Meet PRN Board Member – Ann Cheng

Our network is made up of hundreds of interesting people doing good work in their communities, and we want to share their stories. This week we interviewed Ann Cheng, PRN’s new board member from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tell us a little about yourself

Hello PRN community! What an honor to address all of you as a new member of the board of directors. I am a longtime parking policy nerd activist and transportation consultant and creator of the GreenTRIP Certification program based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I thrive on providing strategic guidance to leaders towards effective, inclusively decided transportation housing and economic access equity metrics. My clients currently include a variety of transportation and transit agencies including VTA, MTC, BART and SFMTA.  

My professional goals and practice for over two decades is supporting increased equity and accessibility of information, strategic planning and building of affordable, beautiful, community-driven, transit-oriented development, infrastructure funding, and now emerging equitable Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) mitigation banks. I look forward to continuing to support government leaders who are in turn empowering their communities holistically and meaningfully with financial compensation and decision-making powers.

I designed online tech tools for parking, including the innovative GreenTRIP Parking Database and the housing VMT calculator GreenTRIP Connect. Connect is recommended by California’s Governor’s Office of Planning and Research for cities undergoing General Plan Updates and by BART as part of the property development review and analysis. Watch and use the Why Connect? video to help your community understand the connection between parking supply and housing affordability.  

I grew up in El Cerrito and San Ramon in Contra Costa County and went to school at UC Davis and UC San Diego and have since lived in El Cerrito for most of my life. All of these places shaped my ideas of how to get around and my career. I’ve had the privilege to travel around the U.S.’s major cities, Asia and Europe to see world-class transit and parking management in full scale, glorious operation. With my education in environmental resources management and expertise in local to state government policy change, I bring an empathetic understanding and a translator’s mind to helping communities understand how best to manage the variety of transportation environments in a way that is context sensitive and serves those with the greatest need first.

I look forward to sharing the expertise I’ve developed supporting many cities around the Bay Area in their successful efforts to reform parking policies to be more equitable and sustainable.  

How did you discover parking reform?

Great question! It was thanks to the Local Government Commission’s (now CivicWell) Smart Growth Parking Policies manual and booklet of references from 2001. I incorporated some of the first parking reforms in Unincorporated Contra Costa County, as part of the Rodeo Redevelopment Area P-1 Rezoning policies, to support redevelopment goals of infill development and economic revitalization. I was empowered by my bosses at the Redevelopment Agency to propose and recommend smart policies, which I carried with me right through developing the GreenTRIP program. In 2006, I also got to hear directly from Professor Shoup as a planning commissioner for the City of El Cerrito that got sent to the League of California Cities Planning Commissioner Academy. This accelerated my interest in pushing parking policy reform as a key equity and sustainability tool as a professional planner and as a local decision maker.

The GreenTRIP certification program (like LEED but focused on low traffic and parking aspects of new housing development) grew out of the need to support thousands of infill housing units we anticipated to come from over 25 station area, transit corridor and downtown specific plans. I provided transportation planning support to local, regional community partners and funders through the Great Communities Collaborative for over a decade. We found a repeated pattern of confusion around actual and perceived parking supply. Usually a much-misinformed understanding of actual parking supply and need were invariably solved by data, though costly and usually stirring up a lot of controversy first. We also wanted to do something to support housing projects, particularly in infill areas, dying financially because of excessive, one-size-fits-all parking requirements.  

I also got to directly advocate for parking policy reform (and eTOD) as the former City Council Member and Mayor of El Cerrito from 2008-12. I’m proud to say we have broken ground on many projects along the San Pablo Avenue corridor between our two BART stations as a result of taking a new look at managing parking. The old way of “setting and forgetting it” by overbuilding excess parking, literally enough for the peak demand on Christmas Eve, is finally over for a majority of communities. 

I’ve helped thousands of housing units get built with less parking and instead more affordable units and free transit passes and TDMs. In practicing and pushing parking policy reform with cities, transit and state agencies, and partners at all scales and across silos, I’ve learned a ton and l look forward to sharing and growing the movement for transformational change with the fabulous folks at PRN!

What is the most important issue to you that parking has an impact on?

Parking impacts our entire built human environment, what gets built where and how much money goes to moving and storing cars versus building more homes, parks and spaces that are lacking.  If we can better manage parking instead of over building it, we will see more and more communities looking more alive and filled with people walking around and doing stuff. I look forward to the day when managing access to parking with pricing is seen as a standard way to contribute to #1) free high quality transit for equity priority communities #2) support to small businesses with affordable goods and services #3) predictable access to safe affordable parking for the rest of us. Parking permit stickers and payment booths will become the mark and symbol of a well managed safe, clean community with many convenient transportation choices.

What’s a parking question you wish there was a study or research paper about?

Parking as it relates to equity is a big topic that I look forward to supporting in my capacity as a Board of Directors.  How can members of PRN help identify a variety of meaningful, successful, effective, trust increasing, equity metrics that can result from parking reform, to recommend to cities across the network?  I’m also particularly interested in gender equity and the experience of low income black and brown under-represented communities.  

Basic safety for women, girls and elders goes egregiously unacknowledged as a need in our transportation system particularly as it relates to restrooms. I believe there is a way to tie parking reform and pricing management to the creation of more affordable, safe rest stops, particularly in partnership with transit agencies.  How can paid station parking lots be designed more as mobility hubs, most importantly offering a clean safe restroom? What models and partnerships have worked perhaps between business and park districts?   This will need more thinking and partners. Please contact me if you are already working on this!

What is the biggest problem in parking that technology could solve?

The biggest problem in parking is the acceptance of using payment as a way to manage access.  The best way to work on this acceptance is through the technology of neuroscience and recent findings on neuroplasticity.  UCLA Professor Mathew Lieberman author of Social has a great TED talk on the superpowers of the social brain.  I’m excited to work with PRN to leverage this power to solve the parking problem more efficiently and effectively, with minimal social pain and conversely lots of social happiness!

I also think design is another “tech” that can help solve the payment acceptance challenge. What if neighborhood parking permit stickers were designed as an annual competition in partnership with local arts and business groups.  Let’s design a process and “kit” to support a place based marketing approach, infused with art and equity values driving clear transparent budgets and equity metrics from the outset.  Perhaps someone is already doing this! I am so excited to learn more about all the members of this incredible network.

How do we leverage creativity, local art, community building as inherent to the process of developing and supporting creation of parking management/benefit districts?  How can PRN support streamlined creation of districts, anticipating the need to manage and balance smart access to increasingly lower levels of car parking and instead just more people?

Another key piece of tech is building a tool to allow community members to easily create custom dashboard reports to tally potential revenues from managed parking costs as well as a simple list of benefits. With smart design and elegant infographics, this could easily show how parking revenues, over time, in a given mapped area, by auto-generating an estimated number of curb spaces.  Imagine a rough model budget calculator similar to what Remix had before it went behind the paywall. If community members can clearly explain the potential parking revenue and community amenity cost totals by year and over 10 years, paired with a GHG reduction amount, could help spur creation of parking benefit and management districts to support the climate, local businesses and equitable access. 

The City of El Cerrito where I currently live, is starting to build housing on the regional BART station parking lots. Fortunately climate goals of the city and BART require housing over 100% replacement parking and the community is vocal about supporting this.  There is now an excellent well implemented Specific Plan but it took years to determine that there is enough parking in the surrounding 5-10 minute walk of the station that could be used if better managed. What if we could empower community leaders with a faster way to make a case for management?

Last year the City hired its first transportation planner who will be the first person tasked with managing the transition, over a decade, of a 700 station parking lot, to a vibrant transit hub with lots of affordable to free parking within walking distance, though not at the station unless you are disabled or of limited mobility.  Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a concrete structure just for cars, we opted instead to hire a transportation planner equipped with analytical, planning, community engagement, and communication skills to work iteratively with our community to develop parking solutions dynamically, evolving over time and pivoting as needed for everything from natural disasters to pandemics. 

The biggest technology we can leverage is the human brain and small incremental daily behavior shifts.  When “scary” changes are wired and fired together with socially supportive festivals, events, coupons, incentives of all kinds, we know behavioral change is possible.  We are turning the corner, but as it took 50 years to build car-topia it will take at least half that long to balance out the transportation system. The idea of both kids playing with a toy parking garage, (as I did!) and cities dominated with large expensive underused parking garages will become antiquated!

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