Greater Greater Washington

Parking


Why do we fight over parking?

On Friday, Councilmember Mary Cheh and the DC Council's transportation committee held a hearing on the Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program. This is adapted from the author's testimony on behalf of Ward 3 Vision.

Every neighborhood controversy, sooner or later, seems to come down to parking. Why is parking such a difficult issue?


Photo by Thomanication on Flickr.

This might seem like a silly question, but there are a lot of essential things in limited supply that we don't fight over. Take gasoline: We don't argue over who's entitled to gasoline or to how much. I can buy as much as I want, whenever I want.

When I go to the gas station, I don't have to worry that they may have run out of gasoline because I didn't get there early enough. The same could be said of milk, bread, clothes, and other essential things.

What if the government handled gasoline the same way it does free parking?

Imagine for a moment that each month the District somehow came into a lot of of gasoline, and set up a "residential gasoline program" where any resident could buy as much gas as they wanted for 10¢ a gallon, first come, first served.

What would happen? We'd all buy as much gasoline as we could, even if we didn't really need it. The supply would run out very quickly, and we'd start fighting over it. We'd start having to ration it. Special groups would argue that they're more deserving of gasoline than others.

Worst of all, we'd be inclined to prevent new people from moving to the District, because they'd be competing with us for our sweet deal on 10-cent-a-gallon gasoline. All of these unnecessary conflicts and complications and undesirable side effects. Why? Because the government is selling something valuable at a small fraction of its true market cost.

That's where we are today with residential parking. We don't have enough to go around, but we haven't faced up to that reality. The reason we're not having DC Council meetings about milk or about gasoline is that the demand for those things is moderated by price. And that's what needs to happen with residential parking.

The current system doesn't work

The RPP system is broken. I see 5 big problems with residential parking in the District today:

  1. There are more residential permits than residential spaces available in many neighborhoods. As a result, for example, in Dupont, where I used to live, everyone wastes time and fossil fuels driving around and around looking for a spot.
  2. Zones are huge and the boundaries drawn without regard to demand for parking. Very different neighborhoods like AU Park and Cleveland Park and Woodley Park are all arbitrarily lumped into the same parking zone. You have intrazone commuting, and people from AU Park can drive to my street, 2 blocks from the Cleveland Park metro, and park there all day, as if it were their neighborhood.
  3. The cost is the same everywhere, whether you live in a very low-density suburban-style neighborhood like Edgewood or Chevy Chase or a high-density urban neighborhood like Adams Morgan or Logan Circle.
  4. The 2-hour exception is arbitrary and useless in most real-world situations. It's more time than you need to pick up a prescription at CVS, but not enough time for dinner and a movie.
  5. The system deals awkwardly or not at all with visitors like babysitters, houseguests, churchgoers, and others who have legitimate reasons to park in residential neighborhoods.
The solution is not to add complexity

How do we address these problems? The answer isn't to add more layers of regulatory complexity. The current system is already a tangled mess that only a lawyer could love. We don't need more special exceptions, special zones, carve-outs, or special categories of drivers. We don't need more rationing or hourly limits or weekly schedules. We don't need more indecipherable parking signage.

This doesn't need to be complicated. Let's start with two basic principles:

  1. Storing my personal vehicle on public land provides me a personal benefit, and is not a public good. I'm not doing the people of DC a favor by parking on the streetto the contrary. So when I park on public land, I should bear the cost of that privilege, at approximately market rates, rather than paying a rate that's artificially low because it's subsidized by all DC taxpayers.
  2. The value of parking varies according to demand, which varies according to location. Prices should be set zone by zone. But in order for residential parking zones to make sense, zones should be small and/or homogeneous enough to capture differences in demand from place to place.
What would this look like in practice?

Each small zone might have a base rate, based on demand. Everything else could then flow from that base rate: You'd have hourly rates and daily rates. Residential parking permits are essentially a yearly pass in the microzone of my choice, keyed to that zone's base price.

If I occasionally need space for visitors, I could buy books of day passes at a reduced rate. If I live in Chevy Chase and I want to drive to Metro in Cleveland Park and park on the street every day, then I could pay for daytime-only parking in that microzone. Babysitters or contractors could buy daytime passes as well. And so on.

In some parts of the city, residential parking may be so abundant that market value of parking is close to zero. There, the current token rate of $35 per year would continue to apply. In areas with high demand, the cost would be higher.

This may all sound like it would be complicated to implement, enforce, and comply with; but the technology exists to make this easy and is getting ever cheaper.

With this proposed approach, the only thing you ever have to consider is price. You park wherever you want, whenever you want, for as long as you want - as long as you're willing to pay what it's worth. Just like you can drink as much milk as you want, as long as you pay for it. Simple.

Does market pricing mean parking is just for rich people?

The District should do everything it can to reduce poverty and income inequality. But the District doesn't have across-the-board subsidies for clothes or furniture or gas or lots of other good and useful things.

Should the DC government subsidize parking? Perhaps, but certainly not for me and my comfortable neighbors in Ward 3. And even for low-income residents, we're not convinced that that subsidies for parking would be a particularly effective way to reduce poverty.

Surely there are more fundamental needs that we should be meeting first. We don't have enough affordable housing for people in DC, so it seems strange to argue that affordable housing for cars should be a priority.

At any rate, it's the current system that is profoundly regressive. About a third of DC households don't have a car at all. The existing parking subsidy takes money from all taxpayers, whether they drive or not, and effectively redistributes it to car owners in proportion to the number of cars they own. That's not fair and
it's not right.

Accurate pricing + better incentives = improved quality of life for everyone

I'm not "anti-car." My family owns a minivan and drives it and depends on it. But the current RPP system actively incentivizes more car ownership and more driving. Those incentives need to be reversed. Two personal cases in point:

  1. My own family gets by on one car. We've often thought about buying a second car. So far we haven't, for a variety of reasons. But the cost of storing the car has never been a consideration in that decision. Why would it, when we can store the car on public land for practically nothing?
  2. On my block, almost every house has a garage designed to house a car. Not a single one of those garages, including my own, ever has a car in it. We all keep our cars on the street, and use our garages for bikes and tools and junk. Why shouldn't we, when we can store our cars on public land for practically nothing?

More accurate pricing for residential parking would encourage individuals to find alternatives to owning a car; it would encourage families to own only as many cars as they need; and it would encourage people who have off-street parking to use it. All of this would result in fewer cars parked on the street, so that when
you do need to park, you can.

Imagine a city where every single block has a parking spot or two available, so when you do need to park you can always find a space, anywhere, any time of day or day of the week. Parking karma for everyone. That sounds like a fantasy, but it doesn't have to be. Because of market pricing, every gas station has gas, and every grocery store has milk and bread, and so on. We take this for granted, but we shouldn't.

With more accurate pricing, we can get there with parking as well. And in the process we can eliminate the underlying cause of so much of the neighborhood conflict and rancor we have over growth and development, and make DC a happier and more attractive and more livable place.

Herb Caudill lives in Cleveland Park with his wife, Lynne, and two young boys. He has lived in DC since 1995; he taught math as a Peace Corps volunteer in West and Central Africa, and currently runs DevResults, a web-based mapping and data management tool for foreign aid projects.  

Comments

Add a comment »

Thank you! The perceived entitlement to free socialized parking is not just a problem in cities -- hugely excessive parking requirements have created enormous scars on the suburbs as well.

by Greenbelt on Dec 10, 2012 10:10 am • linkreport

This is great. Taking street parking away from residents is the best way to handle the problem.

What would be awesome if we had a law that made new developments include underground parking to handle the extra vehicles. crazy talk, I know.

by charlie on Dec 10, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

Having the parking zones match ward boundaries is actually a pretty good system. Increasing the cost of residential parking permits seems a more effective way to manage the issue.

Just take a look at Chicago to see how quickly smaller zones can become a nightmare. There are many, many very small zones that are really designed to only serve the residents of that specific area. In some cases, one side of a block will be one zone and the other side will be a different zone--meaning you can't park across the street from your house!

by LA on Dec 10, 2012 10:26 am • linkreport

This is great. Taking street parking away from residents is the best way to handle the problem.

Nothing he said indicated that it should be taken away. Just allocated more efficiently which the only likely way to do that is to raise prices for those spots.

by drumz on Dec 10, 2012 10:27 am • linkreport

charlie, underground parking is extremely expensive. I don't own a car--why should that cost be passed on to me in the form of higher rents?

by Dan Miller on Dec 10, 2012 10:27 am • linkreport

At any rate, it's the current system that is profoundly regressive. About a third of DC households don't have a car at all. The existing parking subsidy takes money from all taxpayers, whether they drive or not, and effectively redistributes it to car owners in proportion to the number of cars they own

I understand the economics of this, but it's really not a particularly persuasive argument. The low price of parking means foregone revenue for the city, meaning we rely on other sources of revenue. But given that that revenue is primarily real estate and income taxes, those costs are borne generally by the rich (yes, one can argue that DC's tax system isn't very progressive, but it's not regressive).

by ah on Dec 10, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

I've seen the new 'ERPP' system spread across the city, and it's a huge pain in the butt for anybody who needs to visit any neighborhoods that enact it. Like Herb said, the system makes doesn't accommodate visitors at all (not even for 2 hours), and doesn't acknowledge that there are any legitimate alternative uses for daytime street parking.

Basically, the system allows residents to monopolize parking on one side of their streets without any 2-hour grace period across a pretty wide time interval (I think 7AM-830PM Mon-Sat).

Like the RPP system, the rules for designating a block as ERPP also seems to favor blocks with lots of single-family homes, and doesn't seem to allow neighboring businesses or organizations to protest. The system allows parking policies to be determined solely by the property-owners who directly face those spots.

A very large portion of Columbia Heights recently converted to this new system, and it's pretty problematic, especially because the 'Residents Only' side of the street usually seems to be the one with considerably more parking on it. (A lot of Columbia Heights roads already have hourly lane restrictions or numerous curb cuts on one side).

Given the lackluster transit service for getting from my neighborhood to Columbia Heights (it's 4 miles away, and often literally faster to walk), I'll likely find myself visiting the area a whole lot less as a result.

by andrew on Dec 10, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

@ LA Just take a look at Chicago to see how quickly smaller zones can become a nightmare. There are many, many very small zones that are really designed to only serve the residents of that specific area. In some cases, one side of a block will be one zone and the other side will be a different zone--meaning you can't park across the street from your house!

That seems like bad design, not an inherent problem. Many neighborhoods are clearly defined (or close to), with natural dividers (e.g., Rock Creek Park or commercial districts). What's more, one could implement a rule that allows a person with a pass for a given neighborhood to park in another neighborhood so long as it is within 1-2 blocks of their neighborhood. This avoids problems for people who live near borders of their neighborhood.

by ah on Dec 10, 2012 10:38 am • linkreport

SOme good ideas. But, I'm not in any way confident that DC government would be able to actually implement such a system with any competence.

by Potowmack on Dec 10, 2012 10:46 am • linkreport

I keep seeing the phrase "long term vehicle storage" invoked in this argument, and others recently. If that is a problem, the solutions to that are far easier, and simplistic to enforce than rolling out a highly suspect and complicated. For 8 months of the year, cars have to move atleast once a week for street sweeping, so I can't imagine it is a serious problem. If it is, a simple rule, "No vehicle shall be permitted to park in any spot for more than 48 hours". There, done. It is easy to enforce because dc parking enforcement already have the camera tech mounted to their cars that catalog license plate and gps positions as they drive around.

I also have to roll my eyes at this whats good for the goose / gander thing that Herb is trying to play off on. I live in Cleveland Park. On street parking is never an issue except for on Connecticut Avenue, and streets within one block or less than flank it. I, along with most other CP'ers have homes with offstreet parking and garages to accomodate the contractors /help.

This isn't the case for large swaths of the city whose residents need vehicles, but don't have access to offstreet parking. Hence the perceived demand for those spaces and the increased cost as a result.

And finally, other city's have tried this, and it is a nightmare. I think someone already mentioned Chicago. There is no need to make the same mistakes and roll out the same illfated programs that have already failed elsewhere. Someone should just call up Gabe Klein and ask him how well it works.

by Parking on Dec 10, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport


I'm have head-snapping cognitive dissonance reading this.

On the one hand, there is a sensible libertarian-style market-oriented solution to allocating a scarce resource (parking); on the other hand, there are comments about how we need more "affordable housing," which is to say housing that is either subsidized or rent-controlled.

Very odd!

by Paxton Helms on Dec 10, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

Elaborating further:

The system seems to be solely designed as a mechanism for cranky residents to keep visitors out of their neighborhoods.

I genuinely cannot come up with a good rational basis for the RPP program. What is it actually supposed to accomplish?

If it's designed to reduce driving or raise revenue, the current system fails miserably at both of these, for reasons that have already been very clearly established. The prices are too low to do that.

If it's designed to guarantee parking to residents when they come home from work, it doesn't really do that either. Has the scarcity of daytime parking ever actually been an issue? I can sympathize with the residents of areas with active nighttime uses such as Dupont and Logan, because there's very little parking available around from 5-9PM, thanks to the 2-hour grace period.

What is the rationale for restricting parking on Saturday, but not Sunday? ('Churches,' is not a good answer, as it violates the Establishment Clause.)

Why does the system so strongly discourage non-residential parking? Visitor passes are stupidly difficult to obtain, and there's no good way for visitors to simply pay a fee to get a temporary RPP pass.

Why are residents allowed to determine this policy with no evidence of need or input from planners?

by andrew on Dec 10, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

Totally agree (but it ain't ever going to happen!) Everyone likes to think they are 'pro-market' and capitalist etc except when it comes to street parking, where the existing system is basically communism. The government is also undercutting private operators (of parking garages), which would be unlawful in almost any other industry.

However parking is not the only example, you can also cite access to the road network more generally, which, with very few exceptions is done on the same 'all-you-can-eat' approach.

by renegade09 on Dec 10, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

@Parking on, There are thousands of people who live in Cleveland Park and Woodley Park who do not live in SFH and do not have off street parking. Your blithe attitude about parking in CP in particular is ignorant of your neighbors situations.

I think the micro zones is a great idea but when its most needed in my micro-zone (in south CP/north WP) is weekends during the warm months. Maybe even restricted just until noon on Sat & Sun would alleviate the problem. But nothing will change without enforcement.

by Tina on Dec 10, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

But the cost of storing the car has never been a consideration in that decision. Why would it, when we can store the car on public land for practically nothing?

More accurate pricing for residential parking would encourage individuals to find alternatives to owning a car; it would encourage families to own only as many cars as they need; and it would encourage people who have off-street parking to use it.

Hm, are you suggesting DC charge the something close to market off-street parking price? My guess is that is around $2000/year, more or less depending on the neighborhood.

Clearly to charge that much would have an impact on car ownership. But anything significantly less won't work, because the cost of car ownership, even for a beater, is around $250/month. People pay that much do it because they need the car. So to have any impact, parking costs must be comparable to that, say at least $1000/year.

That takes serious commitment on the part of city leaders to propose such huge jump in the fee. I don't see this happening.

by goldfish on Dec 10, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

If it is, a simple rule, "No vehicle shall be permitted to park in any spot for more than 48 hours".

This is problematic if you ever need to leave town without your car for more than 48 hours.

I know that "long term vehicle storage" is a euphemism for abandoned vehicles, but many of these 'solutions' seem to introduce more problems than they solve, or encourage the wrong behaviors.

Rules that require cars to constantly be moved encourage more driving, and discourage "car-lite" households. Those aren't good things.

When we're discussing parking reform, we need to be sure that our proposed solutions don't accidentally encourage more car commuting, or shaft neighborhoods with bad transit access. (Market-rate pricing is especially bad, because it would encourage more single-occupancy car commuters from the suburbs)

by andrew on Dec 10, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

"Because the government is selling something valuable at a small fraction of its true market cost." I agree that parking has a value that isn't properly priced, but adding a premium on spaces built and maintained with everyone's tax base seems a bit unfair to those who can't afford the premium envisioned. I think your statement about
"everyone wastes time and fossil fuels driving around and around looking for a spot." has the desired effect of reducing car dependancy without adding to the financial burden of living in this city. The scarcity of spaces affects everyone, so why not leave the fairest system inplace while letting the market discourage people from owning cars?

In the end though, all the angst over parking would disappear if there where more dependable transit.

by Thayer-D on Dec 10, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

On the one hand, there is a sensible libertarian-style market-oriented solution to allocating a scarce resource (parking); on the other hand, there are comments about how we need more "affordable housing," which is to say housing that is either subsidized or rent-controlled.

Very odd!

Not really. It's only odd if you define 'affordable housing' as 'subsidized housing.'

Of course, we could make housing a lot more affordable if the market were allowed to build the supply needed to meet demand.

by Alex B. on Dec 10, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

Incidentally, the gasoline metaphor does not really work.

Producing and delivering more gasoline is very easy. And, the value of gasoline is only very slightly correlated with where you buy it. FYou can use gas at a place other than where you purchase it.

Parking, on the other hand, is extremely difficult to produce in a city like DC with high real estate values, onerous historic preservation legislation, and tight zoning; loses value if it is produced in too great an abundance (e.g., parking is more valuable if it is front of one's house in a neighborhood that does not have huge parking lots); and is most desirable when used near where it is consumed, in the sense that "consumption" takes place where the owner of the parked car is while the car is parked.

Perhaps a better metaphor would be that of the hardware store during the unexpected blizzard. Imagine that a hardware store has twenty snow shovels and cannot get more delivered because of the snow. The hardware store has several options:

- Auction them
- Raffle them (the winner is entitled to buy at the non-blizzard price)
- Some kind of rental arrangement.

The advantage of the auction is that the price that somebody is willing to pay for the shovel is a good (though imperfect) proxy for how much that person values the snow shovel. In a raffle scenario, somebody who desperately needed the snow shovel (needs to dig grandma out from her accessory dwelling, etc.) is denied the snow shovel by random chance and the person who just wanted to keep their shoes dry gets the shovel.

How does this apply to parking? Right now, we have a de facto raffle system. It's kind of dumb luck and random chance if you get a parking spot since there are more cars competing for spaces than there are spaces. If we moved to an auction model (or one that is a bit more price discriminatory --in the economic not racial sense, thank you very much) as you suggest, we could ensure that those who want spaces the most get them, raise revenue for the city, and disincent those who do not need cars but are happy to have them as long as the city subsidizes their parking spaces.

The most compelling argument against the auction model is that auction markets are not efficient and that wealthy people with low need can out-bid poor people with high need. This does need to addressed. I would suggest a logarithmic means testing approach. A lower bid from a poorer person counts the same as a higher bid from a higher person but the indifference curve between bids is not linear as bids go up; instead, the incremental dollar bid by the wealthier person should have steadily more and more weight.

P.H.

by Paxton Helms on Dec 10, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

1. Smaller zones are hard because people live on both sides of the boundary streets. It's an issue with large zones that would be much worse with small zones. That has to be thought out first.

2. Guest parking coupons or online coupons are fine but remember that we encourage car sharing and rental as part of non-ownership. Don't make the cost or inconvenience of "guest" permits for renters a nightmare.

3. Performance parking in commercial zones with it's higher rates does indeed free up many more spaces and make it easier to drive into DC. But why encourage driving?

4. In the Old City the front yards are also owned by the city but used for free by the attached resident. Should we auction peoples' front yards off too?

5. Raising the fee to market is fine but remember that implies there will be a space available. When you pay market for your own spot it's yours exclusively. The value of a sticker in neighborhoods where there's rarely a spot empty is minimal.

6. Encouraging impervious parking pads in rear yards is environmentally destructive. They should be heavily discouraged with fees, taxes, zoning, etc. (stick) and their removal with such residents' cars given preference on street parking (carrot). Our surface water problems and heat island effect are no joke.

7. Turning parking lanes into bike and dedicated transit lanes is a huge benefit for the few spots lost. (Especially on the major commercial streets). Parking occupying so many potential transit lanes is a problem.

At any rate, DC needs to plan these changes out ahead of time with thought to obvious problems. DDOT too often drops the ball on this.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 10, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

@Tina "There are thousands of people who live in Cleveland Park and Woodley Park who do not live in SFH and do not have off street parking."

Ward 3 has 80K residents. If a few thousand of them don't have offstreet parking, thats less than 4%. Are you really recommending we enact a laborious, expensive, and impossible to enforce parking program because 4% of the people who live in the neighborhood don't have offstreet parking?

And I am curious as to where you live in CP that you don't have off street parking, because even the condo/co-ops apt buildings that flank Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues have some, if not a lot of offstreet parking available, even the smaller ~25 unit buildings have 7-10 parking spaces available via alley behind them. You might have to rent it, but it is certainly available to you.

by Parking on Dec 10, 2012 11:13 am • linkreport

@Alex B.

You write:

"It's only odd if you define 'affordable housing' as 'subsidized housing.' Of course, we could make housing a lot more affordable if the market were allowed to build the supply needed to meet demand."

This is kind hair-splitting but I'll play along.

In the context of blogs like this one, "affordable housing" is almost always shorthand for government polices such as subsidies and de facto rent control.

Separatley, You are right that allowing more to be built might lower costs. But, it is also worth noting that all housing is already affordable to somebody. It's just that some people don't like the people for whom it is affordable or don't think that it is affordable for the right people.

Housing owned by a genuinely motivated seller that is not affordable to somebody will quickly be lowered in price!

I will spare you (and other other readers since I suspect you and I agree) a jeremiad on the policy madness of rent control and subsidized housing.

P.H.

by Paxton Helms on Dec 10, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

In the end though, all the angst over parking would disappear if there where more dependable transit.

Yes. How did I not mention that?

I'd be ecstatic to get rid of my car, but Metro's basically unusable unless using it for a 9-5 commute.

Did you see Metro's track work schedule this past weekend? The entire system was basically unusable:

  • No Red Line between Fort Totten & Glenmont (so, no service to Silver Spring). 10-15 minute headways at remaining stations.
  • No Green Line between Archives, Waterfront, or L'Enfant (so, no direct connection from EOTR to downtown, and no transfers at L'Enfant). 10-15 minute headways at remaining stations. Early closing.
  • The Yellow Line basically didn't run at all. No service over 14th St Bridge. Downtown only had Green Line service; Weird "Yellow" trains ran from Huntington to Eastern Market. 24 minute headways. Early closing.
  • Blue Line was single-tracking. 24-minute headways, plus that weird Huntington->Eastern Market shuttle.
  • Orange Line was single-tracking in two sections. 24-minute headways.

Now, tell me how this is supposed to discourage driving.

by andrew on Dec 10, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

@Parking on, As my comment said, its a problem on weekends during the warm months in south CP/north WP. Big problem. Just b/c you don't know about a problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

by Tina on Dec 10, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

"In the context of blogs like this one, "affordable housing" is almost always shorthand for government polices such as subsidies and de facto rent control."

Even so its applied to a finite set of units - much smaller as a proportion of total housing in DC than the residential parking spots are of total spots, IIUC. And its limited by income - which is in support of policy goals you may not agree with, or which may not be achieved efficiently by these means, but really seems to put it in a different category than residential parking permits. So lets avoid the jeremiads in all directions (rich irony in your choice of terms) and just agree to discuss parking on its own terms.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 10, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

Everyone likes to think they are 'pro-market' and capitalist etc except when it comes to street parking, where the existing system is basically communism.

It's broader. People are pro-market until it means having to pay for something they currently get for free.

by ah on Dec 10, 2012 11:25 am • linkreport

This is kind hair-splitting but I'll play along.

In the context of blogs like this one, "affordable housing" is almost always shorthand for government polices such as subsidies and de facto rent control.

It's not hair-splitting, it is about defining the very thing we are discussing.

I disagree with your characterization that these discussions "almost always" turn on subsidies. That's neither here nor there, however. Part of the problem is that the term 'affordable housing' has been construed so broadly as to have little meaning. Are we talking about a subsidy program, or just what the market will bear? What kind of timeframe are we looking at? Etc.

I actually think some of your policy ideas you've thrown out are intriguing and worthy of discussion. It's your charge about cognitive dissonance that I take issue with. It's not that hard to find cognitive dissonance if you use terms and definitions that are so fuzzy as to make dissonance avoidance impossible.

by Alex B. on Dec 10, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

"On the one hand, there is a sensible libertarian-style market-oriented solution to allocating a scarce resource (parking); on the other hand, there are comments about how we need more "affordable housing," which is to say housing that is either subsidized or rent-controlled."

I don't consider market-oriented to mean libertarian. I can like the use of markets to set prices, the use of pricing as signalling, etc without either A. considering there to be anything "just" in market generated distributions of wealth, income or utility B. discounting a range of externalities and market failures, including some pretty soft ones (like the benefit of an SES diverse neighborhood, say)

If you assume market-oriented implies libertarian, you may find cognitive dissonance where none exists.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 10, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

@P.H.: I would suggest a logarithmic means testing approach. A lower bid from a poorer person counts the same as a higher bid from a higher person

LOL!

Or maybe you mean, the bid is normalized by taxable income?

Either way, I would love to be in the community meeting where you explain this to the math-averse, taxpaying residents.

by goldfish on Dec 10, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

Simple rules:

* Reduce RPP zones to ANC SMDs. People who actually live on a border, could be given access to the zone accross the street.

* Start charging real rates for RPPs. Start with $365 for the first car. A dollar a day is a near giveaway. Triple that for a second car per household. No third permit is given per household.

* If a lot has a parking spot or garage, any RPP sticker is priced at the 'second car' rate.

* Every resident get can booklets of 10 day-passes in their zone(s) for $50 per booklet. No more than 10 booklets per household per year. On the day-pass, date and car-tag need to be noted.

* All parking meters will go to performance parking per SMD ANC zone. Pricing is set so that 5% of spots are free at peak times. Prices are indicated on electronic signs at the parking meter.

@ Tom Coumaris:4. In the Old City the front yards are also owned by the city but used for free by the attached resident. Should we auction peoples' front yards off too?

The pay for it by maintaining. But if necessary, they could be taken away yes.

by Jasper on Dec 10, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

@Jasper: Start charging real rates for RPPs. Start with $365 for the first car. A dollar a day is a near giveaway. Triple that for a second car per household. No third permit is given per household.

Perfect way for a councilmember to lose the reelection.

Hey Jasper, have you seen the bill to re-register a car? I am looking at mine, which says $185 for a one-year renewal. If the RPP fee were increased to #365, the cost would be $515 -- ouch!

This thread is filled with impossible ideas. Does anybody think about the political realities?

by goldfish on Dec 10, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

@Walker,

Fair enough re libertarian point.

There is certainly a continuum and gov'ts, communities, etc., can use markets for signalling, incentive creation, etc., without choosing moving to a purely libertarian model.

P.H.

by Paxton Helms on Dec 10, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

The USA HAS had gasoline rationing during the 70s....there were huge lines. The USA currently rations all sorts of things (explicitly or implicitly) and introduces all sorts of market distortions. For example: rent control in NYC favored long term residents and those with connections. A better example, with a flavor like RPP: California's mortatorium on raising property taxes in certain areas. This favored long term previous residents, but disadvantages others and leads to problems such as insufficient money for schools.

by SJE on Dec 10, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

Assuming RPPs are more expensive, what to do with the revenue?

If you treat it as "New" money and use it to fund new programs, you can probably kiss most of your support goodbye.

If you plow it into the general fund, and reduce the residential property taxes in each zone such that the program is revenue-neutral on a zone-by-zone basis, then maybe you would get more support.

"$800 a year for a parking permit? Yuck!" ... but maybe not-so-yuck if my property taxes go down by $500.

by orulz on Dec 10, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

@andrew: A very large portion of Columbia Heights recently converted to this new system, and it's pretty problematic, especially because the 'Residents Only' side of the street usually seems to be the one with considerably more parking on it. (A lot of Columbia Heights roads already have hourly lane restrictions or numerous curb cuts on one side). . . . I'll likely find myself visiting the area a whole lot less as a result.

First, I'm in favor of significantly upping RPP parking fees - a dollar a day, $365 a year, especially in high-density areas, seems appropriate.

That said, comments like this always crack me up. There's a 1000-car parking garage right smack dab in the center of Columbia Heights that charges significantly less than DC's current market street parking rates. It is never - ever - full, or anywhere close to full. Most often, it's open 19 hours a day; Sundays, it's "limited" to 16 open hours. There is absolutely no problem finding parking in Columbia Heights if you'd like to patronize the businesses there. The only "problem" anyone has with the ERPP system is if he or she doesn't want to pay for parking at all - even at below market rates. That's a pretty thin justification for so much handwringing.

by dcd on Dec 10, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

orulz: if RPP goes to $800, they could use the money to lower other taxes, especially property. It also has a clear positive externality: increases the supply of parking, decreases traffic, and encourages alternatives. Current RPP is a subsidy for car ownership. Why should those too poor to own a car be subsidizing others?

by SJE on Dec 10, 2012 12:16 pm • linkreport

It also has a clear positive externality

As DC is not enough of a city to be truly walkable, like NYC, it also has a clear negative externality: this will discourage car-owning people -- i.e., nearly everybody who earns a living, and thus makes a good taxpayer -- from moving in DC.

by goldfish on Dec 10, 2012 12:22 pm • linkreport

Jasper's proposal above has a lot of sensible elements (not sure I agree precisely with all of them, but conceptually yes).

As for the politics of it, it does not need to occur all at once.

For example, start with the simple change to having smaller RPP zones. I favor neighborhoods over ANC SMDs, which don't necessarily follow sensible borders, but the gist is the same. At a minimum, that will help sort out people who drive to metro stops or all over town, and provide a better sense of each neighborhood's needs.

Second, change the guest passes to the day passes. Make them unlimited to start, especially if there's a charge (or start with 10-20 free passes for each house). These are easy--all you need is a scratch-off date mechanism, with no need for the plate, etc.)

Then, down the road worry about raising fees.

by ah on Dec 10, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

I really like the idea of offsetting the first RPP by property taxes. Of course, renters get screwed there, unless the landlord passes on the savings.

However, I would submit that second and additional RPPs then be an additional burden not offset by other discounts.

by William on Dec 10, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

Tina,

Warm months, weekends, north woodley and south CP?. Sounds like your issue is with zoo parking.

Seriously, if this is your issue, then a more legitimate approach is to levy the Smithsonian to build more parking at the zoo so people don't clog streets within a 3 block radius to park.

Jerrymandering the entire city parking system, with variable rates per micro location is a pretty ridiculous solution to the fact that lots of people drive to the zoo on the weekends in the summer

by Parking on Dec 10, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

I'm fortunate right now that we have an off-street parking space at our home and only one car. I went ahead and got the RPP anyway, because it is convenient for intra-zone day trips, errands, eating out, etc, and at $35 a year, it was well worth paying for. A single ticket for over-staying my two hours on the street pays for the permit. Plus, my zone covers everything from Georgetown to the Convention Center, so it's the bulk of places where I socialize, shop, dine, and visit friends.

$35 is too low. I would pay $75 for this. I think most DC residents would pay $75 for it without rioting or burning down the DMV or overthrowing the government. It's a nice, safe, easy, attainable number.

There's a problem, however, with adding an escalating fee for additional cars in the same household. First, not all homes contain a traditional household. People have roommates, some large SFH are used as group homes with five or eight people in them, not all "auxiliary" units are legal rentals, and even in homes with multiple legal, permitted units, they do not always have distinct addresses. Just ask anyone who has ever dealt with Comcast before and their refusal to set up service with more than one account at an address in their database. I once lived in a five unit building and had to get DirecTV because Comcast had already installed internet at one of the other apartments and could not understand that we had five units in one building because we got mail for the building through the mail slot in the front door instead of individual mailboxes.

Plus, what do you do if a former resident doesn't change over their address with the DMV right away? More than once, if I had recently renewed my auto registration before a move but my move was within the same zone, I just left it for the balance of the year (or two years). I know that you're not supposed to do that, but everyone does. So what is the recourse for the new tenant at my old apartment when they go to get an RPP sticker and they are told my car is already plated at that address, so their sticker will be hundreds of dollars more? Track me down and beg me to update my address? Tell the city, who may or may not be able to track me down and make me change it? Just pay the second car rate? And if the fee is substantially higher for a second car, what stops people from trying to register at a friend or neighbor's house who has no car? How many resources should be spent to stop that?

Personally, I think the best way to discourage car ownership is to have what we already have - a system that is set up to make it easier to walk than to drive. In my neighborhood, I often leave the car at home and walk to the grocery, to visit friends, etc because even though I am eligible to park on the street for free, it isn't worth it to have to hunt for a space. If higher fees lead to fewer cars, that means more parking by default, and that means I'm more likely to take the car those times than to walk. It defeats itself.

And scarcity of parking is already working. People like me who drive to work every day will choose to live in a place with off-street parking or in a neighborhood with abundant parking. People who choose to move to Dupont or Adams Morgan or Georgetown or the Hill do so knowing that if always having a space is important, they need to select one of the many housing options that provides one. If it is less important, they can chance it with street parking. If it does not matter to them at all (ie they have no car) then they can live anywhere and pass up the added cost of buying or renting a space (or perhaps buy a space anyway and rent it to neighbors at a profit, which many of my friends did when they bought condos).

Raise the price a little bit. Changing the zones, however, or adding escalating costs for secondary cars, is full of problems. Don't do that.

by ShawGuy on Dec 10, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

And don't forget a curb cut is basically a year-round parking space, so curb cuts should be charged at the same rate as a parking space, if not more.

by M.V. Jantzen on Dec 10, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

The answer is fairly simple: privatize all parking in D.C., offering individual spots in residential areas to homeowners and selling off the parking in commercial districts to private companies.

By looking at the success of Indianapolis' parking privatization program, we can see a path forward for D.C. that accurately prices parking, reduces artificial shortages in spots, and provides additional revenue to the city. The city should seek a one-time cash infusion for selling off parking rights, which could be put back into infrastructure financing for bike lanes, the streetcar, etc.

The idea that charging market rates for parking is regressive is absolutely silly. First, rich people live in rich areas where parking is more highly valued. Second, lower income households value time just like higher income families do. If it takes a blue collar worker 40 minutes to park and walk back to their home, that's 40 minutes of lost income, family time, sleep, etc.

Get government out of parking, and let the market decide how much people are really willing to pay to pollute the environment, clog the roads, and take up space on the street. D.C. has more important issues to focus on.

by Preston on Dec 10, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

@Parking,
Oh come on, are you seriously arguing that parking isn't a massive issue in Cleveland Park? Check the archive, this is Cleveland Park, whose ANC commissioner listed 'free parking' as #3 on his list of 2008 New Year's wishes after 'World Peace' and 'Better Public Schools'. In that case, he was resorting to divine intervention, specifically:
"It would be great if some heavenly body would come down and build a large underground, free-parking garage."

by renegade09 on Dec 10, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

Goldfish: the current barrier to moving to DC includes high property taxes, bad services (notably school), and difficulty parking. If the RPP is $800, and you get a $600 lower property tax, you might downsize from two cars to one, or none, and will find parking easier. The difference in price might go towards schools.

Another model is to give each resident the ability to buy only one RPP at $200, but the right to transfer. Those who have less cars (typically poorer) can sell their rights to those who want a RPP at the market price.

Another benefit to charging the market rate is that it would encourage office parking to remain open. Currently, these businesses rely almost entirely on the workday business, and they close at night. There is a LOT of unused parkuing space. For those who reverse commute, they have no incentive to park in office lots, because we give them RPP. If the RPP is market price, residents would be encouraged to park in office spaces in the evening/weekends. Win-win. This would also encourage more parking structures throughout the city, increasing the supply of parking. (For comparison, a monthly parking pass is $200+)

by SJE on Dec 10, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

@SJE: where the district "gets" it new residents is when they are young, without children, and renting. That is when it "got" me.

Such people are not considering property taxes or schools, but they do consider the cost of car ownership. When I walked up to that DCMV window for the first time, I was rendered slackjawed over the cost to get the tags for my one-year old car that I bought fresh out of school -- 6% of the book value, way more than I had in my checking account at the time. That experience was the harbinger of nearly all dealings with DC government for many years -- you can be sure they will gouge you every chance they get.

I stupidly stayed here, and now I own property and send kids to school.

The sticker shook factor is an emotional response that the economists here do not recognize. We all know that $600 is only $50/month, but the larger yearly fee is much harder to deal with than the monthly fee. That is why income taxes are pay-as-you-go.

Which brings up the next point: if increasing the RPP fee is to be used to offset other taxes, the most fair way to do this is to lower income taxes, not property taxes. You can be sure the landlords will not pas the savings on.

by goldfish on Dec 10, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

@Renegade,

Reading comprehension is pretty key. And I quote " I live in Cleveland Park. On street parking is never an issue except for on Connecticut Avenue, and streets within one block or less than flank it."

So yes, the CP listserv is filled with snark about not finding parking on Connecticut Ave or within a block of CT on sidestreets that flank it, which is precisely what I said. Then again, these are the same people who are all up in arms about it, and who already live in CP and are of the demographic that wants to drive their 90K BMW the 3 blocks to Palena, rather than walk to dinner.

I'm sorry, but you aren't ever going to win an argument with that kind of cognitive dissonance, and accomodating the parking requirements of those people are about as "anti" GGW urbanist policies as it gets.

I have never heard of anyone living on Quebec, or Rodman, or Porter, Macomb, or Newark ever complain that they couldn't find street parking for them or a house guest.

All this is, is a solution in search of a problem that doesn't exist.

by Parking on Dec 10, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Parking
OK, I think we agree, there is no problem with parking except in the places where most people want to park.

Also, 'cognitive dissonance'. I don't really know what it means, but I just wanted to write it because everyone else does!

by renegade09 on Dec 10, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

And don't forget a curb cut is basically a year-round parking space, so curb cuts should be charged at the same rate as a parking space, if not more.

what if it's an alley shared by many?

by ah on Dec 10, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

@Preston
I like the simplicity of your idea of just selling all the street spaces to a private company. But it has some disadvantages too, and is this not what they did in Chicago, to near-universal disapproval?

by renegade09 on Dec 10, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Parking on -Seriously, if this is your issue, then a more legitimate approach is to levy the Smithsonian to build more parking at the zoo so people don't clog streets within a 3 block radius to park.

No that won't work b/c street parking is free. people clog the streets starting at 8am not b/c the zoo is full; its b/c the street is free. A micro-zone rpp effective may-nov on sat & sun or sat & sun 8am-noon would solve the problem, but only with enforcement.

The problem is the street parking is free.

by Tina on Dec 10, 2012 2:54 pm • linkreport

Renegade09, Preston,

I think the issue with chicago was that all the spots went to one company who then raised prices. Why couldn't have Chicago just raised prices themselves? And it was in bulk rather than spot by spot. I've never heard of Indy's program but I'm interested in learning more.

by drumz on Dec 10, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

Goldfish: I know more people who moved much later than just after school, including a number of people who moved with their kids because they were sick of commuting and like the vibe in DC. For that population, property taxes etc are a bigger deal

by SJE on Dec 10, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

drumz,
The problem with the city raising parking prices itself is politics. No council-member will vote for market pricing for parking because his/her voters would revolt. If you sell to a company, there is an initial huge windfall, which voters can appreciate, because the benefits of the change are seen up-front [and the 'pain' comes later!]

I think an article comparing Indianapolis and Chicago would be very interesting.

by renegade09 on Dec 10, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

I don't think there was any sort of revolt at raising the meter rates to $2/hr. There was a warranted disgust at DC doing it BEFORE they got meters that took anything but coins. No one carries that many quarters. That was just stupid.

In my neighborhood the ERPP is providing a lot of revenue to DC. Off-street parking is $20 evenings, if you can get it. The ERPP ticket is just $30 and chances of getting a ticket are below 50%, so the ERPP ticket is below market parking. Even if DC were to charge evening parking here it would only be $2/hr, so DC is doing quiet well. Providing free on-street parking to visitors was dumb.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 10, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

I think more people with be comfortable going car free if Washington seriously invested in better bus service (and prodded WMATA to operate a frequent, grid-like Metrobus network) by purchasing more bus service. Look at a map of bus routes operating every ten mins. or better. It's sad how few routes show up. To me, the level of bus service is sometimes laughable. WMATA only provides service as purchased by each jurisdiction.

A bus along 16th St NW every ten minutes in the evenings is not working. Crowded buses pass by waiting passengers. This is even after the 60' articualted buses were added a few months ago. The buses along 14th St NW are now also starting to be overcrowded. I ride both the 14th and 16th street bus lines and know they are crowded. I now drive in the evenings unless a CaBi station is near my destination so I'm not waiting for overcrowded/infrequent buses.

If the Metrobus network was more intuitive for those who are not transit aces and more frequent Metrobus service was purchased by the District, I think the parking problem could be mitigated more easily. People may feel more comfortable not having to drive around and/or not having a vehicle at all. (Same for more frequent Metrorail service to attract more trips to the rail system, especially by our friends from Va. and Md.)

by Transport. on Dec 10, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

@ goldfish: I am looking at mine, which says $185 for a one-year renewal. If the RPP fee were increased to #365, the cost would be $515 -- ouch!

Yeah. My VA car tax went up, despite my car getting older. I don't have an RPP, because I paid for my own parking site through our HOA. When I recently lost my parking sticker, I had to pay $25 to get it replaced, and got towing warnings.

Perfect way for a councilmember to lose the reelection. Does anybody think about the political realities?

Political reality is that DC council members are basically members of the Tea Party when it comes to passing any cost of government to their residents.

by Jasper on Dec 10, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

Transport: I agree. The transport system in DC will have to adapt if more people rely on it. At the same time, no one is saying you CANT drive, just that you should pay closer to the real price of parking instead of getting it basically free.

by SJE on Dec 10, 2012 5:53 pm • linkreport

I agree we could use some creative thinking around parking, but I'm not sure raising the fees for residential parking accomplishes much. Using Cleveland Park as an example, if most neighborhood residents have off-street parking and choose to park on the street anyway, that indicates the situation is not that dire. If you raise the cost of parking close to the metro you are likely to just drive people further into the residential portion of the neighborhood to park, creating parking problems where there weren't any before. In an affluent neighborhood, how much would you have to raise parking permit prices to change behavior? My suspicion is by an amount that would completely alienate the rest of the city before you fixed Cleveland Park's parking woes.

Why do we need to pad the city's coffers to solve the parking problem? A quick Google check shows the city ended 2011 with a $240 million surplus. The city is swimming in new revenue - brought about by a rapid increase in city population, the tripling in home prices since 2000 and accompanying increase in property tax revenues, all those new condos, and let's not forget parking ticket revenue ($96 million) and speed cameras ($12 million).

I've seen suggestions to raise parking rates to reduce demand, but to me these suggestions make far more sense downtown - where driving is optional and transit alternatives abound - than in residential neighborhoods.

Where people live, if you raise residential parking fees, you immediately divide people into those who can afford the change or not, and where you either could afford a home with off street parking or not. I don't see the benefit or fairness in a solution that creates ample parking by causing those who can't afford the fees to give up cars, so more well-off people can park more easily.

by SLM on Dec 10, 2012 9:15 pm • linkreport

The system deals awkwardly or not at all with visitors like babysitters, houseguests, churchgoers, and others who have legitimate reasons to park in residential neighborhoods.

I generally agreed with the posting, but this sentence clanged.

It's not that some visitors have a "legitimate" reason to come to residential neighborhoods, it's that they come at the behest of, and to perform services for, the residents. I don't see how churchgoers fit into this group.

by contrarian on Dec 11, 2012 12:28 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Karl on Dec 11, 2012 6:48 am • linkreport

Do you or others knwo if parking comes up over and over and over again in, say, Chicago? I lived there for years (without a car) and never noticed there being a big to-do about parking when a development went up or anything else. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention?

But the parking issue there was handled in a very simple way - if you are goign to park on certain residential streets you MUST have a permit. The permits are specific to certain streets and neighborhoods - much smaller areas than the zones DC has set up. If you don't live in that neighborhood, you have to get a temporary permit from the place you are visiting. As as a city resident, I would go down to city hall and pay for a book of these one-time-use only passe for when visitors came to my place. If you didnt do this, you would get a ticket. Or you had to find a space somewhere with a meter, on a commercial street. And everyone knows this, so it reduces people driving to locations where they aren't going to be able to park. (Of course Chicago mass transit system of buses and L is much better than DC's). And there weren't people circling around on your residential street looking for parking - only in commercial areas.

Why wouldnt this work here?

by FromChicago on Dec 11, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

Selling to a private company is politically easy, but is typically underpriced and open to all sorts of corruption. In DC, I'd only want to see this tried out for a few small areas for 5-10 years.

by SJE on Dec 11, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

Jasper - EXACTLY! This is just how it is handled in Chicago. Why can't we do the same here? Elegantly simple solution.

by FromChicago on Dec 11, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

Why are these issues in DC and not in other cities?

It's because we have an entire local governance structure (ANCs) that exists essentially solely to amplify the complaints of a few people with nothing better to do, and a DC council composed of so few members that each member's voice is that much louder.

by MLD on Dec 11, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

Of course you would like to see this system implemented-- you have a garage, so your property would automatically be worth a lot more. Meanwhile, those of us who can't afford the luxury of having a separate structure to store our cars or bikes or whatever would see our property values plummet.

by Garageless on Dec 11, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

@thayer-d: "In the end though, all the angst over parking would disappear if there where more dependable transit." Hahaha, no. Even the most extensive and reliable transit in the world does not prevent people from complaining about parking.

@fromchicago: you evidently were not involved in neighborhood politics there (I was); parking was a HUGE to-do in many neighborhoods. The tiny, one-block parking zones created terrific imbalances, where one block would be half-empty even when there was nothing available anywhere around, and made enforcement really complicated since the time limits varied everywhere. Chicago's annual RPPs are still $25/year, which is even cheaper than they are in DC. And FWIW, it was the meters, not the RPPs, which were privatized.

by Payton on Dec 13, 2012 1:31 am • linkreport

We have the technology to do this better. Create a system where a parking permit allows you to park within 1/10th of a mile from your home. License plates are already tied to your address so all a parking officer needs to do is have a computer that scans your license plate and calculates the GPS location to determine if your parking within the proper distance.

by David c on Dec 14, 2012 4:13 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)

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.

or

Support Us