Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Herb Caudill

Herb Caudill lives in Cleveland Park with his wife, Lynne, and two young boys. He has lived in DC since 1995; he taught math as a Peace Corps volunteer in West and Central Africa, and currently runs DevResults, a web-based mapping and data management tool for foreign aid projects.  

Pedestrians


Cleveland Park's shops can thrive without the service lane

Cleveland Park businesses say they need a service lane on Connecticut Avenue. But a new study says that most people walk, bike, or take transit to their shops, suggesting they need a bigger sidewalk instead.


The service lane today. Photo from Google Street View.

The District Department of Transportation recently outlined four options for reconfiguring the service lane along Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway streets, built in 1962. The service lane has just 25 parking spots, but takes up most of the 24.5-foot wide space between the curb and the buildings, leaving just a narrow sliver of sidewalk.

The agency has now released a 330-page study of how people use this block, which found that 80% of Cleveland Park residents walk or bike to shops there, while 61% of all visitors arrive on foot, bike, or transit. The lane's awkward five-way intersections at Macomb and Ordway are unsafe too; a driver crossing there is 6 times as likely to have a collision than one at the bigger intersection of Connecticut and Porter one block away.

Let's talk about merchants, parking, and rush hour

The debate over the service lane is often seen as a conflict between local businesses and the neighborhood. Neighbors say they want more pleasant public spaces, pedestrian amenities, and gathering places, while the merchants say they can't survive without the service lane, ugly and hostile as it is.


Issues with the service lane today. Image from DDOT.

But at the end of the day, we all want this commercial strip to thrive. Most days, I personally eat lunch somewhere on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue. My family depends on Brookville Supermarket for groceries and on CVS and Walgreens for convenience goods. We buy gifts at Wake Up Little Suzy and Transcendence, bread at Firehook, and beer and wine at CP Liquors. And we visit the Uptown Theater as well.

How can we deliver the most customers to our beloved neighborhood stores to make sure we continue to enjoy a vibrant commercial strip?

Image of pedestrian traffic on Connecticut Avenue from DDOT.

Just 12% of Cleveland Park residents and 31% of all visitors come by car. And the service lane doesn't bring that many customers overall. According to the study, average turnover for parking spaces ranges from 75 minutes on weekends to 87 minutes on weekdays. Assuming these spaces are full all the time (and they often aren't), the spaces serve a maximum of around 250 customers each day. Meanwhile, between 200 and 700 pedestrians pass through each hour.


Number of people arriving in Cleveland Park during a weekday evening rush hour.
Graphic by author using DDOT data.

And during an average weekday rush hour (from 4:30 to 7:30pm), the service lane delivers an estimated maximum of 85 people to the neighborhood. During the same three hours, 2,273 people exit the Cleveland Park Metro station and 215 people arrive by bus.

There are better ways to manage parking demand

Cleveland Park's commercial area has about 545 parking spots. Without the service lane, it would have 520. We could destroy the remaining sidewalks in the neighborhood to create parking lots, and then maybe we'd have 570 spaces. Either way, we can't make significant changes to overall parking inventory.



The service lane makes up a small fraction of Cleveland Park's supply of parking spaces.
Image from DDOT.

So it doesn't make sense to focus on the supply of parking, but rather demand management: encouraging turnover and improving the overall parking experience.

DC is one of many cities experimenting with performance parking, which uses variable pricing to ensure that on every block no more than 85% of parking capacity is used at any time. This means that when you need to park somewhere, there's always a spot for you. It also increases turnover, so that any given parking spot delivers more customers per hour.

What Connecticut Avenue would look like without rush hour parking restrictions.
Image from DDOT; annotations by the author.

We can also better manage the supply of parking by ending rush hour restrictions. This would reduce the number of northbound lanes on Connecticut Avenue at rush hour from three lanes to two, but it would give merchants the parking they say they want and help justify restoring the historic sidewalk. It would also improve safety; according to the study, 25% of collisions occur just during the two hours when there are reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue.

Other major commuter routes in Northwest DC, like Massachusetts Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and 16th Street, function just fine with two lanes. "Road diets" of this sort are shown to have a negligible effect on throughput and drive times while vastly improving the pedestrian experience.

A question of neighborhood character

A few years back, when DDOT suggested eliminating 150 curbside spots on 18th Street to make room for wider sidewalks, local business owners were initially taken aback. But they eventually got behind the project, realizing that they had much more to gain by making space for pedestrians. The neighborhood is now much more pleasant as a result, and the commercial corridor is as lively and diverse as ever.

Ultimately this comes down to the kind of neighborhood Cleveland Park wants to be. To some, Cleveland Park is a strip mall where people stop, run an errand or two, and then keep driving. An alternative vision of Cleveland Park's future is one where people come and linger because it's a nice place to be.

Will some customers choose to go where parking is abundant? Perhaps. But Cleveland Park's competitive edge is never going to be that it's easy to park here. It's never been easy to park here, and it never will be. If we're going to talk about competing with other neighborhoods for customers, we should be thinking not of areas where it's easy to drive, but areas like Woodley Park or Dupont Circle, which are more welcoming to pedestrians and have more vibrant public spaces.

How to get involved

To express your support for restoring the historic sidewalk in Cleveland Park, write to ideas@CPtransportationstudy.com. You can also sign this petition and participate in this informal survey. DDOT will hold its third and final open house on this study Wednesday, November 6 from 5:30 to 8pm at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW.

Pedestrians


Cleveland Park considers restoring wide sidewalks

After years of asking for change, Cleveland Park residents could finally see a wider sidewalk along the east side of Connecticut Avenue, which became a service lane and parking lot 50 years ago.


How space on Connecticut Avenue is distributed today.
All images from DDOT, some annotated by the author.

In 1962, a liquor merchant on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue used his political influence to replace the wide sidewalk in front of his store with a "service lane" that effectively serves as a parking lot for 27 cars.

Neighbors have been asking for their sidewalk back ever since. Over the last few years, the issue flared up every few months on the Cleveland Park listserv. Polls on that list have consistently shown a two-to-one majority in favor of removing the service lane. Hundreds of neighbors have signed a petition to restore the sidewalk.

Representatives from the District Department of Transportation met with residents September 12 and presented four design options for reconfiguring the space. They range from keeping the service lane exactly as is to completely restoring the original historic sidewalk. Let's take a look at each of the options:

Option 1: Keep the current service lane

The first possibility is to keep the current arrangement.

While the service lane may have seemed like a good idea in the 1960s, when streetcar service had just ended, it's completely inappropriate for what is today a vibrant urban neighborhood with a Metro station.

For starters, the lane is unsafe. I have two young children, and I can't walk down the service lane's narrow sidewalk without gripping their hands. Pedestrians often step off (or are forced off) the sidewalk, sometimes into the path of oncoming traffic. This is a particular problem for older or mobility-impaired persons. The anomalous traffic pattern created by the service lane, with five-way intersections at each end, is disorienting.

It's also unappealing. The strip is drab and ugly; it feels crowded and unwelcoming. The only shade trees are on the median on the other side of the service lane, so there's no shade or shelter.

There's no room for pedestrian amenities. This study is part of a larger streetscape project that DDOT is working on with Cleveland Park citizens, which has provided park benches, bike racks, and other amenities along other parts of Connecticut Avenue. There's no room for any of this along the service lane, nor is there room for sidewalk seating for any of the 14 restaurants and cafés along the strip.

Option 2: Flex space

In this option, the current service lane would rise to the level of the adjoining sidewalk with ramps to allow cars to drive on and off the sidewalk. Parked cars and moving cars would then share this sidewalk with pedestrians.

The only advantage to this arrangement that I can see is that it would eliminate the complex intersection geometries we have today where Connecticut Avenue crosses Ordway Street and Macomb Street. But the entry and exit ramps would still create confusion and create pedestrian-vehicle conflicts. Southbound drivers, no longer able to legally turn into the service lane, would be tempted to do a dangerous U-turn up onto the sidewalk just before the intersection.

And it's hard to imagine how the "shared space" would work in practice, with cars driving on the sidewalk alongside pedestrians. There's no other sidewalk in the District that cars are allowed to park on.

Drivers might be more careful while driving on a sidewalk than they are now in the service lane, but I still wouldn't relax the grip on my children's hands as I move through the area. Nor would the flex space make room for any new fixed amenities like sidewalk cafés, bicycle racks, or park benches. And we would still lose 7 or 8 parking spaces to make room for the curb cuts.

Advocates of this option compare it to the narrow streets in the old city centers of Europe, where cars, pedestrians, and sidewalk cafés sometimes share the road out of necessity. Blurring the line between pedestrian space and roads can sometimes work as a traffic-calming device.

But cars already occupy two thirds of the total right-of-way on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue. And even those old European city centers are increasingly becoming car-free or restricting vehicle access to residents only.

Option 3: Partial sidewalk extension

A third option restores most of the original sidewalk, but cuts two parking bays into it, to create a full-time parking lane alongside Connecticut Avenue that would accommodate 24 cars.

This would restore the sidewalk while preserving roughly the current the number of parking spaces available during rush hour. The evening northbound rush hour is when parking is at its most scarce in the neighborhood, so this would preserve parking when it's most needed.

However, this approach would require relocating or replanting several mature trees. It would destroy the symmetry of the avenue's original design.

What this option brings to the forefront is that providing rush-hour parking is the most important role that the service lane provides. But perhaps there's a better way to ensure parking availability during peak periods.

Option 4: Restore the sidewalk

The final option presented by DDOT's team of consultants requires the least explanation. It would restore this space to its original condition: A wide sidewalk like the one on the west side of Connecticut Avenue, where I can let go of my kids' hands and let them explore. On that side of the street, there are pleasant cafés, park benches, and lovingly maintained tree boxes full of flowers.

Of all of the options (other than doing nothing) this would clearly be the least expensive. It wouldn't require relocating any trees or infrastructure. It would restore the Connecticut Avenue boulevard's original grace, symmetry, and human scale, and make valuable public space available for gathering places and amenities.

What's next?

The current service lane would never be approved if it were proposed today. It's no longer even legal to build a strip mall in the District of Columbia: Zoning now forbids parking spaces between storefronts and the sidewalk on private property, let alone in public space.

This was originally a sidewalk. It should be a sidewalk again. And sidewalks are for people, not for cars. This study is our best chance in many years to finally make this commercial strip more walkable and pedestrian-friendly.

To express your support for one or more of the options, you can send a quick email to the study team at ideas@CPtransportationstudy.com. And if you'd like to restore the sidewalk to its historic state, you can also sign this petition to our elected representatives.

DDOT will hold a third and final public meeting on this study Wednesday, November 6 at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW. In the meantime, you can also learn more about the Cleveland Park Transportation Study and read more about the history of this issue.

Pedestrians


Bring back Cleveland Park's historic wide sidewalks

DC is beginning a study of the roads, sidewalks, and travel patterns along Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park. Some neighbors hope to take this opportunity to restore the original, wide sidewalks in the commercial strip which were torn up and turned into a parking lot in 1962.


The original sidewalk, shown here in 1949, was destroyed a few years later to create the "service lane" that we still have today. Image from the Historical Society of Washington, DC.

Cleveland Park's sidewalks gave way to parking lots

Just over 50 years ago, Cleveland Park's "main street" along Connecticut Avenue had broad, graceful sidewalks on both sides lined with grocery stores, hairdressers, confectioners, and drugstores. But the whole country was redesigning its built environment to make it easier for people to get around in automobiles.

Cleveland Park, home to one of the country's earliest strip malls, the "Park and Shop," was no exception. The streetcar closed, and the neighborhood became increasingly car-dependent.

The neighborhood was more successful than some in resisting the onslaught of asphalt: In the early 1960s, citizens successfully fought off plans to run a freeway down Reno Road.

But in 1962, a local merchant on the east side of Connecticut persuaded the city to replace the sidewalk in front of his liquor store with a parking lot. It reduced the sidewalk to 4 feet and turned the rest into 20-odd parking spots and an access lane. On the Uptown Theater side, the original graceful sidewalk is still in place, but across the street, the infamous "service lane" remains one of DC's strangest traffic configurations.

Residents want their sidewalks back

There have long been calls within the neighborhood to restore the sidewalk to its original state. Neighbors point out that the service lane configuration is unsafe and unpleasant for pedestrians. The sidewalk isn't even wide enough for two wheelchairs, or two strollers, to pass each other. Families walking to the Zoo are forced into the service lane, where cars often speed through to catch the green light at the end.

This video from the Washington City Paper shows the difficulty of walking along the sidewalk:

A restored sidewalk would be just as appealing as the ones across the street, which are pleasant and accommodating, with park benches, tree boxes, bike racks, sidewalk cafés, and plenty of space for people to walk.

In 2010, volunteers formed Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action (CAPA) to audit pedestrian safety in the area. Councilmember Mary Cheh allocated $1.5 million for streetscape improvements, and CAPA held a community forum to gather input from citizens on their vision for the corridor. One of their recommendations was to use part of the streetscape money to study alternatives for the service lane.

Meanwhile, over 700 people signed a petition to "Restore the Connecticut Avenue Boulevard." A poll held on the Cleveland Park listserv came out 2-to-1 in favor of closing the service lane and restoring the sidewalk. But realistically, the city couldn't do anything until the proposed transportation and parking study took place.

Three years later, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has finally launched the study. Led by landscape design and urban planning firm Rhodeside & Harwell, it will create a blueprint for transportation planning along this stretch of Connecticut Avenue for years to come.

We don't know what the study will propose. In an ideal world we could have the sidewalk and the parking spaces too. While there are some potential alternatives, as a practical matter, the only realistic options are to leave the space as it is today, or to simply restore the sidewalk to the way it was originally designed and built.

We have a choice

If you were in Cleveland Park in June, you might have noticed yellow-vested workers standing around, intently watching an intersection or a sidewalk, with a high-tech counting machine in hand. Or someone with a clipboard might have approached you to ask about your transportation, shopping, and dining habits.

These researchers are collecting data on how people use Connecticut Avenue. Do they walk or bike? Take Metro? Drive? If they drive, do they park in the paid lot, in the metered spots, or in the neighborhood? How many different establishments will they visit? What would make them more likely to come?

Once the people in the fluorescent vests have finished their counting and the urban landscape designers have drawn their diagrams, we will still have to decide what kind of future we want for Cleveland Park. Do we want our "Main Street" to be the kind of place where people drive up, run an errand, and drive away? Or do we want it to be a place where people actually want to be?

There are plenty of examples of the drive-and-go model. But there are also beautiful urban spaces where people come and linger because the space is lovely and appealing and interesting and accommodating to human beings. We have an opportunity now to restore this vital piece of the Connecticut Avenue boulevard to its original state. Let's not let it slip away.

The consulting team will host a series of three public workshops where they will discuss the objectives of the study and seek input from citizens. The first will be Wednesday, July 17th, 6:30 pm at the 2nd District Police Station, 3320 Idaho Avenue NW. If you want to have a voice in the future of this commercial corridor, please attend and speak up!

You can also sign this petition to ask our elected representatives to restore the sidewalk to its historic state.

Parking


How to fix parking: Price it right, and don't play favorites

Parking has been called third rail of local politics, and for good reason. At a panel Wednesday on "Getting Parking Right," Nelson\Nygaard transportation planner Jeff Tumlin put it this way: "People hate the existing system, but they'll also hate any changes you make to the rules. No matter what you do, people are going to be very upset with you."


Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

Sam Zimbabwe, planning director for the District Department of Transportation, was also on the panel. From the look on his face, he knows that has his work cut out for him as the agency tries to bring some measure of rationality to the city's tangle of parking regulations.

We all want to be able to park wherever we want, for as long as we want, and we want it to be free. But we might as well wish for a world of free and infinitely available ice cream. We can't have it, and we give up a lot by trying to get there.

Parking management is pro-driver

The parking problem is one of economics (real estate in the city is valuable and scarce) and geometry (cars take up a lot of space). It is not, Tumlin emphasized, a question of ideology. It's not wrong to own a car, not wrong to drive, and it's not wrong to want to park conveniently. But like all good things in life, convenient parking comes at a cost.

What we all want most of all is availability: We want parking to be there exactly where we need it and exactly when we need it.

The best way to get there, he said, is by pricing parking accurately. The "correct" price for parking in any given place is one that keeps a couple of spots per block open. In practice, that means around 85% of the capacity is usednot less, not more. A world with 85% utilization of parking is a world of parking karma for everyone. You can always park where you need to. It's every driver's dream come trueif, that is, you're willing to pay for that spot's true value.

Small pricing differences make a big difference

Does this mean that parking is just a luxury for the rich? Well, no.

One of the most interesting findings of San Francisco's experiments with parking pricing, according to Tumlin, is that demand is extremely sensitive to location. Right on a main drag like Valencia Street, parking might cost $4.50 an hour. Just around the corner on a side street, it might cost $2.50. Just another block away, garage parking might be available for $1.00. As in every other facet of life, you can choose to save money by giving up a little convenience.

Much of DC's policy discussion on parking management focuses on "transit zones" vs. everywhere else. But there are a lot of things that affect demand for parking. The availability of transit nearby is one, but it's just one of many. How dense is the neighborhood? Are there theaters, restaurants, or other attractions? Are there offices nearby? Just as in San Francisco, demand changes dramatically from block to block, and it's hard to say exactly where the demand is without measuring it empirically.

Thus far, data collection on DC's parking pilots has been thin. There has been a very long lag between collecting any data and adjustments to meter rates, and the data DDOT collects is not very fine-grained.

If and when DDOT collects more and more data on driving and parking patterns, we'll start to have a better understanding of the microgeography of parking demand. Hopefully this bring us closer to pricing that reflects observed real-world demand, instead of crude lines drawn on a map by politicians.

Payment mechanisms make a big difference

Much metered parking throughout the country still uses 1947 technology: You pay by feeding quarters into a metal contraption. Out of quarters? You're out of luck.

There's much better technology available today, and in this area DC has been out in front. According to Zimbabwe, 42% of DC parking transactions are paid by phone or using the Parkmobile app.

The friction of having inconvenient payment mechanismswhether it's machines that only take quarters, or single-block machines that you have to walk five minutes to get tois more of an issue for people than cost. If you can make payment seamless, then people don't care quite as much about the actual cost, and you have less resistance to increased rates.

My experience with the Parkmobile app has been that it's like magic: You tell the app you're parking, it already knows where you are, and has your credit card and license plate on file, so there's nothing more to do.

Ultimately, license-plate recognition coupled with smartphone apps will eliminate all of the friction of payment. Tumlin suggested you could even agree to have the city just automatically send you a parking bill at the end of each month based on how long you've parked and where.

Decriminalize parking now!

Another fascinating finding from San Francisco's performance parking program is this: When you start charging the right price for parking, meter revenue goes up ... and revenue from parking citations goes down by almost the same amount.

And when you think about it, that's exactly how it should be. Sometimes you don't have enough quarters on you, or you underestimate how long you'll need to park, and can't get back to the meter. That shouldn't make you a lawbreaker. In some neighborhoods, Tumlin pointed out, driving to dinner and movie is a criminal act, because there's no provision at all for out-of-zone parking for more than two hours.

In fact, the whole two-hour exception doesn't make any sense at all. If you're parking for an hour, you should pay for an hour. And if you need to park for three hours or eight hours, you should be allowed to pay for it.

Keep it simple, and don't play favorites

DC currently has a lot of parking programs. There's ordinary metered parking in commercial areas. There's a residential parking permit program and a pilot visitor parking pass program. There are pilot performance parking programs in a handful of neighborhoods.

Recent legislation looked at how to provide for contractor parking. City leaders are working with churches to resolve conflicts over church parking on Sundays. There have been proposals for special teacher parking and firefighter parking.

DDOT recently unveiled a Parking Action Agenda (PDF) that vows to review all of these different programs and propose reforms. We can start by no longer treating all these different categories as exceptional.

As Tumlin forcefully argued, it's not the government's business why you want to park. Are you shopping? Babysitting? Going to church? Commuting to the nearest metro stop? Redoing someone's kitchen? Making a delivery? Visiting a friend? Out on a date? (As Tumlin asked, "And what if your date goes better than expected?")

It shouldn't be the government's job to make value judgments about people's reasons for parking. So let's eliminate complexity and preferential treatment. You don't need a contractor parking program; you don't need a visitor parking program; you don't need a church parking program. You just need accurate pricing so that people can pay a fair price to park wherever they want, for as long as they want.

Parking


AAA fights to keep unnecessary parking rules

Many AAA members would be surprised to learn that their roadside assistance fees also go to fund a vigorous pro-asphalt, anti-environment lobbying effort. Now, the organization is also spending members' money to advocate for antiquated car-centric urban policies that will keep DC's transportation options firmly mired in the 1950s.


Photo by WSDOT on Flickr.

In last week's Washington Post, upper Northwest activist Sue Hemberger and AAA lobbyist Lon Anderson argued against reforming the policy of government-mandated parking lots, which is a relic of America's misguided transportation planning approach of 60 years ago.

How many of the organization's 50 million cardholders know that their money has been spent to oppose the Clean Air Act, safety standards, airbags, mass transit, bike lanes, speed limits, and fines for running red lights? Now we can add zoning to the list of positions AAA has taken without talking to members who just want to get a tow if their car breaks down.

Parking minimums are a terrible idea for many reasons. Start with the fact that they simply don't work.

You can force a housing developer to build parking spaces, but you can't force a renter to rent them. It costs anywhere from $100-$300 per month to park in a garage, but only $35 per year for a residential curbside parking permit. Which would you choose? We've had parking minimums for decades, but the problem of spillover parking is still with usbecause it costs so much less to park on public land than it does on private land.

And parking minimums come with unintended consequences, the worst of which is that they make housing unaffordable.

Forcing a developer to build unwanted parking makes it more expensive to build, by as much as $30,000-$40,000 per unit. That cost is passed on to tenants, whether they know it or not.

More broadly, the District's crisis of unaffordable housing has its roots in a shortage of housing supply. Between DC's geography, the Height Act, and the zoning map, real estate for residential development is scarce. Parking minimums require that much of that space to be devoted to parking lots and garages instead of housing, they limit the overall size of buildings, and they make some projects altogether unfeasible. Less housing supply leads to higher prices.

So what we have is a very aggressive affordable housing policy for cars that is at cross-purposes with affordable housing for people.

In a city that is growing, we'll always have more and more demand for lots of goods: More demand for parking, schools, police, transit infrastructure, and drinking water. At the same time, the newcomers create economic benefits for lots of people. Yes, housing developers benefit, but so does anyone else who is in a position to sell them goods and services: local merchants, tax accountants, construction workers, interior designers, waiters. Local employers also benefit from a broader pool of talent.

Of all those people who benefit from DC's population growth, why should we single out the housing developer and penalize them with what amounts to a hidden tax, just because they're satisfying the new residents' need for housing?.

DC's most beloved neighborhoods were built before parking minimums were in place. If any given street in Dupont Circle, Shaw, or Georgetown burned down today, it would be illegal to rebuild it as isevery building would need to be accompanied by a parking lot or garage, destroying the beauty and walkability that define the character of our older neighborhoods.

The zoning excesses of the 1950s and 1960s were reckless experiments, and their unintended consequencesfrom the oceanic parking lots and strip malls of Rockville Pike to the megablocks of Southwest DCare plain for all to see. Today's zoning reforms take a small step towards undoing that damage.

None of this is to say that residential parking scarcity is not a real problem.

But it's only a problem because we act as if curbside space were abundant and valueless. The District gives away the right to park on public land for practically free (9.6 cents per day, to be exact).

When you underprice something valuable, you can be assured that it will be overconsumed.

If I have an old car that I no longer need, I have no incentive to get rid of it when I can store it on the street at public expense. If I have a garage, I have no reason to use it to store my car when I can use it to store my bikes and tools and junk. If I'm deciding whether my household needs one more car, the cost of storage doesn't enter my factor into my decisionbut it should.

The city is currently exploring ways to price parking more accurately, neighborhood by neighborhood.

As the population of the city grows, the cost of residential parking should reflect its growth in value. This will cause demand to fall naturally, because residents have incentives to own fewer cars or get them off the street. And it will allow supply to increase naturally, because the private sector will have an incentive to create parking where it's needed.

Oh, and by the way: If you prefer your roadside assistance without a side order of retrograde lobbying, there are lots of options out there. Do a web search for "AAA alternatives." My family has switched to Better World Club, whichin a nice touchprovides emergency service for bikes as well as cars.

Parking


Why do we fight over parking?

On Friday, Councilmember Mary Cheh and the DC Council's transportation committee held a hearing on the Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program. This is adapted from the author's testimony on behalf of Ward 3 Vision.

Every neighborhood controversy, sooner or later, seems to come down to parking. Why is parking such a difficult issue?


Photo by Thomanication on Flickr.

This might seem like a silly question, but there are a lot of essential things in limited supply that we don't fight over. Take gasoline: We don't argue over who's entitled to gasoline or to how much. I can buy as much as I want, whenever I want.

When I go to the gas station, I don't have to worry that they may have run out of gasoline because I didn't get there early enough. The same could be said of milk, bread, clothes, and other essential things.

What if the government handled gasoline the same way it does free parking?

Imagine for a moment that each month the District somehow came into a lot of of gasoline, and set up a "residential gasoline program" where any resident could buy as much gas as they wanted for 10¢ a gallon, first come, first served.

What would happen? We'd all buy as much gasoline as we could, even if we didn't really need it. The supply would run out very quickly, and we'd start fighting over it. We'd start having to ration it. Special groups would argue that they're more deserving of gasoline than others.

Worst of all, we'd be inclined to prevent new people from moving to the District, because they'd be competing with us for our sweet deal on 10-cent-a-gallon gasoline. All of these unnecessary conflicts and complications and undesirable side effects. Why? Because the government is selling something valuable at a small fraction of its true market cost.

That's where we are today with residential parking. We don't have enough to go around, but we haven't faced up to that reality. The reason we're not having DC Council meetings about milk or about gasoline is that the demand for those things is moderated by price. And that's what needs to happen with residential parking.

The current system doesn't work

The RPP system is broken. I see 5 big problems with residential parking in the District today:

  1. There are more residential permits than residential spaces available in many neighborhoods. As a result, for example, in Dupont, where I used to live, everyone wastes time and fossil fuels driving around and around looking for a spot.
  2. Zones are huge and the boundaries drawn without regard to demand for parking. Very different neighborhoods like AU Park and Cleveland Park and Woodley Park are all arbitrarily lumped into the same parking zone. You have intrazone commuting, and people from AU Park can drive to my street, 2 blocks from the Cleveland Park metro, and park there all day, as if it were their neighborhood.
  3. The cost is the same everywhere, whether you live in a very low-density suburban-style neighborhood like Edgewood or Chevy Chase or a high-density urban neighborhood like Adams Morgan or Logan Circle.
  4. The 2-hour exception is arbitrary and useless in most real-world situations. It's more time than you need to pick up a prescription at CVS, but not enough time for dinner and a movie.
  5. The system deals awkwardly or not at all with visitors like babysitters, houseguests, churchgoers, and others who have legitimate reasons to park in residential neighborhoods.
The solution is not to add complexity

How do we address these problems? The answer isn't to add more layers of regulatory complexity. The current system is already a tangled mess that only a lawyer could love. We don't need more special exceptions, special zones, carve-outs, or special categories of drivers. We don't need more rationing or hourly limits or weekly schedules. We don't need more indecipherable parking signage.

This doesn't need to be complicated. Let's start with two basic principles:

  1. Storing my personal vehicle on public land provides me a personal benefit, and is not a public good. I'm not doing the people of DC a favor by parking on the streetto the contrary. So when I park on public land, I should bear the cost of that privilege, at approximately market rates, rather than paying a rate that's artificially low because it's subsidized by all DC taxpayers.
  2. The value of parking varies according to demand, which varies according to location. Prices should be set zone by zone. But in order for residential parking zones to make sense, zones should be small and/or homogeneous enough to capture differences in demand from place to place.
What would this look like in practice?

Each small zone might have a base rate, based on demand. Everything else could then flow from that base rate: You'd have hourly rates and daily rates. Residential parking permits are essentially a yearly pass in the microzone of my choice, keyed to that zone's base price.

If I occasionally need space for visitors, I could buy books of day passes at a reduced rate. If I live in Chevy Chase and I want to drive to Metro in Cleveland Park and park on the street every day, then I could pay for daytime-only parking in that microzone. Babysitters or contractors could buy daytime passes as well. And so on.

In some parts of the city, residential parking may be so abundant that market value of parking is close to zero. There, the current token rate of $35 per year would continue to apply. In areas with high demand, the cost would be higher.

This may all sound like it would be complicated to implement, enforce, and comply with; but the technology exists to make this easy and is getting ever cheaper.

With this proposed approach, the only thing you ever have to consider is price. You park wherever you want, whenever you want, for as long as you want - as long as you're willing to pay what it's worth. Just like you can drink as much milk as you want, as long as you pay for it. Simple.

Does market pricing mean parking is just for rich people?

The District should do everything it can to reduce poverty and income inequality. But the District doesn't have across-the-board subsidies for clothes or furniture or gas or lots of other good and useful things.

Should the DC government subsidize parking? Perhaps, but certainly not for me and my comfortable neighbors in Ward 3. And even for low-income residents, we're not convinced that that subsidies for parking would be a particularly effective way to reduce poverty.

Surely there are more fundamental needs that we should be meeting first. We don't have enough affordable housing for people in DC, so it seems strange to argue that affordable housing for cars should be a priority.

At any rate, it's the current system that is profoundly regressive. About a third of DC households don't have a car at all. The existing parking subsidy takes money from all taxpayers, whether they drive or not, and effectively redistributes it to car owners in proportion to the number of cars they own. That's not fair and
it's not right.

Accurate pricing + better incentives = improved quality of life for everyone

I'm not "anti-car." My family owns a minivan and drives it and depends on it. But the current RPP system actively incentivizes more car ownership and more driving. Those incentives need to be reversed. Two personal cases in point:

  1. My own family gets by on one car. We've often thought about buying a second car. So far we haven't, for a variety of reasons. But the cost of storing the car has never been a consideration in that decision. Why would it, when we can store the car on public land for practically nothing?
  2. On my block, almost every house has a garage designed to house a car. Not a single one of those garages, including my own, ever has a car in it. We all keep our cars on the street, and use our garages for bikes and tools and junk. Why shouldn't we, when we can store our cars on public land for practically nothing?

More accurate pricing for residential parking would encourage individuals to find alternatives to owning a car; it would encourage families to own only as many cars as they need; and it would encourage people who have off-street parking to use it. All of this would result in fewer cars parked on the street, so that when
you do need to park, you can.

Imagine a city where every single block has a parking spot or two available, so when you do need to park you can always find a space, anywhere, any time of day or day of the week. Parking karma for everyone. That sounds like a fantasy, but it doesn't have to be. Because of market pricing, every gas station has gas, and every grocery store has milk and bread, and so on. We take this for granted, but we shouldn't.

With more accurate pricing, we can get there with parking as well. And in the process we can eliminate the underlying cause of so much of the neighborhood conflict and rancor we have over growth and development, and make DC a happier and more attractive and more livable place.

Retail


Time to ditch Cleveland Park's anti-restaurant law

Why is Cleveland Park's commercial strip struggling while restaurants that could serve residents' needs don't open? An outdated zoning law prohibits new food establishments. It's time to get rid of this failed rule.


Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

5 years ago, shortly before our second child was born, my wife and I moved to Cleveland Park from Dupont Circle. We were determined to stay in the city, and Cleveland Park seemed like best of both worlds: Metro, restaurants and shops, but also a yard for the kids. So we bit the bullet, took out a mortgage we couldn't really afford, and moved.

I work from home, and coming from a more urban neighborhood I had a hard time adjusting to Cleveland Park's little commercial strip. The area felt empty and sad during the day, with a thin selection of lunch options. But word came out that a Così planned to fill a space that Blockbuster had recently abandoned.

I already had a long-standing addiction to their wasabi-roast beef sandwich on freshly baked flatbread. So, good news! I'd get another lunchtime option, plus a place to meet someone over good coffee, or to work when I need to get out of the house.

That's when I learned about Cleveland Park's anti-restaurant zoning overlay. A couple of decades ago, the neighborhood lobbied for a cap on the number of restaurants. Specifically, no more than 25% of the linear footage fronting the Connecticut Avenue commercial strip could hold any kind of food establishmentincluding restaurants, bars, takeout, delis, coffee shops, or sandwich shops.

Così, after briefly floating some creative legal arguments that would have exempted them from the cap, decided a zoning fight wasn't worth the trouble and pulled out.

To summarize, we had:

  • a sandwich shop that wanted to sell me sandwiches;
  • a landlord ready to rent space to the sandwich shop;
  • citizens ready to take jobs as making sandwiches; and
  • me, a customer, willing to buy sandwiches on a regular basis.
The neighborhood would have gotten another "third space", a comfortable and informal local gathering place. The city would have gotten tax and licensing revenue. Così's vendors, suppliers, and contractors would have made money, and so ona cascade of voluntary, mutually beneficial economic transactions that would have left everyone involved better off.

But no. Instead we got a shuttered storefront for two full years. No jobs for anyone, no sandwiches for me, a landlord losing money on a vacant space, and an increasingly depressing-looking commercial strip.

Why?

At this point it would be very easy to turn dismissive and snarky about Cleveland Park's comfortable, out-of-touch, selfish residents who oppose everything. But here's the thing: Since that time I've gotten to know these people. They are among my neighbors and my friends. They're good and generous people, and they're not fools or cranks. They're proud of their history of local activism and they're trying to do what they think is best for the neighborhood.

They deserve a fair hearing for the strongest arguments they've made for the restaurant cap. I still think this is still a bad law. More broadly, this provides a good case study in how neighborhood politics can go wrong, and what we can do about it.

The original rationale for the restaurant overlay involves two main arguments.

  1. Cleveland Park's commercial strip should provide first for the needs of the neighborhood. Restaurants can pay higher rents, so they crowd out small and diverse neighborhood-serving retail and services. Typical quote: "We have enough restaurants, what we need is a bookstore and a hardware store."
  2. Restaurants are more likely to bring in people from outside the neighborhood; a critical mass of restaurants would turn Cleveland Park into a drinking and dining destination, creating traffic and parking problems. Typical quote: "Removing the cap could turn Cleveland Park into another Adams Morgan that lacks a neighborhood feel."
To the first point, the overlay hasn't worked. It hasn't given us the retail landscape we imagined, but has instead given us empty storefronts and tanning salons. To the second point, I'd suggest that these fears are exaggerated and not realistic. There are better ways to address parking problems than keeping amenities out of the neighborhood.

Most importantly, though, it's fundamentally unfair to allow a minority of neighbors to use the government to impose their consumer preferences on all of us. The District of Columbia doesn't want the restaurant cap, and neither does Cleveland Park. It's time to get rid of it.

It isn't working

We all want a lively, diverse retail landscape. The problem is that zoning laws are a blunt instrument: They can only say "no." Zoning can prevent business, but it can't create business. The overlay has been around for 23 years now, Cleveland Park is still waiting for that hardware store and that bookstore, and neither one is ever going to come.

It's not hard to see why, now more than ever: We're halfway between two legendary local bookstores, Politics & Prose and Kramerbooks. Established independent bookstores and big corporate chains alike are going out of business in droves. As much as we might wish the world was otherwise, the economic rationale for retail bookstores has been nearly destroyed by the one-two punch of Amazon Prime and the Amazon Kindle.

A hardware store isn't much more likely: there's also competition nearby and the retail hardware sector is still subject to the economic forces that are leading us to the End of Retail As We Know It.

The long-term future of neighborhood retail, in Cleveland Park as everywhere else, is in products, services, or experiences that people can't obtain over the Internet or receive by UPS. If we don't allow more restaurants, cafés, bars, or delis, what does that leave? We have a couple of grocery stores and a CVS and a Walgreen's. And there are shops that are doing well by offering unique and carefully curated selections (like Wake Up Little Suzy) or advice from helpful specialists (like Potomac River Running).

But that still leaves a lot of space to fill. After years of empty storefronts, that void has now been filled by an abundance of nail salons, tanning salons, cellphone shops, and the like. That's not exactly the sort of "diverse retail" anyone had in mind.

I do wish we had a bookstore and a hardware store, and there's nothing wrong with you and I indulging in wishful thinking. But there is something wrong with building public policy on a foundation of wishful thinking.

We've made it illegal to add any more food establishments, in the hope that that would magically produce lots of charming independent retail. But no sane entrepreneur is going to give us the stores we say we want. The unintended consequence is that we're filling our storefronts with the dregs of the service sector.

It's a solution to a nonexistent problem

The second argument stems from fear: Fear of more traffic, fear of changing the neighborhood's character, fear of becoming "the next Adams Morgan."

Let's not flatter ourselves. That's not going to happen. Adams Morgan isn't even the new Adams Morgan any more; the district's hipsters have long since moved on to U Street and H Street and 9th Street. What those neighborhoods have in common is the energy that comes from cultural and economic diversity. How do I say this nicely: Cleveland Park's respectable citizens are ... boring. No one goes out of their way to party in a neighborhood full of middle-aged white lawyers and minivan-driving families.

Anyway, Adams Morgan's weekend crowds never went there for the fine dining, for the cafés, or the sandwich shops: They were going for the bars and nightclubs; and the liquor licensing process gives neighbors all the tools they need to keep those kinds of establishments in check.

One last thing about the "not-another-Adams-Morgan" trope: I lived in Adams Morgan for years, and while the twice-weekly onslaught of drunken kids was a big nuisance, the entertainment venues didn't crowd out neighborhood retail.

To the contrary, the neighborhood has a diverse and vibrant retail scene that puts Cleveland Park to shame: A slew of trendy women's clothing stores, shoe stores, home decor shops, music stores, ethnic groceries, and gift shops. And the best running store, the best frame shop, the best bike shop, and the best florist in DC. And standard neighborhood amenities like grocery stores, pharmacies, dry cleaners, and convenience stores. And, yes, a hardware store and a bookstore.

None of us wants more congestion or more cars parked on our side streets. And none of us wants teenagers from the suburbs puking on our lawns. But allowing more food establishments in the neighborhood will do none of those things. Restaurant, cafés, or delis are not more likely than other businesses to cause traffic or parking problems. People can always take the metro or walk to eat out; but they're more likely to use their cars to get to a hardware store, a grocery store, a wine store, or a vacuum cleaner repair shop.

It's not fair

The most important argument for getting rid of the restaurant cap is that it's not fair. It's not fair for consumers, and it's not fair to our local landlords and merchants.

The restaurant cap imposes the economic preferences of one group of consumers on everyone else, and that's not right.

Some people eat out more than others. And there's been a generational shift in dining preferences: For our parents' generation, restaurants were for rich people or for special occasions. In contrast, my wife and I eat out all the time, sometimes with our boys and sometimes without, and we rely on neighborhood take-out for the occasional weeknight meal. The market is perfectly able to sort out those preferences and figure out the "right" number of restaurants for the demographics of any given location.

The 25% cap is also unfair to landlords and merchants. If you happen to already own space occupied by a restaurant, you're "grandfathered in" and you can replace that restaurant with another as a matter of right. All else being equal, the retail space right next door is worth less, for the arbitrary reason that it doesn't happen to already house a food establishment.

When a food establishment leaves the neighborhood for whatever reason, their landlord has every incentive to turn away retail or service tenants, even if that means keeping the space vacant for years. When McDonald's left Cleveland Park in 2004, the 2-story spaceone of the most beautiful and valuable spots on the stripremained empty for 7 years.

People wouldn't start restaurants if people didn't want to go to restaurants. The fact that so many people want to open food establishments in Cleveland Park is a reflection of the desire of the people of Cleveland Park and the people of the District of Columbia for more food establishments. And yet here we are using the coercive power of the government to keep those food establishments from happening. That's not right.

The neighborhood doesn't want it

The Office of Planning would lift the restaurant cap if were persuaded that Cleveland Park doesn't want it. And it's not what the neighborhood wants, at least not any more. The Cleveland Park listserv held a survey on the question in 2008 and again just recently. In both cases voters expressed about a 2:1 preference for allowing more restaurants.

This is a classic example of one of the most frustrating aspects of local politics: A highly motivated minority can easily end up overruling a passive majority. A handful of angry people shouting "No" can often carry the day, even if the predominant sentiment is "Yes" or "Sure, why not?"

We've all seen this happen in Cleveland Park and elsewhere in DC. We saw it with the Wisconsin Avenue Giant controversy, and I worry that the same phenomenon will hamper the current effort to bring DC's zoning code into the 21st century.

So if you're OK with allowing more restaurants, cafés, diners, delis, ice cream parlors, sandwich shops, and other food establishments, you need to speak up. If you want lively and walkable neighborhoods, they're not going to just happen as long as leaders only hear from an outspoken minority.

If you agree, and you're a DC resident, please sign this petition to send a message to key local officials.

Sign the petition!

This petition is now closed. Thank you for participating!

Zoning


Cutting dependence on cars isn't anti-car, it's common sense

Cleveland Park resident Herb Caudill posted about the zoning update on the neighborhood listserv, and triggered a lively debate. On the issue of required parking, one resident wrote about "the growing hostility toward the automobile," and said, "The need for parking is a reality of modern urban life." Caudill followed up with this fantastic article, which we're cross-posting with his permission.

The thing about the "anti-car/pro-car" frame is that it's utterly useless when talking about urban planning and transportation planning. Most of us drive sometimes or all of the time. I drive, my wife drives, my friends and neighbors all drive.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Certainly some people are car-free by choice and sanctimonious about it; let's ignore them for the time being. And while externalities like pollution and fossil fuels are important, they don't need to factor into this conversation either. This isn't about morality or virtue or sustainability.

The central fact about cars, from a planner's perspective, is that they take up space. Lots of space. And this matters because space in cities (a.k.a real estate) is scarce and therefore expensive.

Cars take up space when they're moving and they take up space when they're parked, and even though they can't be simultaneously moving and parked, you have to plan for both states and plan for peak demand; so you have to set aside some multiple of the real estate actually occupied by the car at any given time.

That's just a practical observation about the spatial geometry of cities that doesn't bow to my ideology or yours. And it would still remain true even if cars ran on nothing but recycled newspapers and emitted nothing but rainbows and unicorn tears.

In the past, our policy response has been to just set aside more and more space for cars: More freeways, more roads, more lanes on existing roads, more parking garages and surface lots. This approach hasn't worked, and there are two very practical reasons why:

First, you can never build enough. There's a phenomenon called "induced demand" that is very well understood by now. A new lane or a new freeway never reduces congestion in the long run: People respond to new capacity by driving more or by living or working in previously remote places, and you're very quickly back where you started and have to build still more. The same phenomenon applies to increases in the supply of parking. It's a game you can't win.

Second, when you do make more space for cars you quickly start to crowd out any other potential mode of transportation, especially walking. All those parking lots and freeways and roads spread everything else out so that the distances become too great for walking. And the more you optimize any given space for cars the more hostile that space is for pedestrians. Very quickly you get to the point where it becomes impossibleor prohibitively depressingto get things done on foot.

And this last fact has huge quality-of-life implications for human beingsnot just because driving to a distant strip mall for a gallon of milk is less pleasant than walking to a corner store, but also because for many people driving simply isn't an option.

Some people can't drive because they're not old enough, others because they're too old. Some people are blind. Some people don't know how to drive. Most of all, plenty of people can't afford a car. And it's really, really not fun to be in one of those categories and live in a place where you have to drive to get anything done.

The District government has very belatedly come around to the realization that instead of focusing narrowly on cars, we need to focus more broadly on mobility. Cars will always a big part of that, but one third of DC residents live in households that don't own one, so it can't be the only part.

Some drivers have reacted to that shift with outrage that they're no longer the center of the universe, like only children who have acquired a baby sibling. That's not a mature or reasonable or productive reaction. As DC's population continues to grow, the population of cars can't keep growing at the same rate. Not because cars are bad but simply because we don't have room for them.

So we have to take steps to increase the market share of non-driving modes of transportation. That's not a pro-car policy or an anti-car policy, it's just a sensible response to the way the world is.

What does this have to do with zoning? Well, you don't take "everyone drives" as a starting point or as an end point. As a matter of fact, not everyone can drive; and as a matter of principle, we want people to have other options. So we allow corner stores so people can run simple errands without driving. We allow alley dwellings and garage apartments so a few more people can live in walkable neighborhoods and near metro stops. And we stop forcing developers to build more parking than the market demands. These are very modest but obvious common-sense steps.

Meanwhile, I'm going to keep driving when I need to, and so are you, and that's fine. Nevertheless it's in all of our best interests for DC to make sure that that's not the only choice we have.

Pedestrians


Restore the sidewalk in Cleveland Park

Restore the Connecticut Avenue Boulevard!


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

The service lane on Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway Streets should be replaced with a wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalk.

Connecticut Avenue's west side is a pleasure to walk along, and has inviting outdoor cafés. The east side is crowded, cramped and pedestrian-unfriendly. Two people can barely walk abreast on the narrow sidewalk. The service lane is confusing and dangerous. All because misguided urban planners decided in the 1960s to destroy a sidewalk to make a parking lot.

Some suggest that the businesses on this strip can't survive without the service lane and its 25 parking spaces. But every other commercial strip on Connecticut Avenue is able to thrive without a service lane. These businesses are just steps away from a Metro entrance, and are served by a rear alley that would allow people to drop off and pick up heavy items. The nearby Sam's parking lot almost always has space available. Making this area appealing and walkable would attract people in larger numbers, benefiting all of the businesses in the area.

This service lane was a big mistake, but it can be fixed. Imagine what a beautiful and vibrant public space this could be, with room for walking, sidewalk cafés, shade trees, flowers, and benches.

Sign the petition now to ask our elected representatives to restore this vital piece of the Connecticut Avenue boulevard to its original state.

What are the options?

This stretch of Connecticut Avenue was originally designed with broad, pleasant sidewalks on both sides.


Image from HistoricAerials.com

Option 1: The status quo (cars first, people second)

In the early 1960s, Washington DC was being hollowed out as people fled for the suburbs. City planners were committed creating an automotive utopia. Cleveland Park's citizens had to fight off a proposal to run a freeway down Reno Road, which would have razed a wide swath of the neighborhood; other neighborhoods didn't escape that fate. Throughout the city, graceful mansions were replaced with parking lots. The streetcars that once ran up and down Connecticut were shut down permanently in 1962.

The service lane was created at the behest of local merchants. This was before Metro, during the heyday of the suburban strip mall; and convenience for drivers was everything.

So the wide sidewalk was dug up and replaced with a service lane, a second row of curbside parking, and a median separating the lane from the avenue. The vestigial sidewalk that remained is so narrow it hardly deserves the name.

This may have seemed like a good idea at a time at a time when public transit was poor or nonexistent, but it's completely inappropriate for what's become a vibrant urban neighborhood served by a metro stop.


A blind man is forced off the crowded sidewalk. Photo by Bill Adler.
  • It's unsafe. Pedestrians often step off (or are forced off) the sidewalk, sometimes into the path of oncoming traffic. This is a particular problem for older or mobility-impaired persons. The anomalous traffic pattern created by the service lane is confusing. There's an extra set of stoplights where cars leave the service lane that's disorienting for drivers who are unfamiliar with the area.
  • It's unappealing and hostile to pedestrians. The strip is drab and ugly; it feels crowded and unwelcoming. The only shade trees are on the median on the other side of the service lane, so there's no shade or shelter. The whole block feels like a parking lot, not like a place designed for humans.
  • It's a waste of space. The median, the parking spots, and the access lane combine to occupy well over three times the space actually used for parking 26 cars at most. This is some of the most valuable real estate in DC, and it's terribly underutilized.
  • There's no room for pedestrian amenities. A recent streetscape project conducted by Cleveland Park citizens along with DDOT has provided for beautifying the larger commercial area, with park benches, bike racks, and other amenities. There's no room for any of this along the service lane, nor is there room for any of the 12 excellent restaurants and eateries along the strip to provide sidewalk seating.

The current configuration. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Option 2: Angled parking

A frequently proposed option is to replace the row of parallel parking alongside Connecticut Avenue, along with the median, with back-in angled parking. This approach would result in roughly the same number of parking spaces and a much wider sidewalk for pedestrians - seemingly a win-win.

Unfortunately, this proposal would be very expensive to implement (more than $3 million according to DDOT). Why? Because there's a lot of infrastructure embedded in the median that would have to be relocated at great expense: Metro vents, streetlights, a fire hydrant, and so on. And there are a number of mature trees that would have to be cut down.


Repurposing the space currently occupied by the median is difficult because it currently houses trees, streetlights, Metro vents, and a fire hydrant. Image from Google Maps. Click to enlarge.

DDOT has been unenthusiastic about the angled parking approach in the past, and for good reason. It's not really appropriate for a busy thoroughfare just outside downtown of a big city. And it's not exactly been a resounding success where it's been tried elsewhere; the city recently replaced back-in angled parking in Adams Morgan with more traditional parallel curbside parking.

Option 3: Shared road

Another possibility was proposed on the Cleveland Park listserv:
In a shared road, our sharply defined curbs on either side of our service lane would be replaced by a very graduated decline from the sidewalk level to the road level. There is not a hard boundary between what is walking space and what is vehicular space. ...

One would imagine that this creates dangers for pedestrians, but in practice cars naturally slow down to accommodate the pedestrians. There need not be any loss of parking spaces if this concept is applied to our service lane, the designated areas for parking could remain.

Shared roads make sense in cases where you need to provide occasional vehicle access to otherwise pedestrian-only areas; many college campuses have spaces that are configured this way. Some European towns have deliberately blurred the boundaries between pedestrian areas and roads in their historic centers, primarily as a traffic calming device.

In this context, though, this idea doesn't make a lot of sense. According to DDOT, it would be expensive. It doesn't solve any of the problem's we're trying to address. And imagine walking down that block with a family, trying to corral little kids while cars are trying to parallel park on the sidewalk they're "sharing" with us. For that matter, do you want to be the driver looking for a spot to park on the sidewalk while zoo-bound kids swarm around you? Sounds like a nightmare for everyone involved.


Maybe we should let cars park and drive on the sidewalk on this side of Connecticut as well? Photo by Bill Adler.
If the whole cars-and-trucks-on-sidewalks thing is a good idea, maybe we should let cars and delivery vehicles park and drive on the Uptown's sidewalk, or in front of Medium Rare and Cacao? Or on the sidewalks in Woodley Park or Dupont Circle, or on Columbia Road or Pennsylvania Avenue?

The service lane is already unusual and confusing. This scheme would take the weirdness to a whole new level, at the cost of millions of dollars, without improving anything.

Option 4: Cut-ins

Another proposal is to replace the off-peak parking along Connecticut Avenue with all-day parking by cutting spaces into the median. This would respond to the demand for parking in front of these shops during rush hour.

Unfortunately, it would be expensive for the same reasons as option 3all the median's infrastructure would have to be relocated.

Alternatively, we could work around the existing trees, vents, etc. But this would yield at most a dozen or so spots along the entire block, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of spaces available.

Option 5: Just restore the sidewalk

Sometimes the simplest solution is best.

We all know what a wide sidewalk looks likewe don't need consultants or drawn-out studies when we can just cross the street and see how this sidewalk was intended to be. This option isn't expensive, either; the sidewalk could probably be restored for less than has already been allocated to study the issue.

All of us in Cleveland Park want our local shops to thrive. Restoring the sidewalk would eliminate just one parking spot per business on this strip, and would more than make up for it by being more attractive to people. For a commercial strip that's right on top of a metro station, delivering more pedestrians to merchants is a smarter strategy than delivering more drivers. We can only accommodate so many cars, with or without this service lane; whereas the number of pedestrians we could accommodate is practically unlimited.


The most straightforward and least expensive approach is to just put the sidewalk back the way it was before the service lane was created. Click to enlarge (PDF).

The commercial strips in Woodley Park, Dupont Circle, Kalorama Triangle, and other comparable neighborhoods thrive without surface parking lots. There's no reason why ours can't as well. In the end, the question is whether we want this to be the kind of neighborhood where people drive up, do their business, and leavethe Rockville Pike strip-mall model that results in alienating, unfriendly spacesor the kind of urban neighborhood where people come and spend time because it's fun and beautiful and accommodating to humans.


A recent poll on the Cleveland Park listserv showed lopsided support (more than 2 to 1) for replacing the service lane with a wide sidewalk.
Cheap and abundant "Shop-N-Go" parking will never be this business district's comparative advantage, nor should it be. Let's leave that to the suburbs, and focus on making this a lively, walkable, and human-centered place where people actually want to be.

If you agree, please sign the petition now to ask our elected representatives to restore this vital piece of the Connecticut Avenue boulevard to its original state.

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