are suggesting that there needs to be parking changes. Change is difficult under the best circumstances, especially when you touch a third-rail subject such as parking. How will you help the Lab community deal with change?

Aditi: To realize a vision or embody aspirational values, we have to bridge the gap between where we are, the status quo, and where we hope to be or the desired state. To do this, change is necessary and often inevitable. When considering the parking issue, the central question we have to ask ourselves is, “What am I willing to give up, and what trade-offs am I willing to accept to create greater fairness in our culture overall?” We can’t move forward if we double down on systems of the past that perpetuate inequity. Throughout this policy drafting process, our commitment is to be compassionate and considerate of the implications of potential changes on different parts of our community and to be transparent about what will remain the same and what may change. It’s also worth saying that we often resist change because we anticipate greater loss and disruption than we, in the end, actually experience.


Elements: What is the timeline of this project?

John: The survey is available this month and will be open for about ten days. We want to take time to review the survey results, have follow-up sessions with different Lab groups, and present a proposal to Lab leadership around the end of this calendar year with the implementation of changes in the spring of 2023.