Georgetown U needs to manage transportation demand
DDOT rejected Georgetown University's campus plan last week, citing its lack of an aggressive transportation demand management plan. While we are not in agreement about the Office of Planning's call for on-campus housing for 100% of undergraduates, we are in agreement that GU could make a much more aggressive investment in transit.
We believe that Georgetown University could manage its growth while having a dramatically smaller impact on the environment and on pedestrians and drivers in the community than it currently does. The path described below outlines how this could be done.
GU is the city's largest private employer and GU Hospital (GUH) is the sixth largest. We all want GU and GUH to grow and create more jobs, but that requires an aggressive investment in transit by GU and the city.
There are three changes in direction that GU should take if it is serious about managing transportation demands to enable smart growth.
Charge market rates for on-campus parking. Georgetown University should not be subsidizing parking for its employees and visitors and should not be overbuilding parking spaces.
GU and its hospital offer massive subsidies to employees, patients and visitors to park on-site. Even with those subsidies, typical parking demand during peak periods is 88% of available spaces. If parking were not subsidized, it would be clear that the campus has too much of it.
The university and hospital only charge $135 and $68 per month, respectively, for employee parking (p. 14 of TDM report). That is significantly below market rates in Georgetown, where others who work there pay between $200 and $300 per month for parking. The lowest monthly rate for a Georgetown parking garage is $215.
GUH charges $6 per day for patients and their visitors. The least expensive daily parking for visitors to Georgetown, by comparison, is $25. Washington Hospital Center charges $12/day, and GWU Hospital charges $7 for the first hour, $6 for the second hour, and up to $17 per day.
Even with these heavy subsidies, Georgetown experiences "typical demand for 3591 spaces during peak times" out of a total of 4080 spaces (p. 17 of TDM report). That's 88% usage during typical peak times.
The city's largest employer should create more jobs, which can only happen by shifting commuters to transit. That's why DDOT also recommends that developers charge market rates for employee parking as part of their transportation demand management plans.
Oddly, GU thinks its prices disincentivize driving. The Campus Plan states that "the University will continue to manage its parking permits and rates to disincentivize driving to campus" and GU will "continue use of price to discourage single occupancy vehicles."
Subsidized parking rates induce driving, and nothing would increase transit use by employees, patients and visitors more than charging the same rates that employees and visitors in the rest of Georgetown have to pay. 46% of GU and GUH's 8,302 employees drive alone to work, and only 396 of them participate in SmartBenefits. Those numbers may be better than they were in 2000, but they are nowhere near what they could be if GU stopped massively subsidizing parking.
Lobby DDOT to help manage demand and bring the streetcar to campus. Typically, very large employers provide lots of jobs, and they expect transit routes to go where those jobs are; for example, National Harbor in Maryland, which receives a subsidized shuttle bus from the Green line paid for by the state.
But Georgetown has not lobbied DDOT to bring transit to its doors. When DDOT rolled out its Capital Bikeshare initiative, the agency had to take the initiative to place a CaBi station on campus and push to secure a deal with GU. It should have been the other way around.
The biggest benefit for GU from DDOT would be for the agency to bring the planned streetcar line along K and M Streets past Wisconsin Avenue to campus, either to the Car Barn (where the city's original streetcars turned) or up the Canal Road entrance into campus.
Residents and students have disagreed on the route of the GUTS Shuttle from campus to Dupont Circle, but the planned streetcar route would connect to several Red and Orange Line stations, making the Dupont and Rosslyn GUTS routes less important. DDOT would rather run the streetcar down M than along K, but will accept K if that's what the community wants. The community wants the streetcar, but many oppose overhead wires on M Street.
GU knows none of this because it was communicated to a meeting of the Georgetown BID, ANC and Citizens Association that the University wasn't even invited to. DDOT doesn't know what GU wants, and that has to change.
Support performance parking. The University should also support performance parking. Currently the Georgetown ANC, as well as BID and Citizens Association, are working with DDOT to place meters in high-demand residential blocks that would charge market rates for parking. This will increase parking turnover and availability.
The Georgetown ANC has pressed DDOT for years on this initiative, with the help of CAG and the BID, and has grown frustrated at times with DDOT's pace. GU, on the other hand, has been fine to be placed on a need-to-know basis. This is simply unacceptable.
Prioritize pedestrians over cars with car-free promenades and woonerfs. Library Walk connects the majority of student housing with the library, quad and several academic buildings and is the primary route used by students. One would expect that such a route would be an attractive footpath with park amenities like benches and tables.
Instead, Library Walk is a street, with narrow sidewalks for students. It doesn't even connect to other streets; it's a dead end.
This is a missed opportunity for creating an engaging, attractive space where students want to be. Spontaneous interactions on Library Walk don't result in lingering, because no one wants to congregate on a narrow sidewalk next to a street.
Cars should be banned on Library Walk, the asphalt and curbs should be replaced with an attractive park and footpath (just like the path south of the SQ Quad) and benches and tables should be added to encourage socializing.
In addition, streets that are heavily used by students but also required for certain car trips should be converted into woonerfs. The key features of woonerfs are that pedestrians have priority over cars and the distinction between the sidewalk and the street is blurred (short curbs, same brick/stone patterns used on street as on sidewalk).
GU needs to make a greater commitment to transit than it is today. Such a commitment would demonstrate GU's lip service to environmental issues and its consideration of the community's concerns, and enable it to create more jobs without overburdening its transportation infrastructure.
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