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


Park Service plans to put parking meters on the National Mall and use the money for a Circulator

The long years of having no public bus, or only an expensive $27 Tourmobile, to get around the National Mall may soon come to an end. The National Park Service is now planning to fund a Circulator bus route in part through adding parking meters on the Mall.

The meters will be the multi-space kind and will go along the roads under NPS control and which allow parking. They will charge $2 an hour, likely including weekends and holidays, according to news reports.

Today, all of that parking is free. In many areas, like Constitution Avenue, workers in nearby buildings show up early and grab the spaces all day. That might be a good deal for those people, but it doesn't help anyone reach the Mall and isn't the best use of the spaces.

This has been in the works for years. For a long time, the Tourmobile was the only option to get around the Mall. NPS had a long-standing exclusive contract which prohibited any other transportation service.

That meant that when DC first launched the Circulator bus, it couldn't use the internal roads on the Mall. Nor would NPS allow any signs on the Mall pointing visitors to the buses.

In 2011, the Park Service terminated its contract with Tourmobile, and began talking with DC officials to create a Circulator route. DC wasn't ready to launch it back in 2011, but this year they are, and NPS is now getting ready to add the meters.

There is a public meeting at 6 pm on February 11 to discuss the plan.

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 »

This seems entirely too logical to implement which means there's no way the NPS will actually go through with it.

by youknowwho on Jan 29, 2014 3:44 pm • linkreport

Only $2 an hour? Seems like they would be full all weekend even at much higher rates.

This would have happened years ago if anybody but the NPS controlled these streets, right?

by Gray on Jan 29, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

Parking meters = the way to go. I never understood why those spaces were free, but I didn't complain whenever I drove family or whoever to the mall for sightseeing and parked for free.

On a different note, how about some bike lanes on constitution/independence? Think we could maybe spare one of the EIGHT lanes

by Nick on Jan 29, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

Does NPS control Constitution Ave?

by Tim on Jan 29, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport

The NPS can't seem to do anything in a reasonable amount of time or without upsetting a lot of people. There remain some dangerously dark sections of Rock Creek Parkway, since the new streetlamps they installed years ago have NEVER been functional.

by Kevin on Jan 29, 2014 4:00 pm • linkreport

Arguably you could nix or lower the rate to $1/hr for the weekends when there just isnt the same demand downtown for parking. NPS would get enough backlash (and might even at $2/hr) that it could endanger an otherwise well conceived policy. Also it would be great if they made the Mall circulator free like the Baltimore circulators. I'm just picturing tourist families floundering around for exact change and cringing.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 4:06 pm • linkreport

I already sent an e-mail supporting the meters. Did tell them not to keep the silly DC 2h limit on them during low hours. $2/h is a steal. They can charge much, much more.

by Jasper on Jan 29, 2014 4:21 pm • linkreport

I wonder who they plan on having enforce these meters? US Park Police resources are stretched way thin and they do no real enforcement of all the illegal bus idling that currently happens daily on Ohio Drive. Also please, for the love of god make the the meter fees payable by the Parkmobile app like the rest of DC does.

by ontarioroader on Jan 29, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

Better yet, make them credit-card accepting - tourists won't have change OR an already installed app.

by Paul on Jan 29, 2014 4:48 pm • linkreport


I'm not sure who controls Independence and Constitution, but they definitely have parking meters. It'd be nice to see bike lanes on Independence, and they definitely have room to spare for most of the length of it. But the Mall sidewalks and Madison and Jefferson roads serve well enough at all times except for high tourist season.

If I were going to fix something on Independence, I'd change the lights at 12th street SW. There have been several pedestrian/car accidents there because of the regular green light. Cars have to turn across 4 lanes of traffic to get on to 12th with a regular green arrow, and during rush hour they try to rush through while pedestrians are crossing the street. It also has a green arrow. Should change it to a left on green arrow only.

On the actual it. This is a no brainer.

by Brian S on Jan 29, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport

It's not without its own caveats, but here's a map I'd put together of a bidirectional loop that also hits Arlington Cemetery, Rosslyn, and diverts further into Capital Hill to link Union Station and Eastern Market:

Granted, mine was interpreted as a bidirectional loop, a bit more tolerant of the longer route but at a much higher cost. As a one-way route... I like it, though ideally I think hitting the Capitol Visitor Center, Library of Congress, and Arlington Cemetery would all be excellent additions.

by Bossi on Jan 29, 2014 5:08 pm • linkreport

It's not without its own caveats, but here's a map I'd put together of a bidirectional loop that also hits Arlington Cemetery, Rosslyn, and diverts further into Capital Hill to link Union Station and Eastern Market:

From the NPS perspective, why serve all of those places with a tourist bus?

by Richard on Jan 29, 2014 5:22 pm • linkreport

You cant spell FREEDOM without FREE

Damn you Obaaamaaaaaaaaaa

by JJJJ on Jan 29, 2014 5:41 pm • linkreport

Love the idea. The east-bound bus seems a LOT more efficient and useful for DC residents than the west-bound bus. Oh well. I guess these are being designed for tourists and not DC residents. Nevertheless, it would be really nice to have a west bound bus that just goes down Constitution Ave all the way to the state department area.

by Jonathan Rose on Jan 29, 2014 5:52 pm • linkreport

For the life of me I've never understood why there isn't an underground Visitors Center with parking, bus loading/parking areas, restrooms, concessions, restaurants and cafes under the Mall.

The present chaotic and polluting situation at the National Capital's main attractions is ridiculous and demeaning.

by ceefer66 on Jan 29, 2014 8:29 pm • linkreport

rather than union station, I'd rather see it go over to Foggy Bottom or Dupont (where it could link up with other circulators) and/or head down along Maine Avenue to the Waterfront metro (which would be even better if the union station to Navy Yard circulator was also extended to Waterfront). There isn't much bus service along Maine now and it would be a great way to bring people down toward the Wharf.

At one point, DDOT was considering a SW to Dupont Circulator via the Mall and I think that would be amazing.

by sbc on Jan 29, 2014 9:47 pm • linkreport

I don't mind paying to park at this national park/memorial (as opposed to other national parks many of which have oversubscribed demand for parking at peak times like this one) but 1) parking should be free after the museums close at 5pm because there's pretty limited demand at that time and 2) they should get rid of the ridiculous restriction about no parking from 12am to 3am. I seriously doubt that's enforced considering the overstretched park police but it's a ridiculous restriction anyway. 3) parking should continue to be free at the FDR memorial because it's really out of the way and difficult to access other than by car or bike 4) the meters should go into effect the same time as the circulator starts, not one year prior as currently planned.

For the life of me I've never understood why there isn't an underground Visitors Center with parking, bus loading/parking areas, restrooms, concessions, restaurants and cafes under the Mall.

My understanding is they don't even have enough money to maintain the grass and build a few bathrooms much less do that. You

by Falls Church on Jan 29, 2014 10:06 pm • linkreport

But won't this mess with the historical viewshed? What does the CFA have to say?

by MB on Jan 29, 2014 10:26 pm • linkreport

Actually I think the restriction is no parking 10pm to 3am, which makes it even worse.

by Falls Church on Jan 29, 2014 10:27 pm • linkreport

No parking should be free by fiat unless demand is low enough to permit it.

by Republic on Jan 29, 2014 10:27 pm • linkreport

Oh but there was a National Visitors Center.

I can see the value of bus parking, but I'd rather tourists got to see the Metro, which is - at least architecturally - a real attraction. There are bathrooms in every Smithsonian museum, the major monuments, and elsewhere. I don't think a centralized facility is the answer at all.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 29, 2014 10:53 pm • linkreport

It's also worth remembering that prior to 1976s, the gravel walking paths along the mall were vehicular roads.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 29, 2014 10:55 pm • linkreport

Pretty sure the restrictions on parking 12AM (or 10PM) - 3AM is to reduce drug and prostitution crime that takes place down on darker sections of the Mall and monument areas at night. I would like to unsee some of the things I've seen take place in parked cars along Ohio Drive riding my bike home from working late night shifts.

by ontarioroader on Jan 29, 2014 10:56 pm • linkreport

I hope the new Circulator service happens. But will there be a Tidal Basin stop. The previous Mall Circulator went past the Tidal Basin but there was no stop there. At cherry blossom time this would be especially helpful.

by Robert Lohman on Jan 29, 2014 10:59 pm • linkreport

This is a first. No one -- not one naysayer -- sees a downside to this. Use automobile parking fees to support a bus route. Everybody wins. Drivers may find more open spaces, buses may get some cars off the road altogether, and I have no pity for the death of the tourmobile.

The worst thing about the tourmobile or the double-decker buses is that they are such a bad value for the cost. The cost is high, the narration has dubious accuracy, and they are tortoise slow, stopping for long arbitrary periods in mid-route.

The tourists will be much better served by a circulator that simply gets them from A to B, without all the pretension.

by David G on Jan 30, 2014 3:37 am • linkreport

All these great ideas. Why were they not carried through 100 years ago? Very glad things are changing but man is this late.

by AndrewJ on Jan 30, 2014 5:52 am • linkreport

Money that could go to building an underground garage/food court would be better spent on making it easier to get to the mall without a car. Then use the rest of the money to fly NPS to places where they have large urban parks that allows all sorts of concessions right there on the street so they can see for themselves how nice it is when you let vendors compete for spaces rather than locking in one vendor for everywhere.

by drumz on Jan 30, 2014 8:29 am • linkreport

I don't want parking meters on the national mall. It's just part of strategy to completely wreck its vistas and aesthetics. I don't want to see little spiky parking meters jutting about like a set of bad teeth.

One plan to *improve* the Mall involves replacing the iconic gravel/sand paths by paving them over.

I sure as heck don't want to see construction of a underground parking garage, or some useless visitors center a.k.a bathroom emporium and food court. Rest assured, these facilities won't be completely underground.

It's bad enough that the Smithsonian can't find the money to finish the Arts & Industries to turn into center that examines innovation in the U.S. Now, apparently, it's possible it may end up as the new Latino museum, a use far removed from its original intent.

Honestly, the National Mall is beautiful, it transcends our time. I really -- really, truly, truly -- could care less if people are having trouble finding a parking space along the National Mall. And there are plenty of bathrooms.

by kob on Jan 30, 2014 9:02 am • linkreport

kob: They will be the multispace meters, the larger kiosks spaced farther apart (and often painted green) which take a credit card and you get a receipt to display in the windshield.

You might not like the look of those, either. Personally, I don't like the look of all the cars along the edge marring the view of the Mall, but that's just me.

by David Alpert on Jan 30, 2014 9:07 am • linkreport

The Circulator transfer policy would also effectively allow for hop-on/hop-off privileges for two hours. The question would be usage rates of SmartTrip cards for tourists.

by gman on Jan 30, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport


Absolutely, from the NPS perspective, but from everyone else's perspective there's no need it needs to be nothing but a tourist bus.

by Bossi on Jan 30, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport


Thee are already meters along the Mall on 7th Street and 14 Street. No views have been ruined with the meters on either of these streets.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 30, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

This leads to the question of that other National Park Service curbside land is unmetered but has sufficient demand to charge for parking. Are there parking meters next to Fort Reno, adjacent to National Park Service land?

by 202_cyclist on Jan 30, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

It is good to see the National Park Service charging for parking and improving transit along the Mall. Now we need bike lanes or sharrows on Madison and Jefferson Drive.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 30, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

@kob: I would hope that you really, truly, truly could care about families, seniors, and others who currently have no options to move about the Mall other than long walks under the summer sun, or an overpriced and infrequent shuttle.

Last summer, I struggled to give Metrobus directions to an elderly man wearing officer's insignia who wanted to visit the WW2 memorial. The trouble is that there are currently NO all-day buses that go there, only a few rush-hour routes that dispense people along Constitution.

Multi-space parking meters will fit right in amidst the array of parking-hour signs, benches, trash cans, etc. along Madison/Jefferson drives. It will make more spaces available throughout the day, and normalize payment for NPS lots in downtown DC (where other NPS lots, like at Thompson Boathouse, also require payment).

by Payton Chung on Jan 30, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

As for other NPS properties, Fort Reno has a block of free commuter parking with no restrictions on Belt Road next to doggie hill. When I bike to work, I see the suburban folks streaming in before 7am to claim them some free parking as they then walk to the Metro.

I imagine there are any number of other NPS properties that similarly give out free parking. It would seem that our friends at DDOT would have some clue about where those were and would be pro-active in explaining to NPS how DC and NPS parking policies should be aligned. After yesterday's performance before Mary Cheh, I expect very little to come from DDOT on better managing parking.

by fongfong on Jan 30, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

This is a good plan from the NPS. The proposed route for the Circulator is a good compromise that will provide access to the Mall sites and connect to the Metro at 2 stops. If the 22 mile priority Streetcar system is built, provisions should be made for the Mall Circulator to extend or get close to H St to connect to the E-W line and a stop on the Mall next to the N-S streetcar stop.

Since this is a good concept for improving access to the Mall, someone in Congress is sure to try to interfere or block it.

by AlanF on Jan 30, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

How about an A to B or Abe's to Ben's Circulator?

From Lincoln Memorial up 23rd Street past the Foggy Bottom Metro, down New Hampshire to the Dupont Circle Metro, and up to the U Street Metro.

It would connect the mall to all four Metro lines, while bringing tourists and their money to shopping and dining spots in Foggy Bottom, Dupont, and U Street, and - at the same time - connecting Foggy Bottom, Dupont, and U Street neighborhoods.

by Mike S. on Jan 30, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

The blocks from 1st to 7th Streets along Madison are taken up by workers at the MPD headquarters on Indiana Ave NW. Employees store their personal vehicles in every spot on weekdays, including over every fire hydrant, every crosswalk, and every corner. So much for law enforcement by those sworn to uphold the law.

Meters in that stretch, then, will only bring in money on weekends. MPD commuters have no shame. And Cathy Lanier wonders why so many of her employees act like rogues with no respect for the law.

NB: the Park Service does write tickets on the rare vehicle that does not show FOP plates, or have a MPD hoodie tossed on the dashboard.

by Sydney on Jan 30, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

bossi, ceefer66, drumz -- I have a piece outlining a comprehensive approach to visitor management here:


+ -

and this ur piece:


The charging for parking to fund bus service is a good thing.

These pieces discuss visitor centers, underground parking (drumz, some people are gonna drive and it's a revenue source), a new Metro station to serve Jefferson memorial, and heritage streetcar operation. But the Circulator idea is fine.

drumz -- for access to the Mall to be promoted for nondriving, WMATA's fare structure would have to be a lot different. it's cheaper to drive a group to the Mall than it is to pay for separate Metro fares each way for everybody.

BTA -- downtown weekend parking availability is "immaterial" to the demand profile for parking on those two streets _on the weekend_ which is the time of peak demand for visiting the National Mall. It should cost less then, if anything it should cost more.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 11:31 am • linkreport

This is a great idea, but it seems inevitably doomed as soon as members of congress start getting involved. Can't you imagine Congresspeople standing up to NPS to protect their constituents' "right" to free parking on the Mall when they vacation in Washington?

by RP on Jan 30, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

Pretty sure the restrictions on parking 12AM (or 10PM) - 3AM is to reduce drug and prostitution crime that takes place down on darker sections of the Mall and monument areas at night.

I'd prefer having the extra eyes on the street that additional usage from parking during late hours would bring. That would help prevent muggings and other violent crime the Mall has suffered from in the past an in general, make it a less scary to see the monuments under the glow of moonlight, with no crowds.

Tip: if you want to see the cherry blossoms at the tidal basin without the hassles and crowds, go at night. It's really beautiful.

by Falls Church on Jan 30, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport


Forgive me if you cover this in a post, but is the tourist market kind of a captured audience for metro?

A: novelty of metro (for better or worse, this and NYC is a lot of people's first exposure of taking some sort of subway).
B: Fear of "city driving" (I grew up in a small town and encountered this a lot and still saw it when I moved to Fairfax).
C: garage rates (if you're trying to spend a full day at the sites and what not.
D: or they're simply part of a tour group and on some sort of chartered transportation.

Those are the things I've just noticed. I might be assuming too much.

by Canaan on Jan 30, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

Not saying that tourists should be fleeced for metro fares but your conclusion that many tourists would rather drive also kind of surprises me.

by Canaan on Jan 30, 2014 12:02 pm • linkreport

Well if the stated purpose was the reserve parking for tourists and not commuters, then I don't think weekend parking fits in that paradigm. Now if its to encourage people to Metro in, that's a different story.

by BTA on Jan 30, 2014 12:09 pm • linkreport


I like the heritage streetcar idea. It'd be a step up from the faux historic trolleys you see riding around (most notably the King street shuttle in Alexandria, but I also rode the Philly Phlash this summer which was basically the same thing).

However, noting how easily crowded that shuttle can get you'd want a vehicle that can handle a large single station crush. A heritage vehicle seems a poor choice for that.

by drumz on Jan 30, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

Or we could just forget the parking meters and the buses and let tourists get off their fat keisters and walk around the Mall.

by Rik on Jan 30, 2014 12:11 pm • linkreport

I think it's a brilliant and timely idea. Over time the parking fee can be adjusted according to demand. If people must drive to the monuments and museums and then occupy city space with their private cars then let them pay for the privilege. And I hope they don't build a garage under the Mall--that would only encourage more driving. Even if the cars parked in an underground garage aren't seen, they add to congestion when they're moving. The Mall is an ideal candidate for a high capacity, comfortable, model transit system to accommodate tourists--monorail, streetcar, etc.

by likedrypavement on Jan 30, 2014 1:09 pm • linkreport

As a former employee who lost her job when the Company closed, I feel obligated to correct this article that is full of inaccuracies.

First, the NPS did not terminate its contract with Tourmobile. Tourmobile opted to discontinue operating after the death of its owner in 2009.

Second, Tourmobile was privately-owned, which meant it received no federal subsidies to purchase equipment and other items. The circulator buses were purchased with tax dollars and currently uses taxpayer dollars to operate. It's easy to reduce fares to almost nothing when your operating funds come for the deep pockets of federal government. While this transportation on paper seem inexpensive and reasonable, it will cost everyone, whether they use this service or not, millions of dollars.

You can't operate a bus company collecting 1 or 2 dollars per passenger without losing money unless taxpayers are picking up the tab. Two dollar fares seems nice a reasonable until people realize they are subsidizing the operation using their tax dollars. I guess if you aren't paying the fee as you board the bus, then people don't seem to mind.

Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Secretary of the United States Department of Interior has the exclusive right to control federal parklands and issue contracts to service those lands. Consequently, the NPS issued a contract to operate the interpretive shuttle on the National Mall. Ultimately, the NPS can issue any contract they wish to run this service.

by L. Katrell on Jan 30, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

@ Payton Chung

I truly care about seniors, families and children. But the mall, by its very nature, requires a great degree of non-motorized mobility. Even with parking meters, there is no guarantee that anyone will be able to find a parking space within a half-mile of anything. But the mall is exceptionally well served by mass transit. Three separate metro stops will bring people within relatively close proximity of its major attractions. Your point about the bus transportation is noted. But adequate bus transportation, that brings people to the entrance point of a monument or museum, is an entirely separate issue.

by kob on Jan 30, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

Canaan -- A lot of tourists ride Metro, I think a lot don't. Cost matters to some, and not others. FWIW, for years I have recommended that a "transit wayfinding" system be created to communicate how the system works, for all of those people who don't in fact have experience with the system.

I'm not sure at all the stations, but definitely at Union Stations and the core stations like Gallery Place and Metro Center, probably at the end-of-line stations, at least for demonstrations (you have to experience it to believe it...), etc.

But it really has to be studied I think. It would be interesting to talk to concierges and hotel personnel in DC but especially NoVA as they market those properties as cheaper alternatives.

I once called the press people at Destination DC about this, and they had no real clue about tourism and mobility-modes, etc.

One of those blog entries cites a Volpe Center (?) report looking at tourism mobility systems in other cities, it was commissioned for the NPS Washington transpo study. E.g., Savannah charges people for a two day parking pass, and use those funds to fund various free transit options (although we just walked mostly).

2. The thing about the underground parking garage is to capture the cars and keep them fixed, and move people around by other means once they've entered the city.

3. I think PCC cars have enough capacity. People get on and off quite a bit between the attractions. (The F line in SF would be the model.)

4. It's not that NCPC, NPS, DC, and Smithsonian aren't all thinking about this stuff, they're just doing it semi-separately.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport


I'm going to Vienna in a few months and I'm going to try to make a note of how their Ringstrasse Tram works if I get a chance.

It's a supplement to regular tram service on that boulevard but has a video tour guide attached to it apparently.

by Canaan on Jan 30, 2014 3:26 pm • linkreport

An idea that's waaaay overdue. I suggest these refinements: (1) Charge a higher hourly rate. (2) Do away with reserved spaces for law enforcement; they can park if necessary and get reimbursed by their agencies afterward. (I suspect a lot of these spaces are taken as all-day parking by office workers who could easily park in nearby garages.) (3) Install meters and charge the same rates for weekend parking on Maryland and Pennsylvania Avenues between First and Second Streets. These blocks are crammed with tourist cars on the weekends (even though signs say the spaces are reserved) and the extra revenue generated would greatly help the circulator route. It could also pay for better enforcement. On another issue, I think one reason for prohibiting overnight parking on the Mall is that, if this were allowed, the Mall would soon be crammed with those ungodly camper vans and giant RVs -- a truly alarming prospect.

by JAS on Jan 30, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

I'm jealous about your trip to Vienna. If you're interested in social housing, you should take the opportunity to learn about that too. I don't know if they do tours.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 6:08 pm • linkreport

"For the life of me I've never understood why there isn't an underground Visitors Center with parking, bus loading/parking areas, restrooms, concessions, restaurants and cafes under the Mall.'

"My understanding is they don't even have enough money to maintain the grass and build a few bathrooms much less do that."

The cost could be recouped by charging a parking fee, installing parking meters on surrounding streets, and charging buses to rent docking spaces (and banning bus parking on the nearby streets thereby forcing them to use the Visitors Center).

Quite simple.

by ceefer66 on Jan 31, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

The cost could be recouped by charging a parking fee, installing parking meters on surrounding streets, and charging buses to rent docking spaces (and banning bus parking on the nearby streets thereby forcing them to use the Visitors Center).

Quite simple.

You're going to have to show your work on that to convince anyone that such a massive underground structure (read: expensive) will pay for itself.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

I'm really not sure why an underground Visitors Center (not just a parking garage) has to "pay for itself".

First of all, it would include more than just parking. Concessionaires (restaurants, shops, etc.) would pay rent. Tour buses would pay a usage charge.

Since when do public facilities have to "pay for themselves"?

Or does that only to facilities that accommodate drivers? If we were discussing a proposal to install a Metro station or a bicycle facility at the Mall, would there be this howling that those suggesting them explain how they would "pay for themselves"?

by ceefer66 on Jan 31, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport


It's hard to believe that so many people are praising this new initiative. I was sure there would be more backlash to this. In any case, thank you for giving another side to the debate, and [hopefully] giving others something to think about.

by Plum on Jan 31, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

Since when do public facilities have to "pay for themselves"?

They don't - it just happens to be a particular talking point from those pushing the idea of a large parking garage under the National Mall.

If we were discussing a proposal to install a Metro station or a bicycle facility at the Mall, would there be this howling that those suggesting them explain how they would "pay for themselves"?

Only if the promoters of said projects were claiming they would pay for themselves.

It's interesting you bring up biking: the NPS allowed Capital Bikeshare to operate on the Mall, and by all accounts - it actually does pay for itself.

But if we're going to invest public funds, we really then need to consider if that money can't be put to better use elsewhere.

The real question is this: "is this a good investment?" And all too often, promoters will throw out the line that "this will pay for itself" as some sort of evidence that it is therefore a wise investment, and without any actual proof that it will pay for itself.

Parking is very expensive in Downtown DC. The market rate for a space in a garage is quite high - yet even that isn't enough to cover the even higher costs of building underground parking. Developers will do so either because they are compelled to do so by zoning, or because they are compelled to do so in order to rent their profit-making space to tenants. Either way, the parking serves as a loss-leader for the rest of the development.

Why would a garage under the National Mall be any different?

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

Unrelated Vienna plug, take a day out to visit wine country around Krems/Durnstein. It's just beautiful.

by BTA on Jan 31, 2014 11:34 am • linkreport


We plan on it. Thanks for the tip.


I've read you mentioning it before. I will if I get a chance. I'll be with my wife whom I love dearly and recognize that she is not quite as interested in these issues as I am.

by Canaan on Jan 31, 2014 11:49 am • linkreport

@Alex B.,

OK. I'll bite.

For argument's sake. let's agree that privately-owned cars are the devil's handiwork, don't belong in any city, least of all DC, and the people who drive them are a bunch of selfish irresponsible heavily-subsidized freeloaders who are getting over at everyone else's expense and don't deserve anything else, least of all expensive subsidized parking - especially when there's more than enough of it, we're fighting wars to provide them with cheap oil and we're taxing bicycles and raising transit fares to feed drivers' insatiable appetite for new roads thanks to induced demand. Fine. I'll give you that.

But exactly what is wrong with the idea of building visitors center under the Mall that would provide an information center, clean, safe restrooms, and "pay for itself" by operating a gift shop, a café, a food court, and requiring tour buses to use it and pay a fee for the privilege?

I'll wait.

by ceefer66 on Feb 2, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

I'm not Alex, but for my part, if we're talking about a facility for tour buses, I have no problem with that if it really can pay for itself and maybe even it takes a little federal money.

I'm skeptical such a thing would pay for itself, and it's easy to throw around a hypothetical about something that supposedly would be self-funding without evidence. A lot of people believe any private garage must be profitable which isn't true (as Alex explained).

If we're talking about a private car garage (like the Save Our Mall proposal), the only problem is that it would generate traffic (and I don't think it would be self-funding either). If the garage can be self-funding and also throw off some money to improve non-auto mobility to reduce traffic in another way, that seems okay.

But I don't see any real analysis behind the "it will pay for itself" claims.

by David Alpert on Feb 2, 2014 12:06 pm • linkreport

But exactly what is wrong with the idea of building visitors center under the Mall that would provide an information center, clean, safe restrooms, and "pay for itself" by operating a gift shop, a café, a food court, and requiring tour buses to use it and pay a fee for the privilege?

You're not asking the right questions.

Instead of asking if there's anything wrong with the idea, you should be asking if the idea is feasible.

Is it feasible that the project you describe would pay for itself? It is probable? Is it likely?

The point of asking these questions is this: we should pick projects based on the merits of the proposal. Proponents for this parking garage are using the idea that it will 'pay for itself' as one of the project's merits. Upon even a basic review, we should be extremely skeptical of that claim. And once you are skeptical of that claim, the merits of the project completely change.

It would be a lot different if the proposers were pushing a tour bus parking facility at a location where air rights development above the bus garage could subsidize the bus facility. That is a far more realistic financing scenario.

The idea of a dedicated bus parking facility is not new:

However, none of these plans make the claim that it will pay for itself.

by Alex B. on Feb 2, 2014 12:11 pm • linkreport


I always assume that I'm wrong about most things, with that in mind I'll offer the following counter-arguments.

The Smithsonian main castle building already has a visitors center. It seems more than capable of meeting needs. And who wants to go to an underground visitor's center when you have the magnificent sculpture garden and its ample restaurant? (Not to mention the spacious food courts in the other museums) I don't think it's valid to assume that an underground facility will generate enough revenue to pay for anything. The competition is better.

But the underground food court will compete with other venues. Restaurant concession is a major source of revenue for the Smithsonian complex and NGA, and I would worry that a food court in a visitors center wouldn't really increase visitors, but would compete directly with Smithsonian revenue.

Are car the devil's handiwork? No, in a word. Changes to the National Mall is something else entirely.

Where would this parking garage be built? Off 14th perhaps? Near American History? Or on the opposite side, near the Washington Monument? Or maybe it should be built in the area of the Lincoln Memorial.

Maybe someone can come up with a underground parking garage that is entire non-disruptive to the Mall. A garage that blends in so perfectly with the landscape that it isn't noticed at all. And perhaps the garage can pay for itself. Rates will likely be structured to at $20 or so for two hours of parking, with a max of $45 or so for all day. Not unusual pricing for garage of this sort. The garage pricing will act as a continuing incentive for people to Metro and bus in.

I am anti-change when it comes to the National Mall. There is something incredibly beautiful about its simple layout, the sand/gravel tracks and its gorgeous vistas. It's incredibly easy to access by mass transit. The idea of a massive five-year construction project to accommodate a fraction of visitors just strikes me as pointless.

by kob on Feb 2, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

Would DC be paying a dime of the money ? As i see it with the route above the only people benefiting from it are tourist, and people going to somewhere along Louisana or Constitution ave which dont really have any transit.

My idea would be the extend the red line on the map to the Kennedy Center and to Foggy Bottom Station or nearby somehow. The blue line on the map would be extended from Constituion Ave to 17th & H NW (near the White House, Farragur West & North Metro Stations)

This would make it useful to people other than tourist plus serve areas with no transit right now (17th Street and Constitution Ave)

by kk on Feb 3, 2014 5:49 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