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


Smart Growth and business folks talk parking

Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Downtown BID's Alex Block, and I talked with Bruce DePuyt this morning about parking policy.

Part 2:

DePuyt phrased the issue well early in the discussion: the simple challenge is that not everyone can park in a place like downtown. Some people need to drive, but everyone can't, so the basic policy debate is how to allocate limited spaces among different people in the "fairest" way, whatever that is (special set-asides for groups like residents or those with disabilities, market forces, and/or our current policy, allocating based on who will tolerate the most circling to find a spot or who gets lucky).

If DC changes its policies in this realm, it's not about "discouraging" people from driving; as a number of you pointed out in the comments on some recent articles, it's DC's growth, not a government conspiracy, that's making parking scarcer. All the government can do is change the way it manages the available space, for better or worse.

Block also noted that businesses in the BID don't expect they can gain customers by increasing parking, because it's not practical. Instead, what they want is a good parking "experience": making it easier to find where the empty spaces are, smoother methods of payment, etc.

Our discussion came in advance of a parking "summit" DDOT is holding this Tuesday 12/4, 6:30 pm at One Judiciary Square/441 4th Street, NW to talk about what they learned from their recent community meetings, survey, and our online chat. Councilmember Mary Cheh is also holding a hearing on the residential permit parking system Friday at 11 am.

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 »

Nice seeing you this morning Dave.

in terms of the "more people = less parking" I call BS. We do have more residents in DC -- and in a few areas around downtown than 10 or 20 years ago. Positive. However, I doubt there are that many more jobs.

And besides, we all know 100% of the new residents are car-free...

I now find it easier to park in Georgetown rather than the west end. It isn't the new jobs -- it is the ongoing removal on on street parking.

by charlie on Dec 3, 2012 4:10 pm • linkreport

in terms of the "more people = less parking" I call BS. We do have more residents in DC -- and in a few areas around downtown than 10 or 20 years ago. Positive. However, I doubt there are that many more jobs.


So by BS, do you mean you don't think more people means a) more potential car owners, and b) more demand on public space (which parking comes out of)?

And besides, we all know 100% of the new residents are car-free...

So...are you being snarky, or do you really think that (which your earlier point would lead us to believe).

I can't say if it's easier to park in Georgetown--it's always been tough, and doesn't seem any different today. But it's certainly more difficult to park in places like east of Capitol Hill and around H Street. Hard to see how that's anything but new residents.

by Oboe on Dec 3, 2012 4:20 pm • linkreport

@Oboe; no question on eastern Capital HIll and H St.

In no strech of the imimation are those "downtown."

by charlie on Dec 3, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

I haven't found that much has changed in most residential neighborhoods. Where things have changed a lot is downtown. The problem isn't just the number of spots (which has certainly gone down). It's the difficulty in figuring out whether you can actually park somewhere legally.

You've got signs that try to indicate that you can park for a certain length of time in some times of day, other lengths of time for other times of day, free during yet other times of day. You've got handicapped only, zip car, loading zone, valet, temporary restrictions due to the ubiquitous construction. You've got meters in some places, kiosks in other places. You've got exceptions to the exceptions.

Finally, you've got parking garages that apparently have no incentive to take short-term parkers, and so charge $10 or more minimum - meaning if you're just trying to park for an appointment or an errand, it's totally outrageous and you really HAVE to park on the street.

Parking downtown is baffling. It's always been hard to get a spot. The problem now is, you can't tell whether or not what you've found is actually a spot or not, making it orders of magnitude harder - because you take yourself out of the game just to discover it's not really a spot.

The upshot of this is that I've started to take my business elsewhere. Some of the doctors I used to visit downtown (from when I worked there) have suburban office hours now. Even though it would be easier for me to just drive downtown in the morning for an appointment and go to work directly from there, since I live pretty close to downtown, I sometimes just use their Bethesda (or wherever) office hours instead and go from work during the day to avoid the headache. (I could metro, but it that would add easily 90 minutes to the roundtrip, again not worth it). I definitely do not seek out downtown providers any more, since it's so difficult to drive there.

Bethesda is no fun. But they have some parking garages that aren't outrageous, so you can at least plan on being able to park SOMEWHERE even if all else fails. The only way you can plan on that in DC, is to pay $10 or more and deal with the major inconvenience of a possibly valet-managed garage.

by Jamie on Dec 3, 2012 4:34 pm • linkreport

There are definitely neighborhoods where residents feel that parking has become more scarce. On the other hand, there are a lot of neighborhoods where it hasn't changed much. Alex Block also pushed back on the idea that parking downtown has become much scarcer; he said people have long had trouble finding spaces there.

by David Alpert on Dec 3, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

I don't dispute that parking is harder in some neighborhoods - I've never lived in one in DC that didn't shift that way over some period of time. What I mean by "not much has changed" is that it's still the same ballgame. You get a sticker, you can park wherever you find a spot. (Unless you live on an increasingly rare unzoned block, in which case, you can't get a sticker and can only park on your block, for some reason nobody's ever adequately explained).

But I don't sympathize at all with the notion that residential parking should be protected. It shouldn't, it's a community resource. It should be available for all users equally. The idea that you "own" the parking in front of your house is silly to me. If you want to own parking, then BUY IT.

Maybe I'm just coming from having lived in hard-to-park places my entire life in DC. I parked on the street in Adams Morgan for three years; it's never been harder than that in my entire life, anywhere. I now life 4 blocks from DCUSA. I've been there 6 years. It's certainly harder to park than when I moved here, but who on earth could complain? The reason it's harder is because it's more desireable. It's much better here now.

All these efforts to help make parking easier for residents don't really work: the problem isn't what you think it is. The problem is almost always too many cars owned by residents. That's certainly the problem on my street, even though I'm a block from the Coupe. I don't see very many people park and walk into Columbia Heights. I see the same cars every day, that weren't here a year or two ago. And its fine, it's life, I certainly anticipated this would happen (and if I didn't then I would have been a fool).

by Jamie on Dec 3, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

DC's unique lack of public garages is from the Barry/Antonelli days.

I've found more street parking spots in downtown open since the rates went way up.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 3, 2012 5:51 pm • linkreport

lack of garages predates Barry/Antonelli. See the Post obituary on Bud Doggett. The parking industry has lobbied Congress to prevent municipal parking garages for decades.

For a long time, I was against the concept of neighborhood garages. Now I am not, if only to free up street space for other uses.

Re Jamie's point, fwiw, I know in the H St. SNAP plan in 2001 we suggested charging more for more cars and more for bigger cars. It's never happened.

I will go to the thing tomorrow night. I don't expect very much from it. These kinds of issues could have been raised in the parking planning meeting I went to. But the DDOT facilitators weren't very knowledgeable and just didn't know enough about transportation planning generally and parking planning specifically to able to interpret what people were suggesting, and riffing from it to pathbreaking ideas. Maybe the other meetings were a lot better than the first one. I didn't attend any of the others.

by Richard Layman on Dec 3, 2012 7:15 pm • linkreport

Jamie wrote: "The problem is almost always too many cars owned by residents."

"Almost always," eh? Quite a generalization, I'd say. As someone who has lived three blocks from 13th and U for 10 years I can state categorically that that is not the major issue around here (although clearly the growth in the number of residents has added significantly to the scarcity of parking). The issue here is parking in the evening because so many people drive into the neighborhood to for dining, music, theatre, etc.

It might be overly simplistic but around here it seems to boil down to the question of who, if anyone, will get favored status in an era of fewer parking spaces and more demand for them -- residents (who pay mortgages, rent, and taxes to live here and have a vested interest in the neighborhood) or visitors (who spend money and help support our economy).

Both are important. I have a bias, of course, but I think setting aside some parking for residents is an over-the-top response.

by U Street Buzz on Dec 3, 2012 7:23 pm • linkreport

EDIT to the above comment: Last line should have read "setting aside some parking for residents ISN'T an over-the-top response."

Grrr...totally changed the point I was trying to make.

by U Street Buzz on Dec 3, 2012 9:38 pm • linkreport

"Quite a generalization, I'd say."

Certainly there are exceptions such as in very close proximity to popular business districts. 10th and U qualifies.

Again, though, you live at 10th and U. Were you unaware of the parking situation when you moved there? If you've been around since the 90's, do you think that two decades isn't a reasonable timeframe in which to expect some evolution?

As when I lived in Adams Morgan, that is part of the deal. You live in a very desireable, walkable area. It's a destination. The fact that it's a destination is what makes it desirable.

Setting aside parking for residents won't solve your problem. People own cars in proportion to how easy it is to own one. If this actually had any effect, it would be immediately compensated for by an increase in car ownership in your neighborhood.

Again: New York City is the perfect example of this effect. There are no parking restrictions save for meters in certain areas and street cleaning, that forces you to move your car twice a week. Obviously, parking pretty much anywhere in NYC on the street is far more difficult that pretty much anywhere in DC due to dramatic imbalance of supply and demand.

Yet it works. How is this? Because equilibrium must always be maintained in a closed system. At the margin, those who cannot afford to pay for parking or can;t deal with the hassle of moving their car and finding spaces will get rid of their car, or move elsewhere.

Anywhere that demand exceeds supply this is true. Demand certainly far exceeds supply in U Street. Any marginal amount to the supply -- a setaside for residents -- will be immediately consumed at the margin by someone choosing to keep a car who otherwise would have gotten rid of it.

by Jamie on Dec 4, 2012 8:56 am • linkreport

Richard- That obit of Doggett you mention is very good:

I guess Antonelli was just more high-profile in continuing this practice as Barry's benefactor.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 4, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

Hey, I didn't realize Alex was now working for the Downtown BID. Congrats!

by TM on Dec 4, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

What's more amazing is in a place like U Street you'll have people circling residential streets at night trying to find a "free" space when the garage at the Reeves Center has plenty of room. Same thing goes for the garage at DC USA in Columbia Heights. There has to be a way to better encourage their use.

by Adam on Dec 4, 2012 11:08 am • linkreport

Free parking and subsidized parking are like subsidizing climate change. Parking guru (or anti-parking guru) Donald Shoup explains how subsidized parking creates congestion and violates free-market principles: Parking costs should go up enough to create free flowing traffic; the money raised should go into public transit. Most people will then get around more easily, the need for car ownership will decline, and the environment will also be a winner.

by Ethan on Dec 5, 2012 7:49 am • 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