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Parking countdown #2: This is what a neighborhood without minimums looks like

The hearing is tomorrow! Please sign up to testify by calling (202) 727-6311. A brief statement about what you like about your non-overwhelmed-by-parking neighborhood is enough, or feel free to say more.

A world without minimums. Photo by StevenM_61 on Flickr.

This is the ninth 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.


Today's topic: Neighborhoods without minimums that are closer at hand than you might think.

What will our city look like without parking requirements? Will the world come to an end? Are we embarking on an experiment unheard-of among American cities? If only we had an example of a successful urban neighborhood designed without minimums.

Oh wait—we do. We need not look west to Seattle or Pasadena for examples. Nor need we look north, or south. We have examples right here in our historic neighborhoods, such as Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, U Street, and Capitol Hill.

These neighborhoods have not only thrived, but have become DC's most desirable. Somehow, "spillover" seems not to deter people from living there. In fact, so many people want to live in neighborhoods without minimums that housing is becoming unaffordable. Shouldn't we let other neighborhoods develop some of the same qualities that attract people to the neighborhoods without excessive parking?

Sadly, while these neighborhoods were originally built before minimum parking requirements, our 1958 zoning is gradually nibbling away at their historic fabric by forcing infill with surface parking or driveway curb cuts that are incompatible with the existing historic character.

Commenter VC, one of the five wise souls to put a red dot on copious underground parking at the Hine redevelopment meeting, wrote this:

Someone asked me, "Don't you think Dupont or Adams Morgan wish they would've put in parking 50 years ago?" ... It doesn't make much sense to point to the two most vibrant parts of town and say, "There but for the grace of God go I."
It's easy to think your neighborhood would be great if it were just the same except with some more parking. The problem is, that's never the case. More parking feeds a cycle that saps patrons from local retail, increases traffic and pedestrian danger, and gradually transforms a neighborhood into a suburb. Parking doesn't exist in a vacuum, but as part of a greater fabric.

That greater fabric is illegal under current zoning. If a hurricane flattened Capitol Hill tomorrow, we'd need special Zoning Commission approval just to put the same thing back. That just seems intuitively wrong. Let's legalize our historic neighborhoods and enable new areas to become as great. Come testify in favor of the changes. If we get it passed, I won't have to keep posting about this every day! :)

If you can't attend (or even if you can), you can submit written comments here.

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 think that the appropriate visual for development without parking minimums would be to show a new 10-story apartment building down the street from those townhouses, and to show the vehicles owned by the tenants of that building using all the available on-street spaces, while the families who lived in the townhouses deal with the consequences. These recommendation to eliminate parking minimums will destabilize rowhouse neighborhoods.

by JR on Jul 30, 2008 3:27 pm • linkreport

JR: In most of those neighborhoods, all the available on-street spaces are already being taken anyway. Yet they still thrive.

The real solution, both to existing on-street demand and future spillover demand, is performance parking.

by David Alpert on Jul 30, 2008 3:34 pm • linkreport

David, It seems that you are basing your analysis on a little knowedge about a only few neighborhoods and really don't understand how this will affect most of DC's neighborhoods, in particular neighborhoods that would be attractive to families.

This proposal will affect neighborhoods in all 8 wards, some nieghborhoods which already have some parking spillover now, but the change in regulations will make it worse--meaning families will park even further from their homes or simply give up and move, and other neighborhoods that don't currently have much parking spillover, but will find that residents of new, high density development are filling their streets with parked cars and traffic. The change would destabilize the very rowhouse neighborhoods you claim to find attractive as well as the denser single family neighborhoods that make this city attractive to families.

by JR on Jul 30, 2008 3:50 pm • linkreport

What percentage of these row houses have alley parking? Does that factor in at all?

by Local on Jul 30, 2008 4:11 pm • linkreport

Wow, JR. Those are a lot of assertions with little fact to back them up. Care to offer any evidence? David's done a nice job of putting his case out there with plenty of documentation.

Simply saying "The change would destabilize the very rowhouse neighborhoods you claim to find attractive" does not make it so. Your statements aren't all that convincing - so convince me.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2008 4:19 pm • linkreport

So this parking minimum business why the ugly new (c. 2005) townhouse on 15th St NW between Irving and Columbia has a driveway? It irritates me (literally, no exaggeration) every time I walk by, because their driveway took out a parallel parking space for the rest of us.

by Patrick T. Metz on Jul 30, 2008 4:26 pm • linkreport

Alex, I didn't see any documentation to back up David's wild assertions about minimum parking requirements. I did see a lot of inconsistent claims, as well as a few repeated, but irrelevant, anecdotes and a couple numbers provided by unnamed sources with a vested interest in the outcome.

But if you are looking for documentation on how spillover parking impacts neighborhoods, you can check the Parking Working Group page on OP's web-site as well as many studies prepared for DDOT and the Mayor's Parking Task Force. You can also stroll at night through single family neighborhoods near new apartment buildings and observe the parking situation yourself.

by JR on Jul 30, 2008 4:44 pm • linkreport

'Local' makes a good point about alley access. I know when I was considering rowhouses rear access to my lot via an alley was important. That atleast allows you to make the choice to give up some of your backyard to for offstreet parking. Much of the rowhouse residences I've visited in Cap Hill have alley parking. Adams Morgan/DuPont less so. But those two neighborhoods tend to attracts singles and DINKs.

by FourthandEye on Jul 30, 2008 4:53 pm • linkreport

David, I really enjoy reading GGW, and am interested in issues like parking, transit, etc., but am a complete urban studies/design neophyte. For us unwashed, can you please provide a basic definition of "performance parking"? I've Googled it but most links just point back to GGW. Thanks!

by Clueless in DC on Jul 30, 2008 4:57 pm • linkreport

In many of the neighborhoods that currently have significant parking spillover, homeowners with alley access have given up some of their backyard for off-street parking. With the Office of Planning's recommendations, more homeowners will find it necessary or preferable to pave over part of their backyard when residents of large, new apartment buildings in the area start parking on their streets rather in underground parking that could have been put in when the building was constructed.

Clearly this is not good for our environment. We give up underground parking and it is replaced with surface parking in the homeowners' backyards.

Patrick: In terms of curb cuts, it is DDOT that approves them, and the townhouse would not have had a parking requirement if it could not be done without a curb cut and DDOT did not approve the curb cut.

by JR on Jul 30, 2008 5:14 pm • linkreport

JR -- you assume everyone living in DC neighborhoods owns a car and wants parking. Almost 40 percent of DC households do not own a car, including many households residing in traditional townhouse neighborhoods.

by rg on Jul 30, 2008 5:45 pm • linkreport

@JR, there are new developments where parking has been minimized while also limiting in perpetuity, the ability of residents to also obtain cheap Residential Parking Permits (RPP).

This has the dual effect of minimizing the construction costs while also minimizing the traffic and parking impact on the adjacent streets. If a resident has a private car they wish to park, they can bare that cost at a private lot.

As David Alpert has pointed out, there is an abundance of private parking available across the city. Why not tap into it?

by William on Jul 30, 2008 5:45 pm • linkreport

rg: Yes, 36% of DC households don't own a car, but we own 0.91 vehicles per household. Owner occupants have 1.27 vehicles per household, and renters have .60 vehicles per household. Renters are a disproportionate share of the households without cars. I am not assuming that everyone in DC owns a car, but the minimum parking requirements are as low as 1/4 space per unit. Looking only at the percent of households without cars is only a small part of the picture, you need to also look at what the minimum parking requirements are and average cars per household.

William: Do you have information on the projects that minimized parking and committed to not allowing residents to get residential parking permits. The developments that I know of with that condition provide more than one parking space per unit.

by JR on Jul 30, 2008 7:01 pm • linkreport

What makes you think that neighborhoods like Capitol Hill don't have minimums? Many of those Capitol Hill townhouses have garages, and more and more people without them are adding them (just check the sales prices of with and without a garage). In fact, all most all of the new infill developments, such as the townhouses at Bryant School, had minimum parking requirements. Your visual is about curbcuts - not minimum parking requirements. And it doesn't show the crowded on-street parking in front of those wonderful townhouses. I suggest that a more accurate picture of a world without minimums would be this picture from Flikr

which shows the standard New York City response to the lack of parking -- the double park.

by KJ on Jul 30, 2008 7:23 pm • linkreport

Clueless in DC: You can email me offline at and I'll send you some links. Or you can google "The High Cost of Free Parking" or "Donald Shoup" and go from there.

The basic idea is to charge people for parking based on the balance between supply and demand. My most recent post at describes the economic basis for the idea.

by Michael on Jul 30, 2008 7:40 pm • linkreport

JR is absolutely correct. Prior to living in Dupont, I lived in Sheridan-Kalorama. Because of the many older condo and apartment buildings (without parking) across Conn. Ave. in Kalorama Triangle, parking in Sheridan-Kalorama was close to impossible. Coming home from work it could take 30 - 40 minutes to find a spot. And no, public transport to work was not an option ... As it isn't for most of the country or the metro area. Not everyone has the luxury of living and working within walking distance of their home. If you are looking to create a priviledged and secluded downtown, then get the parking minimums passed as that is what will happen.

by Lance on Jul 30, 2008 11:16 pm • linkreport


I don't know where you lived in Sheridan Kalorama, but there is extensive bus services up Connecticut and massachusetts. Perhaps you were not willing to walk for 10 minutes after you got off the bus, but then you get to spend time looking for parking.

That is the point, we should be encouraging people to take public transportation. A lack of parking minimums could do that. The metro is not the only form of public transportation, the bus is not that scary.

by nathaniel on Jul 31, 2008 8:31 am • linkreport


You just illustrated the lack of knowledge and self-centric thinking upon which this misguided attempt to change the very successful parking minimums legislation is based. I work as a business consultant and over the years my work has taken me to various locations including far out suburban locations where there is no bus service ... and even "commutes" out of Dulles.

If this change to the legislaion occurs, the District will become as JR warns, a place that is not friendly to the average person/family. Only the wealthy will be able to afford homes with parking, and the only ones willing to live without parking will be the "fresh out of school" folks who still think everything in life can be accomplished bike, bus, metro, or on foot ... or those too poor to find their way out to the burbs. The city will become a city of more contrasts than it is already. This proposed change in legislation is not a good thing.

As for the canard that developers will build what is required, let's expose that one once and for all. Builders will do the "free rider" thing. They build a few parking spaces so that they can advertize "parking available" or rent a few in neighboring buildings. Or if they are in a transitioning neighborhood they will count on the NOW AVAILABLE street parking to sell their units. And once they're out of there and people realize that all that available parking as been made available to 4 times the number of people who can reasonably share it, they won't care. But the neighbors who formerly relied on that street parking will know its gone. And as JR said, the smart ones who relied on it will move to somewhere where it is available and they don't have to spend 30 - 40 minutes looking for parking when they get home from a hard day on the job.

As for the example that Dupont and similar places are great examples of places that work well without parking ... Well, I'm hearing someone who probably doesn't realize that (1) lots and lots of new underground parking has gone in in the neighborhood and (2) that as recently as 10 years ago parking was much easier than it is now. Had the parking minimums not been in existence we'd have a worse parking situation now than we already have. A good example is the very large apartment complex that was built some 10 years ago on the south side of the 1700 block of P Street NW. This was previously the Brookings Institute's private parking for their facilities on the Mass. Ave. side of this block. Imagine if this building with its hundreds of very expensive apartments had been built without its underground parking? Where do you think the peopple there would be parking? Some would be parking on the streets ... Most most wouldn't even have moved in if it didn't have parking ... And the building would never have been built. So, yes ... If we want to create a secluded, exclusive city where only the very rich and the very poor live (including those "just out of school"), let's get the parking minimums passed. If we want a city that retains diversity as its hallmark, lets stop this nonsense cold.

by Lance on Jul 31, 2008 10:09 am • linkreport

Michael - thanks for the reply. I read the post on your blog - makes sense. Thanks, again!

by Cluelee in DC on Jul 31, 2008 10:10 am • linkreport

Patrick T. Metz: Yes. Many new townhouses have driveways because of the parking minimums, like the row on P Street between 16th and 17th. It's horrible.

Lance: I don't see Kalorama becoming an undesirable place to live. Other than the fact that some residents would like a virtually free public resource (curb space) reserved for themselves without sharing it with others, what's the problem with the situation there? People are paying many millions for houses in Kalorama.

We have a scarce resource, and in desirable neighborhoods demand already exceeds supply. As Michael wrote recently, you can pay the cost in dollars or in time, or artificially constrain demand. You're advocating for the latter, and with all the equity arguments you're making about how the car is the great equalizer, wanting to hoard the curb space for existing residents is the least equitable.

by David Alpert on Jul 31, 2008 10:16 am • linkreport

Lance: You argue that builders will not build parking and fool people into living into parking-less buildings, and then two paragraphs later argue that nobody will move into buildings without parking.

Developers aren't dumb and neither are residents. If people really want parking, they'll choose buildings with it, and if people want it, it'll get built. This change won't suddenly lead to every building having no parking.

by David Alpert on Jul 31, 2008 10:18 am • linkreport

"Lance: You argue that builders will not build parking and fool people into living into parking-less buildings, and then two paragraphs later argue that nobody will move into buildings without parking."

The process isn't a static one. Short term people WILL be fooled. Longterm they won't ... and they will just move away.

For example, that place you like to talk about in Columbia Heights as people not availing themselves of the underground parking. If Columbia Heights continues to develop, the cost of the rented parking will be worth it in comparison to looking for parking on the street. And it'll be there to be rented. (In Sheridan-Kalorama, where we have the type of parking-less buildings you are advocating, we didn't have enough ... at any price. I was on a wait list for over a year before I could get a space in a local garage.) If you take away that parking requirement now in Columbia Heights,, when you have the need for it and people realize there isn't enough street parking, people will just start to go elsewhere. You'll have effectively strangled development opportunities by, again, restricting the parking to the wealthy ... and making the parking-less places only attractive to the few who don't really need a car. Unless you really think you can control what gets built everywhere else in the entire metro area, I don't see how you can possibly accomplish your goal of getting people out of their cars and into public transportation. You're just going to (longterm) push the average person out of DC.

This whole idea of forcing people into public transportation by choking off their car options is flawed because other areas/cities will offer alternatives.

by Lance on Jul 31, 2008 11:53 am • linkreport

it sure can't be accurate to state that lots of houses in Capitol Hill have garages (other than Barrett Linde houses built in the 1970s and 1980s). True many houses do have alley access and spaces in back. But many blocks do not have functional alleys, and many houses are landlocked without alley access.

A problem with the zoning proposals is that they work disconnected from other policies which haven't changed despite the need.

E.g., additional cars per household and larger cars should pay a lot more for permits, plus permits should cost a lot more than they do. And even people who don't need street parking (such as myself) to accommodate a car (I don't own one) should have to pay a permit fee too probably.

By underpricing street access (the opposite of "performance parking") driving is induced. It's induced also by free parking at work, especially by Congress. And bad decisions are encouraged (or at least decisions that disconnect residential location from job access).

The reality is that as the number of units in a building increases, the number of automobiles in the building decreases.

People with families live in the city without owning cars, and not just poor people.

But I will admit it would be harder with more children. And it would be easier if we had successful, neighborhood-based schools. And it would be easier if more of our neighborhoods were dense. Otherwise, you can't economically support the provision of local services within neighborhoods, such as daycare.

But rather than making car ownership easier, what we need to do is invest resources on making walkability, bicycling, and transit more successful.

That's the solution, not privileging car ownership and pushing those costs on the rest of the people in the city.

by Richard Layman on Jul 31, 2008 11:59 am • linkreport

Lance: How come, by not mandating that each building have cable TV, we aren't strangling development opportunities? Or by mandating that each building have enough closet space? Should we require all new buildings to have gyms?

Maybe developers will want to save a buck and not build closets or cable or gyms, and then people will initially be fooled into living there, but long-term they'll need closets and cable for their families and won't have anywhere to exercise so they'll move out of the city.

Actually, no. Developers build lots of closets, and put in cable, and in most apartment buildings have big gyms. The market works just fine to provide people with resources they want. Historic houses often don't have gyms or big closets, but if people want to make the tradeoff and devote more of their interior space to exercise, they can. Likewise, if they want to devote backyard space to parking, they can choose to do so. For example, my house has parking instead of a big backyard. I might change that one day, but it's up to me, not up to the zoning code.

Developers don't build cheap apartments with no amenities and fool people into paying a lot for them. The amenities are one of their biggest points of differentiation. If anything, they tend to go a little overboard on that stuff (have you seen the gyms in some of these buildings?) But that's their choice. Parking is no different.

If DC had a law letting you put clothes in storage boxes on the street, would you be saying we need a zoning law to force big closets so that other people don't take up your street closet space? Maybe we should have a zoning law mandating gyms because the trails in Rock Creek Park are too crowded, and you'd like to be able to run on them without having to dodge slower walkers?

by David Alpert on Jul 31, 2008 12:14 pm • linkreport

Come on David. There is no sense in using the cable TV analogy. Parking isn't the same kind of commodity. I can choose not to buy a parking spot and then park in front of your house. I can't move into a building without cable and then watch my neighbors TV. I know you understand that yet you can't resist using the analogy anyway...

I don't disagree with some of your message on this issue. But please don't use flawed analogies to try to illustrate that others are being irrational. That's folly.

by Cascades on Jul 31, 2008 12:22 pm • linkreport

You're welcome to park in front of my house. I don't have a God-given right to the space in front of my house, and our public policy should not create major negative externalities in at attempt (usually a failed one, anyway) to keep the space in front of my house free.

If you use cable Internet, mine might get a bit slower. If you use a lot of water, there might be less for me. That's why it's appropriate to charge people for how much they use. It's not appropriate to say that all existing residents ought to get these services for free, but we should require new buildings to lay their own plumbing lines or install satellites just so they stay off our infrastructure. It's everyone's infrastructure.

by David Alpert on Jul 31, 2008 12:33 pm • linkreport


"You just illustrated the lack of knowledge and self-centric thinking upon which this misguided attempt to change the very successful parking minimums legislation is based. I work as a business consultant and over the years my work has taken me to various locations including far out suburban locations where there is no bus service ... and even "commutes" out of Dulles."

Yes people commute to Dulles, but the if you haven;t notice this blog has advocated for metro and better transit out there as well. One can't very well advocate for nothing to be done until everything is perfect. There are many small pieces that if they were implemented would lead to a better city. So I will push for no parking minimums, more transit, transit orientated development and other such things. Small steps are what is required, rather than one all encompassing step that does everything all at once.

by nathaniel on Jul 31, 2008 12:36 pm • linkreport

"Small steps are what is required, rather than one all encompassing step that does everything all at once."

And while you are doing so, people who would otherwise move here who fall in that middle ground between not needing a car and being able to afford private parking, will just end up living (or moving to) towns and cities in the area that are better able to accomodate their needs. The better mass transit to get everyone everywhere from DC will become a non-issue since it won't be needed ... in the end you'll have 2 types of people living in DC, those who can afford to do so and pay whatever it costs to drive/park where they need to ... and those who don't need to drive/park, but can just hop on their bus to their govt./lobbyist job downtown ... Oh yeah, and third kind. Those who don't need to go anywhere.

Meanwhile the burbs (inner and outer) will keep accomodating all types of folks with varying needs and abilities.

by Lance on Jul 31, 2008 1:11 pm • linkreport

Except with gas at $5, $8 and $10 per gallon in the future, the suburban model lifestyle will not be affordable either.

by William on Jul 31, 2008 1:43 pm • linkreport


It does seem as though your needs would be better served in an area that allows and promotes automobile use and parking. I have the personal belief that most people who choose to live in DC do so because they want to experience an urban lifestyle. Extensive amounts of parking and automobile use are not conducive to creating those types of urban places.

You are trying to sub-urbanize DC (though large parts of DC are already sub-urban) and those who don't want to see more parking are trying to urbanize it.

I want a city that is exclusively urban, but inclusive of all those that choose to live an urban experience. All types of people, from all income groups, have been able to live in cities without cars for hundreds, thousands of years before the invention of the automobile.

Because of cars, we changed the way that we design our cities and the way we use our land. By getting rid of parking requirements, we're trying to fix the mistakes of the past that have made car ownership necessary for a majority of the population.

It's a shame that Dupont doesn't fit your needs for parking and driving to disperse parts of the metro area (again, the dispersion of the population is due to car-culture). However, the job you have is a choice, just like where you choose to live. Please don't destroy the character of the remaining few truly urban neighborhoods because you feel you have a right to park your car on a public thoroughfare.

I'm not trying to be snarky. It is extremely difficult to set the appropriate tone on comment boards.

by JP on Jul 31, 2008 2:14 pm • linkreport

JP, Actually, you've done a fine job illustrating the elitist motivations held by many supporting this change in the existing legislation. And since I own a house with parking, I will in fact be a beneficiary of your push to grandfather in parking priviledges by allowing little new competing parking to be built.

Btw, if you really think it is possible to avail yourself of all possible job, cultural, and social activities within a less than 10 square mile area, then I won't even attempt to try to explain to you all the things you don't know ... and will never know. It sounds like you're nice and snug in your insulated existence.

by Lance on Jul 31, 2008 2:50 pm • linkreport

"by allowing little new competing parking to be built."

Except not, because repealing a minimum parking requirement does not disallow anything.

by Jake H. on Jul 31, 2008 3:02 pm • linkreport

Lance, there is no need to be snarky in your response.

I actually think it is elitist to think that the current subsidies associated with parking and driving are acceptable.

If it isn't obvious that the growth patterns in the United States for the past 60 years are not only unsustainable but detrimental to personal health, global health and our collective sociology, then perhaps you can continue to lead your insular life while the rest of us try to salvage what we can of the world left by the baby boomers and their predecessors so there is something to leave for future generations.

These changes need to happen one step at a time, but there is urgency to make it happen.

by William on Jul 31, 2008 3:05 pm • linkreport

Jake H.: The proposal also includes maximums. Developers will not necessarily be allowed to build as much parking as they might want. OP hasn't told us what they have in mind, but proponents want the maximums to be well below what the market would provide.

by JR on Jul 31, 2008 3:09 pm • linkreport

JR: Remember, maximums would only apply in narrow, targeted areas. And who said they'd be below what the market would provide? They will probably be below what some overzealous developers might provide (like the Highland Park people who regret all the parking they built, since it turned out to be way too much for the market), but not necessarily below the reasonable market level.

by David Alpert on Jul 31, 2008 3:11 pm • linkreport

David, Why do you assume that the maximums would only apply in narrow, targeted areas. Take a look at the public notice. On pages 4 and 5, it lists maximums to be determined for many uses in most zones, as well as uses to be determined in any other zone. For some reason which I cannot understand, some people seem to rely on the information you post, and you so them a disservice when the information is so inaccurate. Is it really necessary to distort the proposal, which is available in black and white? As to whether groups advocating limiting parking have recommended that the maximums be below what the developers would voluntarily provide, I think that is clear from their public statements.

by JR on Jul 31, 2008 3:32 pm • linkreport

I was raised in a suburban car culture. Moved to DC out of college. Parking was a pain in the arse in this city, as it is in most cities. That isn't changing. My lifestyle habits changed: ditched the car, rent when needed, and public transportation or walking otherwise.

You all can screech at Alpert all you want, but these changes are coming whether a DC agency passes them or not. How much higher does gas have to be priced to convince you all of that? How many more dire warnings regarding the Earth's warming do you require? Whether it is purely price-driven pragmatics, or personal awareness of the larger consequences, the change is coming.

Newsflash: a lot more of you do not require a car than you're willing to admit, and for those that do, you do not require a friggin truck to taxi your kids around, nor so many vehicles per household. You can accept that now, or let economics and the environment force that realization upon you. Your pick.

by CarlessCarFreak on Jul 31, 2008 3:58 pm • linkreport

"Newsflash: a lot more of you do not require a car than you're willing to admit, and for those that do, you do not require a friggin truck to taxi your kids around, nor so many vehicles per household."

Ah ... so YOU know what is best not only for youself, but for everyone else in DC ... ? Interesting ...

'Sticks' rather than 'carrots' are indeed required to implement policies "for the good of us all" where the majority of us might otherwise not be in agreement with their implementation. It's good to know there are folks watching out for us all ... Since they know what is best for us all ...

by Lance on Jul 31, 2008 5:12 pm • linkreport

I did not realize that advocating reduced carbon footprints was some fascistic impulse worthy of derision.

by CarlessCarFreak on Jul 31, 2008 5:58 pm • linkreport

Removing the requirement that all buildings have a parking footprint at least equal to the building's own footprint IS a small step in the short term. It will take years for infill development to build over even a fraction of the existing lots.

You approach the issue as if there was a possibility of *banning* parking, when in reality they're removing an obtrusive government restriction on what people can build.

"those who can afford to do so and pay whatever it costs to drive/park where they need to"

How is this different than now? How many people can afford a house in DC and the land to build a driveway next to it? Removing parking minimums at least allows them to approach that economic equation with a maximum of choices available to them (find a space every time, rent a space permanently, go to zipcar, use transit) - a flexibility that the suburbs don't have.

If there is a demand for additional parking, and people are free to build it, people will build it. It comes down to whether you want to tax all landowners a significant amount in order to subsidize free parking as an egalitarian perk. We can't afford to do that forever.

by Squalish on Jul 31, 2008 7:34 pm • linkreport

Lance - You're the one using a stick to tell me what I can and can't do.

I own a lot and want to build a house without parking. You're telling me I'm not allowed to.

I want to live in a new house in DC without a car. You're telling me I have to pay for a parking space even if I don't use it.

by tt on Jul 31, 2008 8:05 pm • linkreport

tt, I don't think David ever said the regs apply to houses ... 'cause I don't think they do. They apply to large office buildings, commercial space, large apartment buildings and condominiums ... I.e., the type of buildings that pack a lot more density (and parking needs) in them than can possibly be satisfied by the curbside parking on the street they front. To not mandate that they bring some parking along with their construction is to allow them to siphon off parking from others near them ... Including those rowhouses without parking that are depending on streetside parking ... or (what I think more unfair) siphon off the use of streetside parking for people going about doing their business ... such as the suburban friends of the people in the rowhouse who are simply coming by for dinner ... The parking on a street needs to circulate and open up. That one extra building that brings in hundreds of extra residents without a place for them to put their cars, can mean the difference between those friends coming to visit being able to park or not. IMHO, the ideal really should be for all residential and office parking to be off-street ... and street parking priced appropriately to keep it moving. I.e., If we all had off-street parking for our vehicles when either at home or at the office, we'd all have more parking available to us when we need to make that quick run to pick up something at a store. After all, streets are for shared transportation needs (pedestrians, cars, buses, etc.) and not for car storage which is what where're doing when we park at home or at the office. Eliminating the parking minimums for the large buildings will convert that convenience parking into longer-term residential and offic park.

by Lance on Aug 1, 2008 12:28 am • linkreport

Lance: the regs absolutely apply to houses. Jeff Speck talked tonight about his house which had no alley and zoning required a curb cut in a historic area to put in the one required off-street space (and taking away one on-street space in the process). Fortunately the BZA let them do without, but at the cost of a nine-month delay.

(More about the hearing tomorrow).

by David Alpert on Aug 1, 2008 12:34 am • linkreport

Lance, I agree with you that street parking spaces in dense areas should be kept circulating by pricing mechanisms, and cars should be stored for long periods off-street. The issue is whether the off-street parking should be given away free (or highly subsidized).

I also agree with you that the principle of "To each according to his needs" is a less elitist way of distributing things than selling them for the cost of production plus a profit. It has its disadvantages, though. The general question has been written about elsewhere, and I doubt this blog can add anything new on the topic.

Let's accept that some things should be given away for free (e.g., air). What else? For myself, I'd rather get filet mignon and French wine than parking. No one can dispute other people's taste, I suppose, but I still find your preference for parking hard to understand.

by tt on Aug 1, 2008 7:04 am • linkreport

tt, how is mandated parking in a building "giving away" off street parking? I see it as quite the opposite. I see it as saying, you want to bring additional people and their cars in to this neighborhood? ... then make sure build them parking to put those cars. The developer of course passes the costs for the garage on to those people buying those units (or renting those office buildings, as the case may be.) This is quite the opposite of "to each according to his needs". This is "pay for what you use". If you think you are on the environmentally friendly side of this issue by not wanting to see people made responsible for providing their own parking, I think you need to rethink this issue. This isn't about any sort of give away. This is about people paying the true cost of owning (and parking) their automobiles.

by Lance on Aug 1, 2008 8:39 am • linkreport

David, if it applies to single family homes, then yes, that part of the law should be changed ...

by Lance on Aug 1, 2008 9:06 am • linkreport

Lance, if the zoning code requires more than a market equilibrium amount of parking, then the price the developer can get for selling or leasing the space will be driven below the cost of production. If the zoning code is neutral with respect to the amount of parking, then market equilibrium will balance the production cost of parking with the price people are willing to pay.

The big monkey wrench is that there's a readily available substitute in on-street parking, which is why market pricing for on-street parking must be part of reducing minimum required off-street parking. If you structure the on-street parking program such that the revenues are spent highly locally (not merely within the same ward, but within a few blocks of collection), then you're significantly more likely to be able to obtain market pricing for street parking.

by Michael on Aug 1, 2008 9:23 am • linkreport

Michael, The other monkey wrench is that as time passes, more parking is required. While market pricing for on-street parking can be adjusted as conditions change over time, off street parking availability can not similarly be as easily expanded. Georgetown is the perfect example. Should we allow wholesale destruction of our heritage there so that parking garages can be built now that they are needed? Of course not. Bottom line is that because as a society we place value on other quality of life factors such as historic preservation and land use (i.e., zoning), the normal market mechanisms that would provide for this additional parking aren't available to us. Off-sreet market pricing would only work for an instant in time and not over a continuum of time.

by Lance on Aug 2, 2008 11:32 am • linkreport

And yet even Barbara Zartman's testimony on Thursday suggested that the lack of Metro exacerbated the parking issue in Georgetown.

by William on Aug 2, 2008 12:26 pm • linkreport

Lance, as I read your argument, you're saying that we need to build parking now to meet future demand. Where is this future demand going to come from? Why won't future development be accompanied by an appropriate amount of off-street parking?

Is it your premise that the parking minimums are going to be repealed in the future, so we need to build as much parking as we can before that happens?

Or is it your premise that all neighborhoods will be subject to historic preservation in the future, so we will never be able to build any more parking?

Or what?

by tt on Aug 2, 2008 1:00 pm • linkreport

tt, Here's an example of what I mean. David has cited some building in Columbia Heights where the underground parking built in the building as a result of the parking miniums is now going largely unused. Columbia Heights is perhaps 15%? 20% into its development cycle ... especially parts farther from the center. It makes sense that people are going to avail themselves of "free" street parking before paying $200/mo to pay to park in the building. This is especially so if you consider that the people moving into this area in this stage of development are by and large a younger crowd with limited resources. Now, let's pretend market pricing were in effect today (and had been for the past several years.) Because we are so little into the development curve in this area, the demand for parking is still very low compared to an established areas such as say Foggy Bottom. That means that the market price for street parking would be very low ... if not free. The developer of the building David points to as an example, would have looked at the cost of the market priced street parking (nearly free), at its availability (plentiful) and at the monetary resources of his targetted buyers (low) and decided "It doesn't make sense to put in underground parking ... My market can't afford it and there is plenty of on street parking for nearly free." ... which happens to be the same conclusion which David reached. Now, fast forward 15 years when Columbia Heights has reached some maturity along the development cycle and you have ten-fold as many people living there AND you have a demographic that not only wants (and needs) dedicated parking but can afford to have that parking. (Street parking is now $20/hr due to market priced parking rates.) What do you do? Do you knock down that now 15 year old building and start over again? Do you write off the millions and millions of dollars it cost to build the original building and give it a 15 year life span? More importantly, this building is now condos and owned by 100 or so different parties. Do you get all the owners together and convince them to all move out while the building gets knocked down and re-built? .... all at their expense? ... No ... You're now stuck with a building (or perhaps a whole part of town) that is out of place in the area/city it now serves. This is what happened in the 50s and this is how buildings, streets, cities that were once great places to live became tenaments, slums, etc. Because of a lack of parking, they couldn't participate in the modern world.

tt, There was a reason the parking mimimums were established in the 50s. They allowed the District to play in the modern world with its modern demands ... which include the automobile.

by Lance on Aug 2, 2008 1:35 pm • linkreport

Lance: I'm going to have to disagree with you on the increase in parking requirements over time. We're nearing the end of an era where cheap liquid fuels were plentiful, and national, state and local policy all aligned behind the idea that everyone should drive personal vehicles everywhere, and pay next to nothing for parking. Limited future production capability combined with new global competitors will likely keep oil expensive in the long run, and governments in the US are spending more effort on compact urban development, transit and mixed-traffic thoroughfares.

We're the car-owningest society on the planet*, and it would be hard to argue that we're going to have even more cars per capita in the future, at least in the urban areas.

If, as you say, decades in the future we've screwed up and developers have not provided the needed parking, on-street prices will be quite high, and tenants/future residents will likely be willing to pay a lot to have an off-street space. As long as we have not prohibited building off-street parking, the developers at that time will find a great incentive to construct parking as part of a future project, perhaps even to the point where they may build more than the individual building needs, so they can sell or lease the extra parking to frustrated neighbors.

Market Rates for off-street parking absolutely work over time, in that potential parkers are continually presented with a price signal that reflects availability. That's how we allocate scarce goods and services all over the economy, and it works. High prices for on-street parking will raise demand for substitutes (off-street parking, car sharing and transit use) and will decrease demand for complements (driving, car ownership, gasoline consumption).

Source: Figure 1-1 of "The High Cost of Free Parking". In 2000, we owned 775 vehicles per capita, compared to 700 in New Zealand, 650 in Japan, 575 in France, 418 in Denmark, and 11 in China (and rising fast!). Ultimately, the data was from US Department of Transportation sources.

by Michael on Aug 2, 2008 2:13 pm • linkreport

Lance, I still don't understand your argument. Your premise is that buildings that will be built in the future in Columbia Heights won't have enough parking. Why not? As the development cycle proceeds, won't other builders have the opportunity to build parking? Why wouldn't they build as much parking as the market is willing to pay for?

by tt on Aug 2, 2008 4:20 pm • linkreport

Lance -

As a resident of Columbia Heights (1.5 blocks from Target/Metro), I can tell you that in the immediate vicinity of the Metro there is no surfeit of street parking. That said, my fear with the opening of the DC USA complex and surrounding condo buildings would be exactly what you mention - folks using street parking instead of the garage.

Not only does it seem to me that street parking hasn't gotten worse, it seems that - with the worst of the construction finally over - things have improved slightly.

And more to the policy: it seems to me that DC government could make residential parking permits more expensive or less available to folks in the big condo and apartment buildings to discourage (or at least profit from) developers NOT building parking.

But these artificially inflated minimums are forcing them to build more than parking than is needed, and builders of row houses are cutting the curbs for unnecessary driveways (as they did on my short block of 15th Street), taking one spot at a time away from everyone else.

by Patrick T. Metz on Aug 3, 2008 10:23 am • linkreport

Patrick, you mention "artificially inflated minimums." What are the actual minimum parking requirements for the condominiums in your neighborhood? Is it one space for every two apartments, three apartments or four apartments?

You suggest that the DC government make the parking permits less available to the residents of the new condominiums. Exactly how to you expect to sustain that high price for permit or prohibition when there are many more condominiums, and there isn't enough parking, and the residents of those buildings are DC voters?

by JW on Aug 3, 2008 10:55 am • linkreport


JW makes a good point that (even if it were okay to do so in the firt place, which I don't think it is) politically it'd be impossible to maintain over the long run a second class citizenship for condo owners in regards to street parking as you propose.

I'm surprised to hear about the curb cutting because I know from my past involvement with one neighborhood's historic association's review committee, curb cuts are one of the biggest no no's. Although, I had heard that of late the District is overriding neighborhoods' wishes in this respect. If I had my way, I'd like to see all residential and office parking be off street ... leaving street parking for the "short term parking" needs that drivers of cars, bikes, vespas, etc. have in going about their business. HOWEVER, I would definitely not want to see curb cuts come about as a result of this. If we have enough underground garages, those combined with alley-accessed rear-yard parking should be enough to allow for people in houses without rear alley access to rent a spot on their street. I guess this is one area where I agree with most of the people posting on this blog.

Long term, for those recurring "storage" needs we have for our cars when we are at home or at the office, we need to have reserved off-street parking available ... preferably underground or in back off the alley. We need to keep our streets open for the daily undertakings they were originally designed for. When they were designed, people didn't "park" their carriages or their horses in our streets. Yes, a carriage or a horse might be left in the street for a short period while the owner was stopping off somewhere, but there were carriage houses and stables to handle the carriages and horses when they weren't in use. And there's no reason we can't go back to this ideal by market pricing street parking (or limiting it in duration as we now do ... provided we get REAL enforcement.)

Additionally, Patrick I wanted to mention that most likely the reason you haven't seen parking get worse since the construction was completed is because the parking minimums worked. Of course, if market pricing for street parking comes about, you might wish we had'd even higher parking minimums ... if you have to go looking to rent one of these underground spaces ...

by Lance on Aug 3, 2008 11:39 am • linkreport

clarification: "... should be enough to allow for people in houses without rear alley access to rent a spot on their street."

*'... should be enough to allow for people in houses without rear alley access to rent a spot in a garage or someone else's backyard on their street'

by Lance on Aug 3, 2008 11:43 am • linkreport

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