The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Harvard Square: streets more complete, parking needs work

I stopped to eat in Harvard Square today on the way to my parents' from the Boston airport. Modern thinking on street design has made its impact on the Square. Bike lanes have erupted all over the place since 2000, and the small Palmer Street alley, which runs between the Harvard Coop's two buildings, has become a pedestrian-friendly, woonerf-like "shared space" where pedestrians mix with occasional traffic and loading trucks. Here's the old alley, and this is what it looks like today.

The new Palmer Street, Harvard Square. Reprinted with permission from AntyDiluvian on Flickr.

Not all is rosy for Harvard Square; sadly, the iconic Out of Town News is closing, a harbinger of imminent social collapse.

However, municipal parking is still too cheap. As Greater Greater Mom and I were driving into the Square for lunch, we tried to find parking at the municipal parking lot by the Harvard Square Hotel (price: $2 per hour). Unfortunately, it was full, and private garages charge closer to $20 for two hours. She recommended that if we couldn't find parking, we just ditch the Square and drive on home to eat. She didn't want to drive around for a long time looking for a space.

Fortunately, we found a curbside space (price: $1 per hour), but Cambridge is missing a big opportunity. Greater Greater Mom decided she'd have been willing to pay $4 per hour to be assured of a space to park. Cambridge could be making more money, and drawing in customers who don't want a big hassle to find parking, by charging that much for these municipal spaces. Instad, Cambridge is underpricing their public parking and curbside spaces, missing out on revenue and scaring away potential customers who'll dine elsewhere.

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. 


Add a comment »

Why didn't you take the T?

by NotInTheCoolCrowd on Nov 25, 2008 3:02 pm • linkreport

What was it about the other cars paying $2 per hour in the municipal lot and $1 per hour curbside that makes you conclude that they are not also patronizing local merchants? Didn't greater greater and his mom do just that? Maybe the other free riders also had reservation prices much greater than the current price.

From a merchants perspective, you could conclude that there are not enough affordable parking spaces and the town should build more.

From the city's perspective you could conclude that parking is too cheap. Anytime demand is consistantly greater than supply the price mechanism is broken.

I always thought the means to build sustainable, walkable, livable urban spaces was to strongly discourage car use by not providing any place to park. It's what cities have been doing with bikes for years.

by Tom on Nov 25, 2008 3:59 pm • linkreport

I was just up in that area last weekend. It's possible to take the T from the airport, sure; however, if Greater Greater Parents don't live close to a T stop (very likely, if in the suburbs) or more than a 5-10 minute walk from the commuter rail (also possible, though the MBCR has really good coverage), then taking public transit isn't quite as practical as it could be.

by Adam on Nov 25, 2008 4:13 pm • linkreport

Also, David, it's not entirely clear to me what the difference is between those two photos of Palmer Street. I've probably just missed something obvious.

by Adam on Nov 25, 2008 4:14 pm • linkreport

@Adam, the differences that jump out at me is first and foremost all the brick is flush. In the pre-photo you have a sidewalk separated by a curb from the alley. Now it's all one continuous space. You also now have the pillars and the benches.

by FourthandEye on Nov 25, 2008 4:31 pm • linkreport

I saw the Cambridge woonerfs last year. Cambridge is a fantastic city overall .... in terms of a walking, cycling, transit, independent retail environment and the building stock is second to none. It's a lot like the best parts of DC (Dupont, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant) but with much better independent retail streets and public spaces. All people who are interested in urban planning and love cities ought to visit.

Am back up in Boston for Thanksgiving this year and look forward to visiting some of my favorite spots .... most of which are easily accessible by the T.

I know that the Greater Greater Parents live out towards Concord and the commuter rail system (vs. the T) is not as frequent/reliable ... similar to MARC but running on weekends. I know since I used it to get into Boston/Cambridge when I was in college.

by Steve P. on Nov 25, 2008 4:48 pm • linkreport

Steve, I thought that Acton, Mass. was much further from Boston than Concord.

by Baystater on Nov 25, 2008 5:37 pm • linkreport

It's just one town over.

Tom: I'm not concluding the people parking in the $2 and $1 spaces aren't patronizing local merchants. But if the price were higher, some number of people would get there by alternative means, freeing up spaces for people who don't want to circle. And meanwhile, Cambridge would get more revenue they could use to improve the business environment further.

by David Alpert on Nov 25, 2008 7:18 pm • linkreport

David, As you know, I very much like your idea of performance parking pricing for street curbs (and other public/municipal parking) because in my mind that means that people won't "overstay" in a too cheap spot ... It'll get shared by people using it to "go about their business" vs. by people just looking for a place to "store" their car while at home or work (which they could do more efficiently by renting/buying a spot someplace out of the private domain.)

HOWEVER, the way you explain it here ... It sounds more like those with greater means (and perhaps greater needs) should be able to "buy" that spot over those with lesser means (and maybe "lesser" needs). i.e., Your mom gets to park so that she can conveniently drive in from Concord while the new college hire who can barely pay his rent is expected to schlep in on the T or whatever or means he can to get there? I don't know if that is equitable... Maybe the 2 hr limit is more effective at keeping people from "storing" their cars on the shared city streets ... Of course if the limited quantity of spots available is really a problem (i.e., so that the folks who would rather just stay in the 'burbs than go hunting for parking forever) there IS a simple solution ... Build more parking! No, don't build it at the expense of street walkability and no don't build it at the expense of building sites ... But do build it underground or in other ways that leaves the city walkable/livable and not scarred with parking lots. David, I think you're coming to the realization that taking the train, walking, and bicycling isn't an option for all of society through all of their years. A walkable city to enjoy is something everyone wants. Even people like your mom for whom it's too hard to try to walk, bike, train there. Why espouse a philosphy (i.e., build less parking) that will only permit her to enjoy this walkable city at the expense of someone who can't afford to pay for parking at the new rates you are suggesting? Why not just make more parking, so that everyone can enjoy this urban area?

by Lance on Nov 25, 2008 8:01 pm • linkreport

Lance, what do you propose to do about the current situation where people with greater means can "buy" a house in Cleveland Park over those with lesser means? Is it fair to allow people with more money to buy nicer houses but unfair to allow people with more money to buy nicer parking spaces?

In my opinion, housing and food are more fundamental human needs than parking. Why not allot housing and food on a first-come, first-served basis? (Whoever gets to the house first after work can sleep in the bedroom, whoever gets to Obelisque first gets to eat.)

by tt on Nov 25, 2008 9:12 pm • linkreport

Oh yes, why not just build more housing (lots of high-rise apartment buildings) so that everyone can enjoy the urban areas like Cleveland Park?

by tt on Nov 25, 2008 9:14 pm • linkreport

tt, a house is NOT public space ... parking curbside or in a municipal garage IS public space. i.e., your analogy is a false one.

by Lance on Nov 25, 2008 11:06 pm • linkreport

tt, perhaps you'd like to see "voting rights" sold to the highest bidder too?

Bottom line is that when you are you looking at a public good such as parking, it is a communal asset to be shared as equitably as possible ... and not to be "sold" to the highest bidder ... since it is taxes that have paid for it.

by Lance on Nov 25, 2008 11:12 pm • linkreport

Lance -

We charge admission to national parks. We charge for Metro to be used, even though our presence on the train does not cost them anything incrementally. We charge fees for things like the DMV and the civil court system.

These are all inherently discriminatory against the penniless, to a degree - all user fees for public services are. As a democracy, we could figure out a means of abolishing these fees if we cared enough to set up some other system that discourages abuse and pays for itself. We don't. We live in a capitalist liberal democracy, one in which price signals are the strongest extralegal form of persuasion we have. In this case, those price signals are saying "Leave a space open in case somebody really needs it (as measured by their willingness to pay)."

Willingness to pay as major criteria for use of public goods is every bit as discriminatory as you say it is, but that doesn't imply it's not a good way of doing things within our system to distribute a scarce resource. 'Free parking for all' as an egalitarian *right* is a mantra with no future in our world - we've tried it and it's built us deadend asphalt wastelands all over the place. 'First come first serve' for scarce parking is visibly, demonstrably time- & fuel-inefficient for all.

If prices go too high, private enterprise *can* take over and build garages, or the public sector can be persuaded via elections to build garages for us. But discouraging frivolous use (as defined by "use you're not prepared to pay market value for") is a significant goal in an urban landform where automotive transportation is not the only option.

Tangent: if roadside parking is a true public good as you describe it, then the rowhouse owners & the single-family homeowners can't be granted preference in its use, compared to visitors and apartment dwellers.

by Squalish on Nov 25, 2008 11:30 pm • linkreport

Parking may be made available to the public, but it's not a "public good" because it is excludable and rivalrous. True public goods are things like the beauty of the Grand Canyon, or radio broadcasts, in that my consumption doesn't take away from yours, and it would be very hard if not impossible to exclude people from consuming them.

That's what makes parking different.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 26, 2008 2:01 am • linkreport

Lance, when you say that a parking space is public space and a house is not, you are engaging in circular reasoning.

We make a social choice as to what goods are distributed free and what goods are sold to the highest bidder. Voting rights, we can certainly agree, fall into the first category.

Air to breathe is another example that we can undoubtedly agree on. I would add pedestrian use of sidewalks. It would not be hard to list reasons why metering air and tolling sidewalks would fail to produce economic benefits while burdening the less well-off.

We can choose to organize our society with housing publicly owned and allocated without payment, or with housing privately owned and sold. The same is true for parking spaces. We can choose to make housing and parking either public or private goods. Both equity and economic efficiency must be considered in making that choice.

My point is this: I have yet to see a rationale for the free (or nearly free) distribution of parking spaces that does not apply with equal or greater force to the free distribution of housing. By rationale I mean an argument from equity or economic efficiency.

by tt on Nov 26, 2008 8:47 am • linkreport

Free parking is hardly a substitute for affordable housing.

I think there's something wrong when there's parking for all but no one can afford to buy a place to live. Doesn't the urban form indicate a preference for human scale activity over purely automotive concerns?

With more housing in the same urban grid, there is more demand for businesses. With more businesses, there is more amenities in walking distance. With more stuff in walking distance, there is less need to drive. With less driving, there is less demand for parking. With more density, bus/rail transportation to get to places out of walking distance becomes more practical. If a visitor wants/can afford to come from outside to shop at local shops via automobile, they can certainly pay for the priviledge of parking. (If the businesses want to provide free parking on their own property, on their own dime, that's a whole different story) Otherwise, arrange to take transit. Because of this relationship, I argue that charging market rates for parking will also slightly increase transit demand to that area. (which will then get cut in the next round of gasoline tax shortfalls)

Free parking and auto dependence go hand in hand. Free parking is social engineering just like any other policy. It's just one that is really, really, really, expensive to society.

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 9:44 am • linkreport

Squalish, for all those items you list we charge admission/fees to cover the cost of operating/providing them. ... When the government starts charging beyond the level of what it costs to operate/procure the public good, then it is engaging in allocation of that good ... And that is what I am opposed to.

Let's take buses as an example. Let's say we get to a situation where all the current buses are crowded and it is evident that something has to be done. If the government goes out and buys more buses (or gets those longer double-length buses) and maybe has to raise the fare to pay for the new buses, then it has acted as a government is expected to act by most of us. It has solved the problem by addressing the issue of shortage in a way that makes all the potential bus riders happy. On the other hand, if it instead does as your "(supposedly) smart growth" advocates advocate, the government would instead just raise the bus fares to a level where there was always room for one more person to board the existing number of buses ... and "to hell with those who can't afford the service at the new price". That is NOT what most of us expect of government. We don't need government to be in the business of "allocating" ... the free market can do that well enough. We need government to be in the business of filling in the holes where the market doesn't do a good job of satisfying demand on its own.

The bottom line is that the "smart growth" policies I am hearing on here don't seem very smart. They seem "exclusive" instead. I.e., their solution is to raise the bar for entry, rather than advocating policies that lower the bar for entry ... policies that foster great access and mobility for all ... such as building more parking in our urban areas so that more and not less people can enjoy our downtowns ... Even David's mom.

by Lance on Nov 26, 2008 10:46 am • linkreport

I don't see them as raising the bar. They're an attempt to use what we have more efficiently, taking all variables into account rather than just the whims of those with a car fetish. Eventually we have to say no to the neverending demands from cars for more pavement.

More parking kills an urban environment. It's that simple. The more parking you have, the farther stuff away is from each other. Things are then too far away from each other to walk and the only way to get around is with ... a car. Also, the traffic from cars makes it unsafe to walk. The cars start to get in each others' way, too. The traffic jams make the area unattractive to car people. In the end, the place is desirable for no one. It's death by a thousand cuts. That basically describes the fate of most downtowns in the United States. Only now are they beginning to enter a new phase of revitalization by building stuff for people to use on top of what was once a parking lot.

That is the same thinking that was used in the 1960's "urban renewal" projects. The thinking was that everything would just be swell if everything was just made more automobile oriented. However, building for cars is antithetical to a walkable environment. Parking is not just expensive to build and maintain, it is also very expensive in the opportunity costs it presents. Each square foot of land that is used for parking is one less square foot that can be used for people and tax revenue generating uses.

I do agree with you that "We need government to be in the business of filling in the holes where the market doesn't do a good job of satisfying demand on its own." However, the government should not do something that is against the best interests of its citizens just to serve car-above-all-else thinking that is destructive to walkable places.

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 11:07 am • linkreport

“More parking kills an urban environment. It's that simple.” It is statements like that which make it clear that the “smart growth” advocates aren’t putting much effort into thinking about the issues carefully.

“Also, the traffic from cars makes it unsafe to walk.” And this is certainly an odd way of supporting a post that praises the encouragement of pedestrians to share space with trucks in a loading zone, labeling as an improvement the elimination of the separate space that had been available to pedestrians.

by JW on Nov 26, 2008 11:54 am • linkreport

The shared space forces motorists to slow down. They have to use their brains and interpret a free flowing situation, rather than just zooming by.

As for my first statement, look at the history. Most 1950's and '60s "urban renewal" projects clear-cut a section of city. It was the replaced with a freeway, some modernist building with an empty wind-swept plaza, some towering modernist apartment building and plenty of parking. SW DC is the best example in our region. It is no coincidence that the place is dead at all times, even during the workday. When you build for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.

I put lots of thought into the issue. I walk around our region. I see what works and what doesn't. I ask why I like to walk some places and why I fear for my safety in others. I fear crossing large intersections between two multi-lane suburban arterials that always have car traffic going in every which direction and is too fast. There is never enough time to get across before the left turning vehicles come at you.

My thinking involves looking at the behavior and interactions of real people, rather than how they look in drawings and models. I also look at what has worked and hasn't. Modernist planning hasn't. It has left us with dead cities, excessive automobile related pollution, more traffic deaths per capita than anywhere else in the world, more pedestrian fatalities than anywhere else in the industrialized world, and one heck of a gasoline bill payable to the middle east.

I put effort into thinking about solutions. That's why they are never as simple as "if we put in lots and lots of free parking then everything will be wonderful" or, "if we just widen all the roads there will never be traffic jams!" or, "everyone will be safer if we just keep everything separate." It's time that we acknowledge what we see with our own lyin' eyes rather than keeping on doing what we've been doing for the past 60 years and pretending that all is wonderful.

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 1:02 pm • linkreport

Cavan, You come to the table with lots and lots of pre-conceived notions. For example, yes the Committee of 100 supports maintaining the parking minimums and yes it was the Committee of 100 who first introduced (and advocated for) the idea of 'livable downtowns' with more walkable streets, more residences and the accompanying stores that make a livable downtown, etc. etc. What, you mean we can both have sufficient parking AND a livable/walkable downtown? Of course you can. And no, just because people may advocate for more parking, doesn't mean they are for roads and highways eating up our cities (as happened in the 50s/80s era) or in strip mall parking lots. Like JW pointed out to you, your supposedly "smart growth" solution just takes it as a given than we must return to 19th century ways (including reliance solely on ones feet or rail)to return to the concept of a livable urban area in the human scale. And that is just blatantly false. Yes, we can both enjoy and benefit from the advancements which the years have brought to us in the ways of individual mobility AND have cities composed of neighborhoods designed to the human scale which preceeded the advent of the automobile. To think it can't be, is to think everything out there is a zero sum game and one must give up something in order to gain something else ... and in your case it means giving up the desirable parts of the present to regain the desirable parts of the past.

The idea of making it harder for cars to park and circulate comes from this shortsighted thinking. With good planning we can indeed retain the advances of the present AND regain those desirable things from the past which we gave up perhaps unwittingly.

Actually, this is usually how progress in general happens. For example, when mass produuction came to the manufacturing of automobiles, we went from a situation where all cars were basically one-off, individually designed cars available in any color one wanted (and VERY expensive) to mass produced, all cars are the same color (and very INexpensive). Losing the individuality/customization of cars was the price to pay to get them to be affordable by everyone. BUT, look around now, and we have returned to a point where anyone can order just about any car they want with individual options which may not exist on any other car anywhere. We've gone full circle but in the process produced much safer, much more economical, and much more useful cars ... all at a tiny fraction of the price that cars cost when they were originally invented.

The results of the car-culture where not good. But it doesn't mean you have to throw the baby out with the bath water and return to "what was" to regain what was lost. Truely "smart" growth would seek to retain the benefits of what we have while working to regain the good of what we lost./i>

by Lance on Nov 26, 2008 1:45 pm • linkreport

Steve P

Are Dupont, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant really the " best" parts of DC?

Personally I find these areas to be highly transient and many of the people who live there are not very friendly.

Why don't you consider other "parts" of DC like Capitol Hill/Navy Yard? While your "retail " options might not be as great as Boston, maybe the cost of living is more affordable- and the transit options are certainly SUPERIOR to Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant.The people are a damn sight friendlier than those uptown types who will never even give one the time of day in a bar or directions to someone on the street.Many people who have lived in your "best parts of DC" have left and come to the Hill/ Navy Yard area and they all say the same thing "our neighbors are great here ".

There is always much more to a city than simply it's built environment and retail options.

by w on Nov 26, 2008 1:50 pm • linkreport

I had no idea that I'm advocating a return to the 19th century. I'm just advocating that we pay for our parking. We agree that mobility and transportation are something that government should promote and run/subsidize. Mobility as being more than about cars. It's about HUMANS being able to get around. If the marketplace thinks they can make a profit by paying the needed money to put a garage underground, then so be it. There's lots of those garages in our existing downtown. Great. However, government should not be mandating parking minimums. Government should not be mandating a suburban car culture, especially in light of our pollution and gasoline bills. Charging below market value for parking, while not as extreme as mandating parking minimums, is advocating for motorists over pedestrians... car owners/users over the carless/those who use their car sparingly.

I am not nostalgic for the 19th century. I am looking forward and advocating for solutions to our 21st century problems. We can't keep doing what we're doing.

Cars aren't going away. And, truthfully, that's ok. I own one. I use it to go to places where there isn't transit. However, we should not be building our places for cars. We should build them at the human scale for human beings. The car should be the guest in a human environment, not the other way around. Most of what we've built since World War II has been for cars, with humans being the interlopers.

It just so happens that car-dependent infrastructure is far more expensive for society. I am advocating a fiscally conservative position.

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 2:06 pm • linkreport

Michael, In an earlier post, you asked me to define “objective function.” You can find the definition in the first pages of a reputable first-year microeconomics textbook, such as Varian’s Microeconomic Analysis. Also, while the definition of “public goods” that you gave from wikipedia happens to be accurate, relying on wikipedia for basic research is simply sloppy and frequently results in oversimplified explanations and misleading descriptions. If you want a citation that is accessible on the Internet, you might instead look at some more reputable sites, such as MIT’s OpenCourseware. Similarly, GGW’s frequent citation of his own posts to support his “facts” and analyses is just plain sloppy. More importantly, had you read Lance’s post, you would have realized that he wasn’t using the term “public good” in the technical sense, but merely referring to curbside parking as a publicly owned asset.

Cavan, I think that you have earlier identified yourself as an economist and yet in your 2:06 pm rant, you seem to reach conclusions about minimum parking requirements without any attempt to justify that conclusion or address the implications that that recommendation has on the District’s neighborhoods.

by Another economist on Nov 26, 2008 2:26 pm • linkreport

My ideas about parking are from a mixture of my own experiences with walking in our region and the ideas put forth in Shoup's "High Cost of Free Parking".

An excellent post that sums up his ideas can be found at in a previous GGW post at:

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 2:34 pm • linkreport

Another Economist,

Yeesh, man. This isn't a PhD dissertation. These topics have been discussed over and over on this blog, hence the citations to previous posts. The blog format is an open and ongoing dialogue, it is not conducive to good blogging to re-build an argument from scratch with every post.

For a complete rundown of why free parking and minimum parking requirements are bad, I suggest picking up a copy of Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking. It answers all of your concerns.

Lance's fundamental error is that he thinks parking should be free, despite the serious problems this causes. We've been over this a million times, I and others think he's dead wrong, yet we're painted as opposed to all parking simply because we'd like to see the market determine supply and price.

by Alex B. on Nov 26, 2008 2:39 pm • linkreport

"hence the citations to previous posts" Alex: For many of the citations to other sections of the blog, the citation provides no additional information, just the same unsupported statement. And generally made by GGW, who seems to have no expertise in this area. I guess you think that if you say something often enough, it must be true.

This might be a blog, but if you want others to find your statements credible, you need to read opposing comments. You need to back up your statements with credible cites. And that means not wikipedia, and not another instance in which you (or David) made the same claim, but failed to provide any analysis or factual support.

If anonymous Cavan's conclusions are based on walking through neighborhoods in the area, I would say that he hasn't been through or carefully considered the many neighborhoods that will bear the negative impact of his cavalier recommendations.

by Another Economist on Nov 26, 2008 3:06 pm • linkreport

I have issues with Lance's parking paradigm. He wants massive amounts of parking. He counters the walkable urbanism argument by saying all the parking should be built underground. He also believes that parking should be free or very cheap ($2/hr).

In past threads we have learned that underground parking costs between 40-60K per space in DC. If underground parking is free (or that cheap) to users it will need to be massively subsidized by the taxpayer. Also, where would the city put this massive amounts of underground parking? If it's a neighborhood with a new public building that's a possibility. But does he think we should raze old public buildings to build new ones with more parking? Build an underground municipal garage then sell the development rights over it? Where is that private developer then going to put their parking?

Fact of the matter is that local governments will almost always build a municipal garage above ground in cases where it is not paired with a new public building. Suggesting that local governments can supply cheap bountiful underground parking that sits empty much of the day until the evening and weekend uses is fantasy land.

by Paul on Nov 26, 2008 3:10 pm • linkreport

Perhaps I missed it, but where are the citations from Another Economist or Lance's recommendations. Are they citing MIT’s OpenCourseware to support their recommendations? Is their some double standard that if you argue for status quo you don't have to substantiate your arguments with external sources?

Kevin and Alex have cited Shoup. Another Economist, If that book is not a credible source please tell us why it isn't. Be sure to cite your reasons from reputable academia publications.

by Paul on Nov 26, 2008 3:17 pm • linkreport

"In past threads we have learned that underground parking costs between 40-60K per space in DC." Past threads were simply wrong. David posted several times, and others followed, claiming that underground parking costs were $60,000 per space in DC. At the Zoning Commission, none of the advocates for eliminating parking minimums, except David, claimed that the cost was anywhere near $60,000 per space.

Thanks for bringing up this excellent example of a case in which GGW wrote an unsupported fact often enough, that readers seem to assume is it true.

by Another economist on Nov 26, 2008 3:40 pm • linkreport

David, I used to cut down this alley quite often back in the day -- thanks for the brief trip down memory lane and Happy Thanksgiving!

by DC_Chica on Nov 26, 2008 3:45 pm • linkreport

First, I'm going to close the open italics tag Lance left halfway up the thread.

There we go.

Another Economist: Thanks for getting back to me on "objective functions". I'll be sure to look that up. As far as using Wikipedia, it's a good resource as long as you check up on it. In this case the explanation made sense and corresponded to what I remember learning when I took economics, so I feel justified in using the reference. I think most people reading the Internet are aware of Wikipedia's limitations and how to check up on it. In this case Lance was throwing around the term and expecting everyone to understand its meaning (that public goods should be free to all) when in fact charging for parking is actually quite reasonable because it doesn't meet the characteristics of a true public good such as clean air or water.

I was actually starting to go through the OCW economics courses and am looking for a good resource to go beyond ECON 101 and 102. Do you have any suggestions?

As far as the costs of providing underground parking spaces, the construction costs of many different parking garages were analyzed by Shoup in his aforementioned book. Additionally, take a look at this link for an example of high underground parking costs:

In this example, Montgomery county is recommending to its council the construction of a garage at a cost of almost $90M. The garage would add approximately 1150 spaces for this cost. That's about $78,000 per additional space, well more than the numbers cited here.

There are other examples of parking cost estimates. The Internation Parking Institute in 1996 estimated a cost per space of $15,000 for construction of above-ground garages. Inflated to 2008, that's about $20,000 today. Construction costs may have inflated faster than the CPI but the CPI is a reasonable lower bound on inflation for construction. Even if you use this number which seems low, above-ground garage parking should not be sold at a cost below about $1000 per year, and that excludes operating costs.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 26, 2008 4:09 pm • linkreport

IIRC, that $60,000 per space was a figure given to David by a developer. Probably a conservative, back of the envelope estimate.

In reality, parking garages depend a great deal on the specifics of the garage. Is the site of sufficient size and dimensions to use maximum space for parking? If not, then you might have to go down another level to get the spaces you need, which adds excavation costs and eats up space with more circulation ramps. That's just one factor.

Indeed, the $60,000 per space figure for underground parking is a solid ballpark number. Certain projects will be less, certain projects will be more. It all depends on the site.

I'm curious how Another Economist says that this number (which is a ballpark figure and never touted as anything but) is 'wrong,' yet Another Economist offers no data whatsoever as to what the 'right' figure is. Please come forward with this information. I'd love to see what data you have for above ground structures, underground structures, etc.

by Alex B. on Nov 26, 2008 4:30 pm • linkreport

another economist, I am not anonymous. My handle in this blog is my given first name that I use in my everyday life and that everyone in my life knows me by. I use it because I do advocacy in real life, not just on the web. I think it's only fair that someone who agrees/disagrees with me in person can connect my speech with my thoughts that I put online in both the comments at various blogs and as a guest poster on this site.

As far as my education, I have a B.S. in physics and an M.A. in Economics with a concentration in Financial Economics. Does this really matter here? Not too much. I just figured I'd get it out there so we can. I've on and disagree with each other rather than calling each others' credibility into question.

I disagree with Lance most of the time but I don't ever call his credibility into question. I try to stick to the issues and sometimes use rhetoric to make a point

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 5:15 pm • linkreport

I meant to say "... Move on so we can disagree with each other..."

I must have made a typo and my iPod touch must have corrected it wrong.

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 5:20 pm • linkreport

All, I MEANT 'public space' parking ... i.e., curbsides and municipal garages ... as I specifically said.

Paul, You haven't been following recent events. Davids is organizing a movement to remove the "Parking Minimums" requirements that DC has had as law since something like the 70s now. These requirements mandate that when a developer builds a new building or substantially renovates an existing building, that he provides a certain number of parking space. (Usually those are underground spaces since they cost relatively little to construct ... since a tall building in this area MUST have a basement that is nearly as deep as the building above ground is tall anyways.) Where a building is a historic landmark or a contributing building to a historic district, exemptions are made if adding the parking would require significantly altering the historic building.

The issue here is that supposedly "smart" growth advocates want to see cars banned from our cities. They want to see a return to the 19th century ... to a "pre-car" era. And they've lashed on to removing parking minimums as a way of obtaining this backward movement.

by Lance on Nov 26, 2008 6:24 pm • linkreport

Lance, how many times does it have to be repeated that Smart Growth advocates do not want to ban cars from cities. We want to end the current practice by which people who don't drive subsidize the parking of people who do drive.

Much of the rest of what you say is factually untrue. underground spaces are not inexpensive. Tall buildings (not allowed in DC anyway, but never mind) do not need basements anywhere near as deep as they are high.

I am totally confused when you say "I MEANT 'public space' parking ... i.e., curbsides and municipal garages ... as I specifically said" and then go on to argue that parking should be required in private buildings, which are not curbsides or municipal garages.

by tt on Nov 26, 2008 8:55 pm • linkreport


read the comments further up to end your confusion. (hint: I was responding to two separate issues .. 1st that I used the term public good when I was specifically talking about curbside parking and munical parking ... as another reader pointed out ... and NOT using them in an economist's way which apparently has a different meaning and 2nd I was responding to Paul when talking about parking minimums who said 'it would be okay if new parking were only required in new buildings ... but expecting us to add parking under old buildings ... " i.e., he didn't know what the parking minimums issue is since it doesn't apply to existing buildings.

Also, and how many times do I need to tell you that people who drive don't get subsidized by those who don't ... Actually, the inverse is true. People who drive make the economy what is it (and even 'bad' it's still pretty big) and generate the tax revenues that help subsidize rail and other modes of transport for those who don't drive.

by Lance on Nov 26, 2008 9:27 pm • linkreport

While the auto industry and highway lobby was the primary engine of our national economy from the 1950's until the 1990's, we have been seeing that paradigm fall apart in front of our eyes as this decade has progressed.

We have two choices: try to sustain the unsustainable, or try something new. While cars subsidized (though never fully funded) all transportation, both auto-centric and otherwise, through the gasoline tax, that model is now breaking down. Why else would Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters need to raid the mass transit fund in order to fund highway construction this past year? Why would I make this post: about cutting RideOn in the wake of decreasing gasoline tax revenue?

We need to think about mobility as moving people, not cars around. That line of thought served us well. However, its day is over. Our auto-centric views are becoming bigger and bigger millstones on our necks with each passing day. Part of adjusting to our new realities would be letting private landowners decide how much parking they should build, rather than being mandated.

Remember, free parking is not free. We all pay for it, whether we use it or not. Any parking structure is costly (as highlighted in previous comments) to build and maintain. Those costs get passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, regardless of whether or not they drove to the store. There are also the externalities of pollution from the runoff and extra traffic congestion that resulted from discretionary car trips that were induced by the convenience of the parking lot.

The king is dead. Long live the king, er highway lobby.

by Cavan on Nov 26, 2008 9:47 pm • linkreport

Here are some interesting reports on parking, including the cost of construction, from the federal transit administration's Transit Cooperative Research Project (TCRP):

(These are both the same table but both reports are interesting so I linked to them both).

In summary, the cost per space for underground parking is given as $20,000-50,000, with an additional $19,000-49,000 in interest and operating costs (present value). The table cites a monthly parking fee required as being between $135 and $345. These are in 1997 dollars so inflate by about 30% to get today's dollars.

The numbers cited here for costs of underground spaces are reasonable and backed up by reports published by the FTA. If the person using the space isn't paying somewhere between $135 and $345 per month for the space, someone else is subsidizing the space. Most likely the rest of the building tenants, which by definition are not driving and parking.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 26, 2008 10:06 pm • linkreport

Also, and how many times do I need to tell you that people who drive don't get subsidized by those who don't ... Actually, the inverse is true. People who drive make the economy what is it (and even 'bad' it's still pretty big) and generate the tax revenues that help subsidize rail and other modes of transport for those who don't drive.
If your definition of "subsidy" includes any activity that involves spending that contributes to taxes, then you need to find some other word to convey your ideas, and make that distinction clear.

For example, "Drivers subsidize walkers" under this definition is 100% true. So is "Pet lizards subsidize movie theaters" - because the taxes on heat lamps definitely have some fractional contribution to alternative energy spending, which works to reduce the cost of the electricity powering their projectors. "My feces subsidize your popcorn" by employing sewage industry workers who have their income taxed, part of which goes directly to agribusiness. "The color blue subsidizes the word disestablishmentarianism" - Blue clothes are bought, taxes are collected, education budgets are written, dictionaries are mandated.

Find a new word for what you're implying rather than repurposing words to make anyone you're arguing with wrong.

That is, if your desire is for meaningful debate. I'm not sure that it is.

by Squalish on Nov 26, 2008 11:33 pm • linkreport


Actually tt, your assertion is sooo broad, that I don't have the time to address it. One instance (the one that directly relates to parking minimums though is your assertion that requiring a new building to have minimum amounts of parking causes more expense for those who don't need to avail themselves of it.) I guess you don't know that those using the spaces almost always pay for that priviledge over and above their rent or their purchase price?

by Lance on Nov 26, 2008 11:36 pm • linkreport

Lance - whether they are charged a token fee or not isn't material to the matter. If it were economical to construct the spaces specifically to extract money from the inhabitants at a market rate, or as a perk necessary to sell apartments, legislated minimums would not be necessary. Legislated minimums are only used when the developer doesn't think he can make use of the space economically by building parking that pays for itself, and would rather build something else - but the government requirements force him to anyway. If legislated minimums are necessary, it implies that non-carowners are paying extra for their neighbors to drive. This is not a statement of opinion, it is a literal cause-effect relationship.

Since this is a specific expenditure within the budget of the developers, the chain of causality is quite clear here, in a way that it isn't with taxes and a general budget.

by Squalish on Nov 26, 2008 11:53 pm • linkreport

Michael, In the example you gave, the engineering firm that prepared that table included their estimate of the capital cost of a parking space and then added the present value of the interest payments that would be made if that cost were financed. This way of calculating the cost is equivalent to calculating the cost of a house as taking the price of the house, paid in cash, and adding the present value of all the mortgage payments that would be made if there were 100% financing. Using this methodology, the cost of a $500,000 house would be about $1,000,000. This type of obvious error does make me wonder about the rest of the analysis in this report, particularly when looking at the one-sided descriptions of the costs and benefits of various policies, where the authors exclude the many of the very factors that define the issue. GGW and others compound this by taking the estimate for the highest cost of parking construction and treating it as though it was the average or lower bound.

It is also interesting to note that the Weant and Levinson volume, Parking, cited in the Cambridge Systematics chart is cited in a San Francisco report on parking requirements and housing affordability as having the following recommendation: “In one widely cited volume on parking, Robert Weant and Herbert Levinson suggest that single family dwellings and three bedroom apartments should be required to provide two spaces per unit, one to two bedroom units should provide 1.5 spaces per unit, efficiency apartments should be required to provide one space per unit, and condominiums ought to offer 1.4 spaces per unit.” Note that DC requires as few as 0.25 spaces per unit for apartment and condominiums, while that report mentions that San Francisco requires one space per new dwelling unit.

Squalish, I think that many earlier posts in other parts of this blog and elsewhere have discussed the externality associated with providing inadequate parking in new buildings, and why relying on the developer’s profit motive alone does not address this issue. I will not rehash those here, since you seem to choose to ignore comments that provide a more complete analysis.

by Another economist on Nov 27, 2008 8:48 am • linkreport

Another Economist: Including the interest costs is an acceptable way of including the opportunity cost of the next best use of the capital needed to build the spaces. That aside, I did state in my post what the cost without interest and operations would be. It's not like I was trying to hide this fact.

I'll be sure to tell my mortgage company that I'm going to leave the interest payment off of my monthly payment since they're apparently not "real costs" anymore. Thanks!

The cost of a house may be $500,000, but if you're going to be paying for it in installments over the life of the assets, you have to include the interest.

Regarding your research into Weant and Levinson: So what? We're trying to establish the cost of providing an underground parking space, which I cited a credible source as being around $20,000 to $50,000 construction cost, or if you include the interest cost of spreading the payments out over the life of the asset, about $135 to 345. Please provide credible sources that cite a lower cost.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 27, 2008 11:16 am • linkreport

Another, you gave no citation for "a San Francisco report on parking requirements" so I can't judge whether your quotation is accurate or in context.

But I did find a San Francisco report on parking requirements that cites Weant and Levinson. Here's a quotation from its summary of Weant and Levinson:

For example, in an area zoned at a high density with high transit accessibility, a development would be limited to a maximum number of allowable spaces. In an area zoned at a medium density, developers could be required to provide both a minimum and a maximum number of allowable spaces while developers building in a lower density area would have only a

minimum number of allowable spaces required. These min/max districts can be tailored to the specific sites within cities such as redevelopment sites or new development areas.

by Ben Ross on Nov 27, 2008 11:19 am • linkreport

Another Economist: Well aren't we nitpicky? First, I didn't address that, and second, I acknowledged that there are other externalities in my previous post (" 'First come first serve' for scarce parking is visibly, demonstrably time- & fuel-inefficient for all. "). My immediate issue was with the denial by Lance that parking minimums force non-driving tenants to subsidize driving tenants. They do. Whether that is warranted or not is a question which brings in a great many other variables.

Regarding the San Fransisco report - So? DC's minimum parking requirements are a quarter what they say, and the city hasn't imploded. Mass transit obviously allows a lessening of parking requirements, and San Fransisco as a whole no longer adheres to the car-centric requirements it adopted in the 50's.

by Squalish on Nov 27, 2008 12:26 pm • linkreport

“Please provide credible sources that cite a lower cost.”

Michael: The Office of Planning Hearing Report, Case 04-33, July 15, 2005, Attachment, page 3. Based on interviews with DC developers, the Office of Planning estimated that the cost of underground parking had a range of $26,250 to $36,900 per space. The lower end of the range was based on a garage that had a cost of $75-80 a square foot for 1-3 levels, and the higher end of the range was based on a garage that had a cost of $85-90 a square foot for 4-5 levels. According to that report, "standard below-grade parking typically might require 350 sf – 375 sf per space, with less efficient parking exceeding 410 sf per space.” So the $36,900 space would be a space with the highest cost per square foot in a 4-5 level underground garage and with the least efficient parking layout. In this proceeding, the developers knew that it was in their interest to overestimate rather than underestimate the cost.

“I'll be sure to tell my mortgage company that I'm going to leave the interest payment off of my monthly payment since they're apparently not "real costs" anymore. Thanks!”

Michael, In the example, the consultants calculated first the full cost of the space, i.e., as if you paid cash for the house, and then added on the present value of the interest cost as though you had a mortgage for the full price of the house--in addition to having had paid cash for the full price of the house. If you paid for your house in cash, then you shouldn’t be paying any interest. Perhaps economist Cavan can explain to you why this is double counting. And you found one source that estimates the cost at $20,000 to $50,000, and seem to offer this as evidence to support GGW’s repeated claim that the cost is $60,000. Again, at the Zoning Commission hearing, none of the advocates for eliminating minimum parking requirements, except David, claimed that the cost was nearly that high. As noted above, David seems to have obtained his estimate from an unnamed developer, and used it repeatedly until others seem to assume that it had a basis.

Squalish, I have seen no evidence presented here or elsewhere that non-driving tenants in DC are subsidizing those tenants who are renting parking spaces at market rates. You seem to offer a theory that ignores the fact that absent the minimum parking requirements, the developer is being subsidized by the residents of nearby neighborhoods, a subsidy that includes the extra traffic and pollution costs that Shoup quantifies, a direct result of inadequate off-street parking when the residents of those new apartment buildings circle the neighborhood streets looking for parking. Even with the minimum parking requirements, the nearby neighborhoods subsidize the developer, but the requirements limit that subsidy.

by Another economist on Nov 27, 2008 2:40 pm • linkreport

AE: Assuming only the construction costs would be the right way to think about costs if the person using the space were to deliver a check for all parking up front, once the space is put in service. That's not how drivers pay for commercial parking. They pay using monthly, weekly, or even hourly payments, stretched out over 25 years or more.

Consider a developer that decides to build additional parking spaces in their building, and they don't want to be in the parking business. So they sell the spaces once the building is built to a parking management company, who pays somewhere between 20,000-50,000 (1997 dollars as cited above) based on construction costs.

Now the parking management company wants to make money on its investment. They're coming up with how much to charge per month to get back their startup capital as well as a profit. It would be a terrible business practice to only charge enough to repay the capital costs, because it would be hard to find investors willing only to get their money back. The investors are going to want to be paid back their costs with interest. The parking management company also has operating costs which need to be paid as part of the monthly charge.

Therefore, there are two "costs" that are relevant for underground parking. The up-front construction costs, which are between $25,700 and $64,300 in 2007 dollars (20-50K in 1997 dollars), and the monthly charge for the same parking, which is between $173 and $444 in 2007 dollars ($135 to 345 in 1997 dollars). The construction cost does not include interest, the monthly cost includes interest (which represents the profit on the investment) as well as operating costs (lighting, ventilation, security, administration, parking attendants, etc.)

Unless the person that's going to be parking pays the whole construction costs up front, you have to include the interest charge. When I bought my house, the old owner may have gotten $500K (or whatever), but I certainly am not paying $500K / 360 months = $1387. I'm going to pay about double that ($2684) because I don't have all the money up front. I may own a $500,000 house, but it is going to cost me a lot more over the long term, and those costs are reflected in my monthly payments.

I don't know David's source for the $50-60K underground parking cost, and it may be on the high end of the range, but it's not unreasonable based on a couple of sources (the FTA study as well as the Montgomery County proposal). I don't speak for David. I'm providing a different source which points in the same direction for the construction cost for an underground space.

Let's see, you failed to account for inflation even when I said the cost estimates were more than 10 years ago, and gave the inflation conversion factor and basis, you don't understand the difference between up-front construction costs and long-term costs including the time value of money and operating costs, you accuse people of not citing sources, then when sources are cited you discount them completely based on your misunderstanding of what's being reported. You accuse people of posting anonymously even though your name is given as "Another Economist", and you offer no cites for your assertions.

Are you a troll?

by Michael Perkins on Nov 27, 2008 4:32 pm • linkreport

I found the document you cited with respect to the Office of planning, it's here:,A,1283,Q,630339.asp

The cost cited for construction did not include "soft costs" like engineering, design, licensing and construction interest (the interest construction companies pay on money borrowed to make payroll or rent equipment). These costs were stated as around 20%, which would take 26,000 to 39,000 up to 31,000 to 47,000. Are we really arguing about the difference in estimates here? Can we just agree that the price of underground parking can be in excess of $30,000 per space?

by Michael Perkins on Nov 27, 2008 4:51 pm • linkreport

"but it is going to cost me a lot more over the long term, and those costs are reflected in my monthly payments."

Perhaps Cavan will explain how to compute a present discounted value.

In terms of the other costs that you want to add, the relevant issue to address whether condominium owners who don't buy parking are subsidizing those that do, etc. Is the marginal cost of providing underground parking in a building covered by the prices paid, or the parking fees for apartments? The marginal engineering and other costs for the underground parking is not necessarily 20%, which was the average “soft costs” for the entire project, as you suggest. For example, do the approval costs increase when there is underground parking? In addition, five-level underground parking would be unusual for residential buildings in the District, so the costs would be at the lower end of that scale.

David consistently used the $60,000 cost figure to “prove” many of his claims about the impact of minimum parking requirements. You might want to go back to each of the instances in which David did an analysis based on a minimum cost of $60,000. Recalculate based on the more reasonable estimate, which is less than half that amount, and you will find that in most instances the conclusion is reversed.

BTW, I chose to post here only after taking offense at seeing a series of posts which used the expression “think like an economist” by posters claiming to be economists and totally misrepresenting how a well-trained economist would actually discuss the issue at hand.

by AE on Nov 27, 2008 6:32 pm • linkreport


If the drivers are able to pay the market rate for the space & construction expenses of the parking, no minimum requirement is necessary.

If a minimum requirement is used, it indicates that the developer doesn't believe he can get a market rate for the spaces in fees from renters, and would rather not construct them. A minimum requirement's mission is to force these developers to build parking anyway.

Thus, wherever the minimum requirement is necessary to force a developer to build parking, it increases the net cost of the entire complex by increasing the cost of construction. Whether the drivers are charged or not is irrelevant - because according to the developer's research, they can't be charged enough to make building the spaces economical (they can't be charged a market rate). That cost is passed directly onto the entire building in increased rent.

Specific figures or situations really don't matter, this is basic logical thinking about costs and who pays them.

By the way, in order to fit with your criteria, I'd like to ask for a peer-reviewed reference for every sentence you've written here. In particular the "nearby neighborhoods subsidize condominiums" - under what definition of subsidy is that? Only one which involves crossing the borders of a special tax district, or one which involves single-family-homeowners having some by-right claim to the streetside parking in front of their houses.

by Squalish on Nov 27, 2008 7:59 pm • linkreport

Squalish, I have seen posts in other parts of this blog that address why the developer’s profit maximization does not adequately account for the impact on nearby neighborhoods, and will not rehash those here. It does appear, however, some of the regular posters do not agree with the District’s stated policies to protect it stable single-family neighborhoods and have a different vision for DC with a mostly young population housed in apartments and condominiums and consistently shows intolerance toward other segments of the District’s economically and demographically diverse population.

by AE on Nov 28, 2008 7:50 am • linkreport

"Perhaps Cavan will explain how to compute a present discounted value."

"Perhaps economist Cavan can explain to you why this is double counting"

"If anonymous Cavan's conclusions... "

"Are you a troll?"

Based on the above comments, it would appear so.

"I will not rehash those here, since you seem to choose to ignore comments that provide a more complete analysis. "

"BTW, I chose to post here only after taking offense at seeing a series of posts which used the expression “think like an economist” by posters claiming to be economists and totally misrepresenting how a well-trained economist would actually discuss the issue at hand."

Is that what you really think? For any position, you can always get some economist to run some analysis that had initial assumptions that basically guarantee the conclusion that is most favorable to the person who paid for the study. I suppose you are thinking like that kind of economist. You already have a view and are using your economic training to bolster your view. That's ok. We all have views. However, your supposed "economic" view is clearly not automatically correct and everyone else wrong just because of your training. Just as mine isn't. It's just like building the Metro. There were consultants and engineers and economists and amateurs who ran a huge number of different studies. Some said that it was a good idea to build it. Some said it was awful and the world would end. Some called for cancellation of the Metro and to use some sort of BRT system (of course on the freeways that had already been cancelled). Some wanted more. In the end, it was a values decision. You just ask yourself, "what kind of city do you want tomorrow?" If you want cars and traffic, plan for cars and traffic. If you want people and places, plan for people and places.

This discussion has a lot in common with the studies before and during the construction of the Metro. At the end of the day, no one could build a model that accounted for every future factor. Every model had something left out and came to the conclusion that coincided with the views of the person who did the study. We also have to remember that we now have something that they didn't have in the 1960's: experience. We have gone full circle with the car culture. We now know its strengths and weaknesses. We also know that we don't have enough oil in our country to feed it. We don't have enough asphalt for all these roads. We need walkable communities again. Walkable communities and space for cars are antithetical to each other. At thanksgiving dinner last night, people who are the same age as my parents (early 60s) were waxing nostalgic for their old neighborhood (in their case, Norfolk, VA but my dad and his sisters have said basically the same things about where they grew up in the South Side of Pittsburgh) and how great the community was and how much they miss knowing their neighbors. All these were discriptions of walkable neighborhoods. What we've been doing for the past 60 years has been antithetical to a walkable place. If all you have is cars and roads, you have no community. Everything is too far apart.

Now, I just painted a picture and described a basic argument for doing a policy. I didn't use any numbers. There are many professionals out there who do that, as has been cited earlier in this thread. And, I didn't poke anyone by calling them "anonymous" or whatever else. It's a shame when someone just calls everyone else stupid and asks for citations but offers none of his own, then poo-poos those citations as not being good enough for his rigorous standards. Sadly, these standards seem to exclude anything that does not back up his viewpoint.

by Cavan on Nov 28, 2008 9:46 am • linkreport

Cavan, as someone who lives in a walkable DC neighborhood and knows his neighbors and partakes of all the wonderful things you talk about, I can state flatly that YES it is indeed possible to have all that AND make use of a car to expand one's possibilities. Actually, it's not only possible, but very very desireable. It's really not an "either/or" situation.

by Lance on Nov 28, 2008 11:13 am • linkreport

Lance, first off, it's so good to talk to you again rather than AE. Now we can get back to discussion ideas and issues rather than deriding each other.

I don't think that cars have no place. I own one. It's parked in front of my house. I just don't think that we should build our communities around them. That includes laws that guarantee space for cars.

by Cavan on Nov 28, 2008 11:18 am • linkreport

Cavan, It seems that AE simply pointed out that some of the posts made some basic errors, such as double counting of costs and calculating costs by adding up future interest payment, rather than calculating a present discounted value of future payments. Shouldn't these types of errors be addressed? Is pointing out obvious errors what defines a troll?

by Andy on Nov 28, 2008 11:52 am • linkreport

Andy, I doubt anyone has any problems with facts or errors. I certainly don't. The troll stuff is the comments I put in quotation marks two comments ago. It was directed at me rather than my ideas. That's not good. It also the insistence that others are stupid who don't have numbers that agree with him. It was also demanding citations without subjecting himself to those levels of scrutiny. Those were the frustrating parts.

by Cavan on Nov 28, 2008 1:12 pm • linkreport

Cavan, I took those posts as deferring to your background, an M.A. in economics, to suggest that you might explain these basic economic concepts to Michael.

On your latest post, I am concerned that your conclusions do seem to be based on your assumption: "Walkable communities and space for cars are antithetical to each other."

Like Lance, I live in a walkable community in the District. My nieghborhood includes single family houses on small lots, more than 17-20 units an acre, with many families owning a vehicle. There is a Metro and stores nearby, but many families find a car necessary given their many obligations, including getting to jobs at locations or times that aren't well-served by public transportation, shopping for a family with a time constraint which makes daily walks to a supermarket untenable, as well as after-school activities and friends and family which would be difficult to reach without a car. This is a DC neighborhood that fits the description in your post, where people knows their neighbors, offer rides to neighbors who don't drive, shovel sidewalks for the elderly residents and walk to many neighborhood shops. This type of neighborhood would be placed at risk if zoning changes and parking requirements are based on a naive application of "smart growth" slogans.

by Andy on Nov 28, 2008 1:33 pm • linkreport

How would the community be placed at risk? No one has proposed to outlaw cars or parking. The only proposal has been to not mandate parking minimums, leaving it up to the property owner to decide. Commenters on this thread have also pointed out the large costs of parking construction.

It's great that everyone knows their neighbors. However, don't you wish that the community was laid out in a way such that it was not essential to give rides to those who don't drive?

By this sentence: "Walkable communities and space for cars are antithetical to each other." I meant that the more space you give to cars and traffic, the farther apart the stuff for people becomes. The farther apart things are, the less convenient it is to walk. The car becomes essential rather than a nice thing to have. I argue that should not be the case. A driver's license should not be required to perform the daily functions of life. Contrast your neighborhood with Capitol Hill or Logan Circle or Bethesda. No car necessary in those places becase everything, including transit, is in a roughly 10 minute walk. A resident of one of those places chooses whether or not they want a car. They choose how often they use it. Contrast that to a place like Bowie or Leesburg. Very different. Because everything is so spread out, you are a prisoner in your house without a car. In his book "Option of Urbanism", C. Leinburger describes car dependent and walkable places in terms of Floor Area Ratio (FAR). That makes sense in describing whether distances are on a human or automobile scale.

This passage from one of my above comments is a decent response to your question:

"Cars aren't going away. And, truthfully, that's ok. I own one. I use it to go to places where there isn't transit. However, we should not be building our places for cars. We should build them at the human scale for human beings. The car should be the guest in a human environment, not the other way around. Most of what we've built since World War II has been for cars, with humans being the interlopers."

Here is another passage from an above quote:

"With more housing in the same urban grid, there is more demand for businesses. With more businesses, there is more amenities in walking distance. With more stuff in walking distance, there is less need to drive. With less driving, there is less demand for parking. With more density, bus/rail transportation to get to places out of walking distance becomes more practical"

Here is a quote that describes where parking fits into the equation:

"Remember, free parking is not free. We all pay for it, whether we use it or not. Any parking structure is costly (as highlighted in previous comments) to build and maintain. Those costs get passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, regardless of whether or not they drove to the store. There are also the externalities of pollution from the runoff and extra traffic congestion that resulted from discretionary car trips that were induced by the convenience of the parking lot."

Here is a quote (also from one of my above comments) that sums up part of why I think the way I do:

"It just so happens that car-dependent infrastructure is far more expensive for society [than a walkable street grid]. I am advocating a fiscally conservative position."

by Cavan on Nov 28, 2008 2:04 pm • linkreport

"It seems that AE simply pointed out that some of the posts made some basic errors, such as double counting of costs and calculating costs by adding up future interest payment, rather than calculating a present discounted value of future payments."

AE was pointing these out as errors, but in my opinion they are not errors. It depends on what number you're trying to find.

If you want the construction cost for a space, leave off the interest and the operating costs, and you get somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000. I explicitly stated these numbers as construction costs and made it clear that interest was not to be included when figuring the cost for building a space.

The other calculation is for monthly parking space rent. If you want how much people ought to be paying for the spaces on a monthly basis, then you have to include the operating costs and interest (which are separate expenses) and you get somewhere in the $150 to $350 range per month. The interest represents the profit that an investor should make on their investment of capital and should not be excluded unless you believe that investors are not entitled to make any money on their investments. Even if the investor paid cash for the space and doesn't have a real loan to any other entity (like a bondholder or a bank), the investors are going to expect a return on their investment or they'll take their capital elsewhere. After all, somebody owns those parking spaces, and the value of the space is what profit you can make off of it, whether it be explicitly by charging people who park, or implicitly through higher building rents.

Interest is not part of the immediate, up-front construction cost, though it could be converted to a one-time charge by calculating the net present value if necessary. I do not believe such a calculation is necessary because the desired number is a per-month charge, not the present value of all the parking charges for the life of the parking space. This is equivalent to trying to find the mortgage payment for your house, which includes all costs like interest. It's a relevant number for comparing how much various buildings charge the public for monthly parking contracts, for example. It doesn't matter so much to me that I'm going to be paying over a million dollars over 30 years for a house or that I signed a contract giving the former owner around a half million, but it does matter to me what my monthly payment is and how many payments I have to make.

The study I cited earlier (10:06 on Wed) about interest cost made it very clear, as did I, that the cited value in addition to the construction cost was the present value of the interest over the life of the asset, so that "error" pointed out by AE was actually already addressed and stated explicitly.

I already understand how to calculate and convert between sinks and streams and between future and present values. The tricky part is to make proper assumptions for discount rates as opposed to the expected rate of return on the investment. I'm pretty sure the calculations done for the FTA study assumed an interest rate above the discount rate, which is where the positive net present value for interest comes from. It would be hard to argue that the expected interest rate should be equal or smaller than the discount rate, because that implies that the investor/owner is expecting no profits on their risk of operating a parking garage. In that case it would be safer for the same return for them to invest in some super-safe investment like government bonds or insured accounts.

I'd appreciate any correction or backup from anyone except AE at this point. I already understand that AE doesn't agree.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 28, 2008 2:18 pm • linkreport

In economic contexts, it appears that the proper term is "Stocks and Flows" as opposed to the mathematical/engineering "sinks and streams". My bad.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 28, 2008 2:44 pm • linkreport

for thousands of years people have lived in towns and in cities, raised families and had no cars. For anyone to insist that cars are somehow an absolute necessity- well- maybe you are better off being a car salesman. Yes it can be done- you can live in a city like DC w/o a car. Some 40% of DC's population doesnt drive or own cars. And what is it with these people that complain about parking as some kind of "right" when they live a block from a Metro station and own 3 cars? I see this and hear from these lunatics all of the time. CRAZY if you ask me. I can think of much better ways to spend disposable income.

by w on Nov 28, 2008 4:42 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure people are saying that owning a car in DC is an absolute necessity. A lot of people would agree that it does open up a wider array of goods, services and employment options, as well as significantly improves convenience.

The only problem is, while choosing to own a car may be good for you, everyone choosing to own a lot of cars and drive them everywhere imposes costs on everybody. That's why there needs to be a balance between society's interest in reducing unnecessary cars and car travel, and the convenience and versatility that individuals gain when they choose to drive.

It's going to be a balance between competing interests.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 28, 2008 4:55 pm • linkreport

In 2006, 36% of DC households did not have a vehicle available.

One-person households were a disproportionate share of the households without a car: 48% of DC’s one-person households did not own a car.

And a disproportionate share of those 36% of DC households included no working individuals in the household: 54% of the DC households with no workers did not own a car, but only 14% of households with two or more workers did not own a car.

And a disproportionate share of those 36% of DC households were renters, rather than owner-occupants: 52% of renting households in DC did not own a car, while 17% of households that own their home do not also own a car.

Certainly, DC welcomes singles, renters and households where none of the members work, but a healthy city also needs to welcome families that have jobs and will invest in owner-occupied housing and the future of their city.

As Michael says, there needs to be a balance, and this means that we need to maintain DC’s improving and stable single family neighborhoods. I might also note that even if DC families own cars, many drive far less than many suburban families. Adopting policies that make DC unattractive to families will mean that some families will find the suburbs more attractive, and move to suburbs where they find that they need to drive more often. Spillover parking from new apartment buildings is one factor that has prompted some of my neighbors to move to suburban Maryland. Quality of schools, of course, is another.

by JW on Nov 28, 2008 5:38 pm • linkreport

I'm touched by the suffering of all the homeowners in Cleveland Park and Spring Valley. Surely they need greater subsidies from DC's renters.

by tt on Nov 28, 2008 6:58 pm • linkreport

"Contrast your neighborhood with Capitol Hill or Logan Circle or Bethesda. No car necessary in those places becase everything, including transit, is in a roughly 10 minute walk."

My neighborhood, which is also David's neighborhood, would fall in the same category as the ones you list above ... yet, I can't agree that "no car necessary" is true. I know people who do that, but I also know that they're reach around the metro area is fairly limited. Perhaps if this were Manhattan I'd be willing to trade my easy reach into any part of the metro area at any time for the freedom of having everything with a 10 minute walk. But downtown Washington isn't Manhattan.a

by Lance on Nov 29, 2008 12:09 am • linkreport

Lance, how can you possibly say that a car is necessary and in the next sentence say that you know people who don't have one? There is a difference between "desirable" and "necessary."

A car feels "necessary" to many people who want to live an affluent lifestyle. Anyone who buys a house in Cleveland Park has enough money to live that lifestyle. But most of the city's residents earn less. Some of them choose between owning a car and eating in nice restaurants; others choose between owning a car and putting food on the table. The policies supported by Lance and JW would tax these less affluent residents of the city (directly and through higher rents and store prices) to make owning an automobile in Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle just as convenient as in Potomac.

If parking is made scarce, houses in Dupont Circle and Cleveland Park will be less attractive to people who like cars, decline somewhat in value (while still remaining expensive), and tend to be bought by people who are less attached to automobiles. They will still be the attractive to families with children - more attractive to everyone to the extent that they are more affordable, less attractive to those who like to drive. A greater portion of them will be occupied by parents who are attracted by the freedom of not having to drive your kids everywhere.

Whether the net shift in DC house ownership will be from parents to non-parents or the reverse is an empirical question and very hard to predict. Single-family homes are owned predominantly by families with children and empty-nesters, and it's not obvious to me which of these two groups has a greater preference for autos. (Parents need to transport kids, but they are younger, and there is a pronounced generational shift in attitudes toward driving.)

What parking minimums do is this. They impose an indirect tax that causes, on the whole, a transfer of wealth from the less affluent to the more affluent. They make it harder to maintain a pleasant urban fabric. (We can argue about whether they make it impossible, but they surely make it more expensive.) What we get in exchange is the hope - unproven and doubtful - that more families will live in the city. I find that a very bad bargain

by tt on Nov 29, 2008 8:32 am • linkreport

"more attractive to everyone to the extent that they are more affordable"

tt, perhaps one of our economists can explain to you why your statement is an oxymoron ... i.e. why something that is more attractive to everyone commands a higher price than something that isn't (and as such can't also be MORE affordable.) That might go a long ways in helping you understand why your zero sum game thinking is fundamentally flawed. (Though it is what people who don't understand economics tend to do.) The only bit of truth to to it is that 'yes' if we cut down parking in the District we put it at a disadvantage in being able to draw from all types of people and make it only attractive to those who have few other options (either because they can't afford to relocate out) OR those because they are so wealthy enough that they can afford to buy their way around the problems (e.g. they can buy parking at any price).

If you haven't been around long enough to see what happened the last time this occurred in the District, then go read some history books and find out why the parking minimums were instrumental in turning back the scenario you advocate ... Why having a healthy middle class in the Distrct, including in Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle, is desireable for everyone.

What you're advocating is to destroy the city so that it can be made 'affordable'.

by Lance on Nov 29, 2008 11:39 am • linkreport

Lance, please read what I wrote more carefully. I guess I have to add some boring detail. My point was precisely that making subsidized parking less available would reduce the demand for houses, and therefore lower house prices. The prices would go down to the point where demand equals supply. Since the supply is fixed in this case, the net total demand would also stay the same. Demand would increase among those for whom the gain in affordability outweighed the loss of parking, and decrease among those for whom the loss of parking outweighed the gain in affordability. So the houses would be demanded less by wealthier and more auto-oriented people, and demanded more by less wealthy and less auto-oriented people. Whether the net effect would be a gain or loss of families with children is uncertain.

In any case, it's ridiculous to say that subsidizing parking in Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle is necessary to retain the middle class. People who can afford houses in those areas today are middle class? No, the effect of policies that guarantee on-street parking for homeowners in such areas is to create enclaves for the extremely wealthy from which the rest of the community is excluded.

by tt on Nov 29, 2008 12:56 pm • linkreport

"So the houses would be demanded less by wealthier and more auto-oriented people, and demanded more by less wealthy and less auto-oriented people."

As I said, you need look no futher than what happened last time the District was at a serious disadvantage to its suburban neighbors ... The value of many of these homes did just exactly as you say ... and the homes got subdivided and turned into either rooming houses, boarding houses, multi-family, or commercial properties. And the only people left in the city where either those who couldn't contribute to supporting the city or those who were so extremely wealthy that they could buy their way around the issues here. It wasn't a healthy city because it was lacking the vast middle-class ... The portion of the population that pays for most services in a city.

As JW pointed out above with stats, the demographics you are pointing to (i.e., the carless folks) tend not to be the ones working and therefore paying for the services in the city. Nor do they tend to be the homeowners. Put bluntly, they tend to be the ones who take far more from the communal pot than they contribute to it ... which means you end up with wealthy enclaves where those with the means just end up isolating themselves (think Georgetown in the '70s) and with vast swaths of the city where no one other than those stuck there would want to live.

The bottom line is that the city needs to be attractive to the middle class too for it to be healthy ... and the middle class in the 21st century does not live without a car being a necessity ... at least not in a city the size of DC.

by Lance on Nov 29, 2008 9:36 pm • linkreport

Lance, the major mistake you make is in associating automobility with mobility. They are not the same.

Finally, to assert that the middle class needs cars is foolhardy. Even if they required the use of a car (a dubious assumption), a strong transportation and land use program can ensure that they need one car instead of two, or can supplement that with zipcar, mass transit, etc. Furthermore, even assuming that these families need cars, the assumption that minimum parking requirements are the proper policy is very twisted logic.

Any assertion that tries to look at historical trends is going to run into any number of confounding variables. Your comment about decline in certain areas of the District and the subsequent revitalization holds no water because those parking policies you'd advocate for have been in place since the 1950s. They've seen the decline, the bottom, and the resurrection - and it seems pretty obvious that there have been other factors involved.

You can make your case, but let's try to keep the arguments honest.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2008 12:12 pm • linkreport

When you defend your assertion that all people building homes in the District need to be forced to build parking for those homes with the assertion that that's the only way we'll be able to prevent the poor & superrich from taking over the city and depriving it of tax revenues...

Doesn't it bother you just a little that you were pointing fingers at your opponents and saying "The government deserves no role is social engineering" on the same topic a short time ago?

Also, you can look at many urban areas in the US and around the world with thriving middle classes without resorting to time travel.

by Squalish on Nov 30, 2008 3:22 pm • linkreport


Social engineering is a concept in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups. In the political arena the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.

i.e., to change what "is" today to something different.

What "is" today is that the average person/family relies extensively on automobiles. To ensure that developers provide sufficient parking to allow what already 'is' isn't social engineering.

I agree, I can't think of one urban area in the US that has had to resort to "time travel" back to the 19th century/ pre-car era to thrive. Can you name one?

by Lance on Nov 30, 2008 10:12 pm • linkreport

So Lance, your premise seems to be that the government has no business changing the status quo.

What "is" is serious traffic jams on the Beltway. You must feel that any effort to change that would be evil social engineering. Certain parts of D.C. have a high homicide rate. We wouldn't want to engage in social engineering to change that, would we?

by tt on Nov 30, 2008 10:25 pm • linkreport

Lance, I think you're confusing the pre-car with the pre-car dependency eras. People had cars between the world wars, yet they still built places on the human scale.

It wasn't until after World War II, roughly 50 years after the invention of the horseless carriage, that car-dependent places were built en masse. Hence why parking minimums weren't passed until the 1950s, not the 1900's.

There are places all around the industrialized world that never instituted parking minimums or built their human settlements for cars rather than people that exist today. I would hardly call Japan or Spain or England backwards places when it comes to living standards. It's quite a stretch to claim that car ownership is equal to living standards. It was only viewed that way in the United States from roughly 1960 until 2002ish, depending on the region.

When I tell old friends who don't live in a major city that I rarely drive my car and that I walk to the Metro to go to work, they react with jealousy. Though I wasn't there, I'm sure that's quite the opposite of how an average 20-something in the 20th century would have reacted.

by Cavan on Nov 30, 2008 10:27 pm • linkreport

tt, it's not so much as 'not a right to change the status quo' as 'not shutting out an entire segment of the population' ... that segment of the population that pays the bills to boot!

by Lance on Nov 30, 2008 10:35 pm • linkreport

Lance, I don't know how anyone is supposed to debate you intelligently if you keep coming up with a new position instead of defending the one you just stated.

You don't seem to have any problem with shutting an entire segment of the population, the segment that likes to walk and take transit, out of Potomac, Germantown, Frederick County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, etc.

Your outlook seems to boil down to the idea that the world should be arranged for the convenience of a narrow segment of the population that can afford to own a single-family house that's a short walk from the Metro.

by tt on Nov 30, 2008 10:45 pm • linkreport


You've actually pinpointed what is the problem ... though you probably don't realize it. YOU are fortunate to have lucked into an ideal situation for you that doesn't your requiring having to commute to a different place than where you want to live, but not everyone is that fortunate (eg. your envious friends). You are fortunate enough not to have to worry about dropping off one kid to soccer practice and another across town to karate lessons. But again, not everyone is so lucky. You might want everyone to live just like you do, i.e., with everything you do (and want to do/have responsibility to do) within a short walk of where you live. But you can't/shouldn't be dictating that. It's a basic human freedom that others should be let to decide for themselves what they want. tt is correct, the policies you are advocating shut out people from our cities ... ironically, the very same people who pay the bulk of the bills in our cities. How would address what tt predicted as occuring? Can you deny that he is correct?

by Lance on Nov 30, 2008 10:53 pm • linkreport

tt, who's talking about someone "who can afford to own a single family house that's a short walk to the Metro"? I thought we were talking about parking minimums. i.e.. that people buying/renting an apartment should have the opportunity to buy/rent reserved parking along with their apartment? You come into this very single focused .. i.e., I think I hear you saying "how can we discourage people with money from buying the house I might want to buy?" Oh wait, I DID hear you basically say that. I don't think you and Cavan (or the other smart growth folks) are on the same page. You're not looking for smart growth (or any growth in particular). You're just looking to get a house for a bargain. BUT your predictions of what happen when you cut out parking are on target.

by Lance on Nov 30, 2008 10:59 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us