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A couple of additional factors to consider:

As there is less traffic on Sundays, reallocating road space to parking imposes less total costs (creates less congestion).

Many DC Churches are in older buildings that were probably (most likely) built before parking requirements and so, these land uses don't have the capacity to easily adapt to new circumstances.

Even if churches could add their own private parking supply, it seems unlikely the planning office would support that, given the opportunity cost of using land for parking.

If adding church-owned parking is unaffordable and contradicts the city's own planning goals, is it fair for the city now demand churchgoers give up access to free city parking but not make any demands on other consumers of that free parking supply?

Are the churchgoers really the ones eating up free on-street parking? No. Residents use the city's streets as car storage, and churchgoers use a much smaller proportion of on street parking.

What is special about Churches? Churches have very particular parking needs: they require large amounts of parking that peaks for a very short period of time that happens to coincide with periods of very low traffic volume and congestion. These unique parking needs differentiate churches' needs from the needs of other entities. Churches therefore are different at least somewhat from other organizations (including other religious organizations) who's parking needs occur at times of high parking demand or periods of high traffic congestion. This does not entitle churches to better treatment than others, but it does differentiate them from Mosques that worship Fridays and might differentiate them from Synagogues. So, making special Sunday parking rules makes sense for as long as prevailing congestion patterns create special circumstances on Sundays and so long as the city has some reasonable basis for differentiating which organizations should benefit from these special rules.

Thirdly, churches can argue that their existence in part depends on accessibility and parking, but some other organizations may not be able to make such claims or some other similar appeals to existential threats may not be amenable to remedy given the timing of prevailing traffic patterns and trends. If Churches cannot maintain parish membership, this may pose an existential problem. Some other organizations are less affected by this issue. Employers face far less risk of losing employees, who depend on salaries for livelihoods and may not be able to find an alternative source of employment. Employers are often in retrofitted or new buildings that were constructed with parking included on site. Stores and restaurants don't often get the benefit of parking reform that provides free parking for their customers, and some of these kinds of establishments may have folded as a result of the lack of free parking (at least in theory). However, prevailing parking theory says businesses benefit from charging for parking which increases parking turnover (as people stay less time when parking is not free) while imposing costs businesses in the form of lost sales. Therefore, parking planners have argued (and many business districts agreed) that pricing parking helps small businesses. It is not clear that stores have "a special kind of parking need" that is similar to churches in which a huge and relatively inflexible peak parking demand overlaps with a period of time when road space for traffic is in lower demand. That is, Churches are different from other land uses in more than one way, most churches could not be expected to be able to finance acquisition of private parking and most churches pre-date parking regulations.

So, churches definitely need to collaborate with the city in increasing parking supply and paying for that increase, but it seems unfair to give all of the free parking to residents and make the churches pay the full price for scarcity.

I think this debate should be examined in detail.

1) One approach: Change the alignment of on street parking spaces to increase the number of available spaces by taking space away from travel lanes Sunday mornings. For example, allow parking in the center lanes of a two way street with a median, in addition to allowing parking at the curb. This adds two lanes or parallel parking. Given the unique timing of peak church parking demand, the city can justifiably open up more street space to parking in ways that would not disrupt traffic. The trouble comes in the fact that realigning parking during a short period each weak introduces frictions as some people may need to re-park their cars according to the designated Sunday morning parking pattern in order to allow for this increase in total available parking spaces. This scenario is best illustrated by imagining a situation in which on street parking is re-orienting from parallel parking at the curb (typical on-street parking in DC) to back-in parking spaces. Converting to back-in spaces may double the stock of spaces, but it requires residents move their cars in advance of this special parking period, or else risk being blocked in, ticketed, or towed, or whatever the remedy might be for violating "special Sunday parking rules". Thus, increasing space creates "friction".

In this scenario, it is not that there is no reason to treat churches differently in regards to parking. The issue is that some other organizations with similar parking needs might also be able to make a reasoned argument for accommodations, not just churches. The second, and equally critical issue, is that allowing churches special parking alignment/privileges for free imposes hardship on residents by requiring residents move their cars to accommodate added parking spaces.

2) Option two: Change permitting requirements to require all cars parked in non-metered on-street parking spaces have a resident parking permit or visitor parking permit on Sundays. (The current RPP restriction is Monday-Friday). This takes away the free parking on Sunday and, if done city-wide, imposes limits on all kinds of visitors who might currently be parking on Sundays for more than two hours in RPP areas but who don't have a permit. This would affect District residents and non-residents alike. This option would not really resolve resident-churchgoer parking conflicts since non-permitted vehicles are allowed to park for up to 2 hours in RPP areas in the District during periods when the restrictions are in effect. This two hour exemption is plenty of time for churchgoers. Most churchgoers without permits would still be able to attend church, and the Sunday parking problems would not be changed.

3) Get rid of the two-hour exemption to RPP requirements on Sundays or Sunday mornings and apply RPP restrictions during that same period. This seems be discriminatory to churchgoers as it it is intended to take away the two exemption for them but not for others who use the exemption during other periods. It would have the harshest effect on Churchgoers but impose no hardship on residents who currently park for free or on visitors outside this window. Further, this restriction would limit parking access for non-churchgoers during church periods, potentially harming businesses during this time. This favors neighborhood residents and imposes a stricter parking regime on Churchgoers than any other category of visitors. For example, hypothetically speaking, if bar patrons were clogging up parking supply Friday and Saturday nights would not be subject to such harsh restrictions... Therefore this appears to unfairly target churchgoers and not others, but it is not clear that the conflict with churchgoers is the only such conflict among residents and visitors. It is merely the most publicized and largest such conflict. However, this third approach the only approach that could directly tackle the problem of competition between residents and churchgoers and it resolves the conflict by eliminating free parking for one party without imposing any limits on the other party. I think the question is, setting aside the friction associated with implementation of option one, above, are residents ready to argue that this third option is really fair to churchgoers?

I don't see how residents can argue for option three. Why is it fair for the city to give residents free parking but insist that churchgoers should not get any free parking? Given that parking revenues could support city services or reduce other categories of city taxes (income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc) someone is paying the price for giving free parking to residents in the higher taxes or lower city services. So, residents can't simply claim parking is their right, free and clear, and churches shouldn't have access to it... Frankly, every city has real needs and I don't see any good excuse for giving parking away to one group for free. If parking is valuable and scarce, demanding the city give you access to it for free and demanding the city withhold any of that resource from others seems self-serving rather than well reasoned. For example, why not charge for all on-street parking and use the funds for a combination of neighborhood improvements and anti-poverty programs, or lowering income tax rates, or creating more affordable housing? Why do we choose to throw the lavish gift of free parking at residents who want to park for free? What about downtown residents who live in areas where there is no free parking?

When people are being double-parked by cars with MD/VA plates on Sunday mornings, then it's clear that there is some friction that should be resolved. But that has to do with failing to master the mechanics of re-allocation of existing street space to accommodate more cars on Sunday mornings. That frustration certainly cannot be a good reason why residents deserve something for free.

by CrazyHorse on Dec 5, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

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