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Parking countdown #3: The sky won't fall

This is the eighth of ten daily posts about why the Zoning Commission should approve the Office of Planning recommendations on off-street parking, leading up to the hearing on Thursday, July 31 at 6:30 pm.

Parking reform won't cause this. Photo by on Flickr.

If you plan to attend, please call the Zoning Commission offices during business hours at (202) 727-6311 to sign up. The earlier you call, the earlier your turn to speak will come during the hearing.

If you haven't yet sent in a letter of support, you can do so at the Coalition for Smarter Growth's action alert.


Today's topic: Why reports of imminent disaster are greatly exaggerated.

If the new zoning code removes parking requirements, the existing parking in the District of Columbia will not suddenly go up in smoke. Developers will continue to build parking in new projects. Even today, many build more parking than regulations require. In many cases, market conditions justify parking, and developers will provide it.

I spoke to a Current reporter yesterday, who asked me, "What about those who say developers want to build parking?" I responded, that's a great argument for the changes. If developers are going to build parking, then we really don't need minimums.

More often, developers overestimate demand for parking, or the zoning code forces construction of too much. I've already talked a lot about the Highland Park Apartments in Columbia Heights, where the developer put in one space per unit and only sold one per ten. In dense transit-oriented districts like that, we need maximums to stop this, because just removing minimums won't change a lot.

Removing minimums will likely just reduce the number of variances needed, since most of the time when a developer wants less parking, he or she asks for it. Big projects are almost always PUDs anyway. The real win is in small infill development, where the owners don't need parking but don't have the time and resources for a lengthy BZA appeal.

Any cases where developers do build less parking are years away—at least two, and in many cases more. And since most buildings will keep having parking (or even too much), the ratio of spaces to residents will, at best, only gradually creep downward. For those who claim it'll be too late to add parking if we need it, this very slow, gradual change gives plenty of time to turn things the other way if the world starts to end. But it won't.

Remember how, leading up to the stadium opening, journalists and commentators couldn't stop warning about the major chaos that would ensue? It didn't. All that happened was Metro set an all-time ridership record on July 11th and seven other top-ten records in the preceding 30 days.

The most likely problem that would come from lowered minimums is greater transit ridership. That's why we need to add bike lanes and express bus service and to start building streetcars now.

Every voice will matter on Thursday. Please call (202) 727-6311 to sign up to testify. The hearing is at 6:30 pm at 441 4th St (One Judiciary Square), suite 220 South.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I'm with your general sentiment. But might there be truth to the claim that the Highland Park Apartments are an exaggerated example. Considering how often you leverage the example I think it would be worth really investigating the circumstances behind it.

In a previous thread of yours (More underutilized parking in Columbia Heights) Grand Poobah (great name) replied with this:

"This project was originally planned as a condo, thus the higher parking ratio. Owners typically have more cars than renters, and perceive parking as beneficial to resale value. A project originally planned as apartments would have had a lower parking ratio, not to mention smaller units, and lower grade finishes."

One parking spot per unit may have been overproduction even if the building stayed condo. But I think the extreme nature of 90% unsold parking you cite may be primarily a byproduct of the rental conversion rather than solely a flaw in the initial planning. Thoughts?

by FourthandEye on Jul 29, 2008 6:22 pm • linkreport

FourthandEye: It's a fair point that I keep leaning on this one example. In this case, the condos vs apartments isn't relevant: the point is that this developer chose to build more parking than the minimum. If the building had stayed condo and more people had used the parking (but, I'm sure, far from all), they'd still have way more parking than the minimum. Therefore, apartments or condos, it's evidence that developers will build more than the minimum.

There are lots more projects that build more parking than the minimum, all over the city. I don't have a lot of examples at my fingertips, but there are lots.

by David Alpert on Jul 29, 2008 7:13 pm • linkreport

the Ellington on the 1300 block of U Street is all market rate rental apartments. the same developer build 1:1 parking and now regrets it. You can rent a space from them for $200 month. They are also renting spaces at another one of their Col. Hts building for $195 per month. I dont know if this is Highland Park or not but I think it's the Heights building (I saw it advertised). They have real builders remorse about all this costly unrented parking. I know the Busboys & Poets building put in about a 0.6 parking ratio for market rate condos & sold out a year in advance. There's a Metro tunnel below the building that limited digging. And then there's the $47 million of taxpayer money tied up in the DC USA 1000 space parking garage (which got a variance to build less).

by Cheryl Cort on Jul 29, 2008 10:16 pm • linkreport

Why is *every* day's "daily post" the sixth in a series?

by Joey on Jul 30, 2008 9:32 am • linkreport

Because I copied and pasted and forgot to correct that. Fixed. Thanks.

by David Alpert on Jul 30, 2008 9:36 am • linkreport

@David - That's sort of a politician sidestep answer you gave me there =) I clearly was not disputing that too much parking was built. My objection is the constant reference to the metric of "only sold one per ten". The *magnitude* of the parking sales issue is influenced by the fact that the building was converted from it's intended use. To quote the "only sold one per ten" frequently without any qualifying statement seems to sensationalize the issue.

by FourthandEye on Jul 30, 2008 11:00 am • linkreport

In addition, quoting "only sold one per ten" frequently, but ignoring the fact that this observation doesn't reflect vehicle ownership by residents, only the percent of residents that are willing to pay for the convenience of parking in the building, without any qualifying statement seems to sensationalize the issue and distort the facts.

by JR on Jul 30, 2008 11:19 am • linkreport

Removing non-market based restrictions on parking (such as minimums) is an obvious no brainer. The Currant reporter will have a point though if maximums are put in place. Maximums should be treated with the same amount of distain as minimums. The city should straive towards more market based reforms (Performanc Parking, Congestion Pricing, HOT lanes, etc) rather then mandating a market distortion such as minimums or maximums.

by Local on Jul 30, 2008 11:33 am • linkreport

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