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Survey suggests DC residents are open to parking reform

DC residents say they rely on street parking, don't have a lot of competition for street parking, and are open to reduced parking requirements, according to the results of a recent survey from Councilmember Anita Bonds.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

On Tuesday, Bonds released the results of her survey about parking in DC. Respondents answered questions about how many cars they owned if they owned any, their experiences finding street parking, and their opinions on proposed changes to the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) and Visitor Parking Permit (VPP) system.

Some of the results are a little surprising, while others seem to confirm suspicions about street parking in the District. But we still have a very incomplete picture of DC residents' experiences with parking.

One question asked how many cars are in your household. 51% of respondents said they had only one car, while 25% had two cars and 18% of respondents do not own a car at all. This suggests car owners were disproportionately represented in the survey, because the number of car free households in DC is closer to one-third.

Since the survey was mainly about parking permits, it makes sense that someone who is car-free wouldn't fill it out. But the council should also try to learn about how car-free individuals feel about parking, since it's part of an overall traffic policy that affects everyone.

It appears that changes to on-street parking will affect a lot of people. Over 70% of respondents said that they either solely rely on street parking or a mix of private and street parking. Half said they have permit parking on both sides of their street, while one-third said they don't have permit parking on their street at all.

However, respondents don't consider parking availability a major issue. More than half of the respondents said that they "rarely" or "never" feel that "businesses, corner markets, churches, or other non-profits interfere with [the] ability to find adequate street parking" near their homes. 28% said that they "sometimes" feel that it happens, while only 13% said it "always" happens. It would be interesting to know where the respondents who said "rarely" or "sometimes" live, and if they're concentrated in certain parts of the city.

Results on the Visitor Parking Program (VPP) are more mixed. Half of respondents said they had used VPP in the past six months, and 57% received their pass in the mail instead of going to the police station to pick it up, as was the case before. 70% said that they would prefer continuing to pick up their passes in the same manner. This suggests that the city should give people lots of different options for getting visitor permits.

Respondents disagreed on whether the city should eliminate parking minimums, but are interested in the idea. The Office of Planning originally proposed removing parking requirements throughout DC, but will only recommend doing so downtown. At least a third of city residents support the idea outright, while 25% are still unsure, but say they could be open to it.

The survey doesn't tell us everything. Many of the questions rely on feelings instead of more quantifiable measures. We also don't know how many people took the survey. I've asked Bonds' office what that number is, but they haven't responded. Since the survey was taken only by people who chose to, there's a self-selection bias, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, the survey shows that residents' opinions on parking are fairly mixed, and that they may be open to changes. It indicates the potential for greater support for serious parking reform, which conventional wisdom says would face significant political obstacles at the DC Council. With this in mind, it's time to collect even more detailed and rigorous information about how and where DC residents park their cars.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He has lived all over Northern Virginia and now lives in Burke.  


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The more cars, the more taxpayer money for the Fort Myer Construction Corporation.

by Sydney on Oct 11, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

Feelings matter from a political perspective - if people feel the problem is X, then a solution needs to address it.

by ah on Oct 11, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

The "mixed" results are driving the NIMBYs on the Chevy Chase listserv nuts. They are shocked that there are people in the City who have different views than those expressed on a listserv whose moderator doesn't let through too many posts that support parking reform or elimination of parking minimums:

The fun part is that both Silverman and Bonds supporters can agree that the survey is flawed:

From an Elissa Silverman supporter:
---In wrote:

It seems unlikely that this survey was truly available city-wide. If it had been mailed more than once to every address, that would be a first step towards making it available city-wide. But when decisions of great importance are to rest on data, a concerted effort is made to reach even people without e-mail, and to attain a random selection of respondents.

Andrea Rosen

And from a Bonds supporter:

In, wrote:

Greater Greater Washington also posted a live link to the survey, encouraging its readers to participate.\

So it seems likely that the survey circulated not only within the District, but beyond.

Sue Hemberger, Friendship Heights

Canaan's point about self-selection taking place in that non-drivers were unlikely to participate is a good one

by fongfong on Oct 11, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

Dear Ms Hemberger

I saw the link, but did not respond because I do not live in DC. I also feel personally insulted by your implication, and have even less respect for you.

Have a nice day.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 11, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

The catch is that the city maybe used the Real Property Data Base addresses to mail the survey -- meaning that probably 1/3 went to erroneous addresses! If your house is sold by mistake at a tax lien sale, why do you need street parking?!

by Jasper2 on Oct 11, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

The sampling methodology doesn't seem terribly rigorous either. I suspect it didnt reach many carless people in particular. I only saw it through GGW even though I do live in the District.

by BTA on Oct 11, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

I was hoping to see the term "probability sample"....

by Solution Giver on Oct 11, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

>We also don't know how many people took the survey. I've asked Bonds' office what that number is, but they haven't responded.<

Lost me right there. They released a survey without some of the basics, such as number of responses and methodology?

This report really needs that.

If the Washington Post had contacted Bonds office and asked for this detail, it would have received it.

The story for GGW isn't about the survey, but about the problems with it (which you point out in the piece), and the failure of the office to respond to your simple request.

What's the point of writing up the survey if the data is missing?

by kob on Oct 11, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Where are you getting your data? (ie... The number of car free households in DC is closer to one-third)

Because I'm calling B*** S***.

by jeff on Oct 11, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

They sent this in the mail? I only received an email link.

by Adam L on Oct 11, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

Census data indicates that about 1/3 of DC HOUSEHOLDS are carless (that's been true for over a decade -- it's nothing new). But that does not mean that 1/3 of the INDIVIDUALS (adults) in DC are carless.

Hypothetically, assume a universe of 99 households. 33 are carless, 66 are car-owning. All the car-less households consist of one adult. All the car-owning households consist of an adult couple. A survey of a representative sampling of individuals in this universe would yield a 20% carless stat.

But, yeah, why waste time arguing about the validity of a study in which the respondents are self-selecting and we don't even know how many respondents there were?

by BTDT on Oct 11, 2013 6:21 pm • linkreport


That's based on the American Community Survey but the census website is down because of the shutdown so I can only tell you what it roughly is rather than the specific number but it's in the thirty percent range. If the site was up is provide a link.

by Canaan on Oct 11, 2013 6:34 pm • linkreport

How many cars “they” owned? “They” is not the millions of people who visit DC throughout every year. Sure this forum wants to transform DC into a cloister of walking, biking, net zero citizens but what about the rest of the nation who have a major stake in their capital? The city is actively chasing vehicles away with what can only be defined as a determined multi-front approach. What about that shadowy word “commerce” which is the only thing that supports cities by paying for all the households, all the services, and all the life? Massive sectors of commerce in DC require vehicular access or the costs of doing business will turn DC into a very expensive place to do business and thus live in (meaning even 99% of the federal workforce could not afford to live here).

by AndrewJ on Oct 12, 2013 7:45 am • linkreport

Yeah, the attempts to make it prohibitively expensive for DC residents to own cars seem short-sighted when so much of DC's vehicular traffic is commuters. DDOT estimates that 2/3 of the cars and trucks on DC streets during rush hour are from out of state.

by BTDT on Oct 12, 2013 8:28 am • linkreport

There isn't nearly enough money available to fund mass transit on a stand alone basis. Is it fair, appropriate, and desirable to continue substantially to increase the costs of utilizing cars in DC through the combined use of such things as speed cameras, parking garage taxes, meter fees, and performance-based parking rates and either directly (in the case of performance-based parking revenues) or otherwise indirectly subsidize mass transit to the detriment of those who rely on their cars? Is there some reasonable limit on doing this?

by James from DC on Oct 12, 2013 9:58 am • linkreport

In the sessions for the Parking Think Tank initiative, it was clear to me that some residents were open to change, based on their comments and ideas. But most of the DDOT facilitators were not planners and were unable to figure out the importance of what people were saying and to harvest the points.

I offered to facilitate myself, because it was so clear that they were missing huge opportunities.

by Richard Layman on Oct 12, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

"Yeah, the attempts to make it prohibitively expensive for DC residents to own cars "

I know of no such attempts. Gas tax is higher in DC than in Va (is it higher than in Md?) but y'all don't have a personal property tax on vehicles, like we do, do you?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 12, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

"Is it fair, appropriate, and desirable to continue substantially to increase the costs of utilizing cars in DC through the combined use of such things as speed cameras, parking garage taxes, meter fees, and performance-based parking rates "

speed cameras do not increase the cost of utilizing a car in DC IF one drives within the speed limits, obeys reds, etc.

meters and perf based parking do not add a burden to using a car - at least unless they are set so high as to leave an excessive number of empty spaces - which IIUC is not the case. Rather they allocate scarce spots, relieving drivers of the time and gasoline costs of circling for a space.

That leaves parking garage taxes. I am not familiar with them. That would be a reasonable topic for a post - what public policy goals do they serve, and are they at the right level.

However my sense, from both driving, walking, and biking, in DC, is that there is not a large amount of street space for more cars to be driven- so if the impact of parking garage taxes is to moderately lower the utilization of cars, that probably has little negative economic impact.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 12, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

"otherwise indirectly subsidize mass transit to the detriment of those who rely on their cars? "

You seem to implicitly assume that the only beneficiaries of transit are its riders. I have a hard time understanding how DC would function at its current level of economic activity if all those folks on transit switched to driving. I would hate to be driving in on I395 with an actual need to get somewhere on time on the day that happened.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 12, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

I agree with AWITC's points that all the things James lists are not taxes on driving per se but fines or use fees. Because space is less available here, we charge meter fees, whereas a shopping mall doesn't. Space is cheaper there, but it does create differences in the landscape, and make it harder to charge in the places where space is more dear.

The thing about the personal property tax on cars is that it does help to cover some of the subsidy costs to motor vehicle ownership.

DC already charges tax on parking in commercial structures and lots. I don't know if parking provided "free" to tenants is taxed somehow.

But the general point that AWITC makes, that DC could not function if everyone drove, is the foundational one. And we see exponential negative effects from marginal increases in traffic, because our road network is constrained. Similarly we see extranormal benefits from small reductions in motor vehicle traffic--which is why on many streets during rush hour I can run red lights on my bike, because there is minimal traffic. (This is true for some streets not all, especially the major entryways into and out of the city, like K St. or New York Avenue, which are always pretty much congested.)

This is why DC should manage demand for driving more than it does, to maximize throughput, and to reduce the number of subsidies that exist for driving, and to invest more in transit and other sustainable modes, including support of car share.

by Richard Layman on Oct 13, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

Fix WMATA senior and middle management and remove the process for updating bus service from the political arena and you get 5-10% more cars off the road with next to zero capital investment.

No one likes to drive in the city, but the people who are willing to put up with the BS from WMATA are already using the system.

The problem of course is that you're going to have to do WMATA reform Rhee style to get any traction.

by Barry on Oct 14, 2013 5:49 am • linkreport

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