Greater Greater Washington

Parking


Here are four ways to make parking meters on the National Mall a success

The National Park Service is proposing to add meters to areas of the National Mall and memorial parks where parking is currently free. With a thoughtful plan, meters should make it easier to find parking on the Mall and improve access to its important sites.


Non-NPS meters on the Mall. Photo by Jeremy Caesar on Flickr.

A few key steps can help the meter program be successful: setting meter rates and times based on demand, offering convenient payment options, helping people locate parking and transportation alternatives, and being transparent about how meter revenue is spent.

Embrace performance parking: Meter rates need not be the same everywhere on the Mall. In areas and at times where parking is widely available, there is little reason to charge for it. But in places and at times where parking is scarce, the Park Service should set prices to manage its availability by encouraging parking turnover and alternative modes of transportation.

The Park Service already seems to anticipate this to an extent. The proposal would only add meters in some areas of the Mall, not everywhere (for instance, not at Hains Point). Presumably, NPS has selected these areas because parking demand is highest there, although it would be helpful for the Park Service to confirm this.

Likewise, NPS says that the meter rate, and the days and hours that meters are in effect, will be "similar to DC's parking rates adjacent to" the Mall area. That suggests that NPS will set Mall rates to be comparable to city meters nearby, but maybe slightly higher or lower based on demand. NPS also states that the times meters operate will include an evaluation of demand.

As with parking in other parts of the city, it may make sense for different areas of the Mall to charge different rates or operate for extended hours. To best manage the availability of parking, the Park Service should regularly review data from parking meters to determine whether rates and times should be adjusted.

Make it easy to pay: Drivers will be more willing to pay for parking if it's simple to do so. The days of quarters-only parking meters are gone. Thankfully, NPS says it plans to use meters with multiple payment options. In addition, signage on the meters should clearly explain charges. The Park Service should also plan to ensure that meters are kept in working condition.

Help people find a spot: Helping drivers to locate a parking spot will reduce the sting of introducing fees. The Park Service should evaluate whether current signage could be more effective at directing drivers to parking areas. For instance, if a person can't find an available spot in one parking area, is there a sign directing them to the next place to look? Perhaps meter data could even be used to provide real-time information about parking availability through a mobile website or app.

Furthermore, providing information about transportation options is a good way to encourage visitors to get to the Mall without needing to park. In addition to the planned Circulator bus service, the Mall is now home to several Capital Bikeshare stations.

The Park Service should be sure to publicize those options in its maps and websites and provide wayfinding tools on the ground. And in the longer term, NPS can support Metro's proposal to add a Metrorail station in East Potomac Park by 2040.

Be transparent about revenue: The most important reason to meter public parking is to manage its availability. Generating revenue can be an additional bonus for the Park Service, but it should not be the overriding concern. Being transparent about meter revenue will help people trust that meters were installed for the right reasons, not just to squeeze visitors.

For instance, the Park Service says that meter revenue will help pay for Circulator service, but doesn't say how much of the funds will go to that purpose or whether some of it might be spent elsewhere. The Park Service should annually disclose how much it raises from metered parking and explain what it does with those funds.

Street space in DC is scarce, especially around one of the city and nation's biggest attractions. Done right, bringing parking meters to the National Mall will allow more people to visit and enjoy it.

Gavin Baker is a policy analyst at the Center for Effective Government. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer. He lives with his wife in Adams Morgan. 

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Let's get the idling tour busses out of the area while we're at it.

by Crickey7 on Feb 3, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

hey gavin:

Meter rates need not be the same everywhere on the Mall. In areas and at times where parking is widely available, there is little reason to charge for it.

the impact on the beauty on the area is impacted by a single car; and there is NO reason to have ANY cars on the MALL! NONE. this is a quality of life issue, NOT A CAR ISSUE OR A PARKING ISSUE!!!! the buses issue on the mall is simply beyond hope and asinine.

Street space in DC is scarce, especially around one of the city and nation's biggest attractions. Done right, bringing parking meters to the National Mall will allow more people to visit and enjoy it.

exactly! why in the hell would we want o give up precious sapce to a mode of transport THAT CLEARLY DOESNT WORK AND REQUIRES MASSIVE SUBSIDY AS WELL AS UNFAIRLY IMPACT THE LIVES OF THOSE WHO ARE SMART ENOUGH TO HAVE LEFT THE CAR CULTURE BEHIND!??

comments like yours are infuriating!! see beyond the present, gavin. TAKE A STAND! itll feel good to not be just an accommodating liberal.

"our lives begin to end the day we become silent on things that matter." -- dr MLK jr. read it. understand it. dont black box the car culture and how devastating it has been for depreciating the quality of life; and for being the main axis around which democracy has faltered and economic segregation has accelerated...

by m. bakunin on Feb 3, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

Aren't vehicle and driving tickets on federal property still handled by the federal courts? I know last time I got a ticket at DCA they were.

The cost to enforce and process probably is more than the revenue.

by Tom Coumaris on Feb 3, 2014 11:42 am • linkreport

If they do performance parking, I'm a strong believer in a static system adjusted periodically, say monthly with demand to maintain an peak 80-90% occupancy rate, vs a free floating rate which is confusing. I also think they should make the circulator shuttle free. Ideally in the long run the buses would run in both directions instead of a semi clockwise loop.

by BTA on Feb 3, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

I know everyone enjoys hating on tour buses, but it's comparatively rare to have idling buses (outside of a few very cold winter days) on the Mall. Bus drivers are concerned, to the point of paranoia about getting an idling ticket.

What you're seeing is a constant stream of buses picking up and dropping off. They sit for, at most, 5-10 minutes to pick up a group and then move on to the next spot on our itinerary. Now, some drivers WILL try to sit a little longer. I personally discourage this when it's even mildly crowded as that backs up the buses and causes a cluster #$@#% for all of us. Me especially.

But admittedly some do. But only the most rookie clueless driver will attempt to idle for longer than a minute or two. The fine is roughly 2-3 day's pay for these guys and it comes out of their pocket. Trust me, they'll happily let a bunch of kids sit in a hot bus rather than idling to keep it cool (rightly so, btw). DDOT officers/Park Police/etc. might just wave a parking scofflaw away but they always ticket idlers.

Again, the issue with the buses is that they are bringing and dropping kids constantly to the museums. You see, as you go by, buses there "all the time". If you were to note their numbers, you'd see they turn over pretty constantly.

Multiply each bus by 55 eighth graders and ask yourself if you REALLY want them all to take the Metro.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 3, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

I would be happy for them to take out some street parking to make room for short term tour bus parking (under 2 hours) maybe on Independence or Constitution.

by BTA on Feb 3, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

"Multiply each bus by 55 eighth graders and ask yourself if you REALLY want them all to take the Metro."

Yes. Yes, I do.

What, that wasn't the answer you were expecting?

by Ryan on Feb 3, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

Seems a particular challenge for the Mall, given the absence of many public garages in the vicinity. Many of the visitors are out-of-town families who it's going to be hard to dissuade from driving. And they tend to stay for more than just an hour or two.

by Adam F on Feb 3, 2014 12:28 pm • linkreport

the Park Service should set prices to manage its availability by encouraging parking turnover and alternative modes of transportation.

I love it when people regurgitate standard phrases without thinking about the context in which they're using them. Nancy Pelosi on the Daily Show is great at it, but this remark here makes no sense. Encouraging parking turn-over makes sense when doing performance parking near shopping facilities. Not at a location where quick turn-around is against the nature of the beast. People visiting the Mall want spend hours there. Not just 15 minutes.

Help people find a spot

The entire rest of the developed world has been using electronic parking signs for decades. Not sure why they haven't caught on in the US, although I suspect it will be worse on the Mall with the usual suspects foaming at the mouth about destroyed vistas and stuff.

electronic parking sign

by Jasper on Feb 3, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

Making people for parking at top Mall attractions is a good idea... Right now, a lot of available parking goes to nearby employees (including at museums served by the parking) who occupy it for much if not all of the day. Make parking up to 3 hours near some of the big attractions and charge $2 per hour, what DC does in the popular areas downtown. The public will benefit and there will be some change for the NPS to use wisely.

by Kommisaroff on Feb 3, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

@Ryan,

Not knowing you, I had absolutely NO expectation as to what response you'd give.

But of the approximately 120 days a year I'm with a school group, I take a select few on the metro on say, 3-4 of them. The amount of whining and complaining I get from my fellow metro users suggest they REALLY don't want them there. Can't say I really blame them. One busload creates a log jam at the fare gates, clogs the escalator, takes up an entire car, etc. Doing this with several dozen groups (100s on peak days) than come and go every day on the Mall is pretty much untenable.

So yes, some individuals might well want busloads of eighth graders on the metro. I encourage them to come up to me when I do do it. Because god knows the people that DON'T want me to do it make themselves heard.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 3, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

NPS says that the meter rate, and the days and hours that meters are in effect, will be "similar to DC's parking rates adjacent to" the Mall area.

Meters are in effect in the adjacent areas like Chinatown until 10pm. Per the performance parking suggestion which I agree with, meters should probably stop after the museums close at 5pm.

Re: Performance Parking

This concept is likely to confuse/frustrate at least some tourists but still worth trying. The information about how performance parking works and the current parking rate needs to be displayed prominently in the "fees" and "plan your visit" sections of the NPS website.

Aren't vehicle and driving tickets on federal property still handled by the federal courts? I know last time I got a ticket at DCA they were.

The cost to enforce and process probably is more than the revenue.

Parking, speeding tix, etc. are handled by a federal magistrate who's sole function is to preside over misdemeanors and petty offenses.

Seems a particular challenge for the Mall, given the absence of many public garages in the vicinity.

There are no government run garages in DC but there are plenty of privately run garages near the Mall that are even open on weekends. Cost is usually a flat $13/day.

Not at a location where quick turn-around is against the nature of the beast. People visiting the Mall want spend hours there. Not just 15 minutes.

If you want to spend hours there, park at a garage. Street spots should be for shorter visits, to maybe just see the new exhibit you want to see.

by Falls Church on Feb 3, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

@Jasper:
Encouraging parking turn-over makes sense when doing performance parking near shopping facilities. Not at a location where quick turn-around is against the nature of the beast. People visiting the Mall want spend hours there. Not just 15 minutes.
In fact, this isn't always the case. Plenty of folks go to the Mall for just a kickball game, a jog, or a visit to a single monument or museum. Parking rates can influence their decisions about whether, where, and how long to park.

For instance, my wife and I had our wedding on the Mall last year. I can tell you, the event permits do not any special parking privileges. I'm sure that our guests would have been glad to pay $2 in order to have a closer spot for the hour we were there.

On the other hand, people who are coming to the Mall for the whole day -- who are already committed to a lot of walking -- might not mind parking further down in East Potomac Park, where it would be free. Thus, the meters would encourage turnover in the areas with the highest demand.

The other issue, which David raised in his earlier post, is that some commuters currently park in the free Mall spots, according to NPS. Assuming those commuters are parking all day, metering the spots on the Mall would likely cause them to shift either to the free parking in farther-flung parts of the Mall, or resign themselves to paying the meter and move to city-street parking which is likely closer to their workplace. As above, longer-term parking would move away from the most in-demand spots on the Mall, encouraging turnover.

I didn't include this all in the post due to length concerns, but there it is.

by Gavin Baker on Feb 3, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

@Tim Krepp

Fascinating. That was exactly the opposite reaction I thought I would get. Good on ya.

Personally, I think that the issues of fare gate / escalator clogging are correctable, and children who are taught and expected to behave appropriately in a public space should be no different than any other collection of 50 bodies in a rail car anywhere else in the system.

I'm going to apologize to you because I was expecting based on that last line of your previous comment that you were trying to make the point that "kids can't / shouldn't be brought in large groups onto the Metro" and it's that sort of attitude that irritates me more than anything - especially when it leads to a vicious circle of 'sheltering' kids from the big scary city and 'sheltering' the city from obnoxious kids.

by Ryan on Feb 3, 2014 1:34 pm • linkreport

Jasper nails it.

The key to putting meters on the mall is making the entire parking experience ia bit better -- and showing availability is one of them.

"Performance Parking" really just means "We'd like to charge more for parking". Sometimes that make sense. Often it just a money grab.

In terms of buses, adding more buses (Circulators) with the parking money probably isn't going to help much.

by charlie on Feb 3, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

It's public property. It's mainly used by tourists. Mall parking should be free.

by Redline SOS on Feb 3, 2014 2:02 pm • linkreport

No apologies needed, Ryan, but thank you for the explanation. I was curious as to what your larger point was, and a generally agree with it.

I would say that group dynamics alter how people move. 50 people in a group move at a different pace and stop and go at different times than 50 individuals do. Perhaps most importantly, especially with tour groups of children, they HAVE to stay together.

This is not to say kids shouldn't be on the metro themselves. By the time my daughter in eighth grade (very soon now), I will expect her to use the metro to go to school, visit friends, etc. But when she's on a school trip to another city or even for that matter, a field trip in DC, I expect her to stay with the group and the teacher to keep them together.

This is also an issue I face with adult groups. They're paying me to show them around. I can't do that if they're not actually with me. Safety is an issue, but only a part of it.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 3, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

Jasper beat me to it.

This is one of the rare times you'll see me advocating for a PPP. The NPS should put out an RFP to include a system that monitors individual spaces and provide instant feedback (and pricing reflexes) based on space availability. There really isn't even a need to junk up the Mall with electronic signage. Make it all app-based. The installation could be paid for by the first x years of revenue, followed by a much smaller percentage in the later years for maintenance/upkeep. Negotiate a deal with DC court system to handle appeals/adjudication.

by dcmike on Feb 3, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

dcmike:Make it all app-based.

Sigh. Only 55% of people have a smartphone. That makes parking impossible for 45% of tourists. And of the 55% of tourists with a smartphone, how many do you think come with the right app installed? And how would they use the app while driving in confusing DC traffic?

by Jasper on Feb 3, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

I would say that group dynamics alter how people move. 50 people in a group move at a different pace and stop and go at different times than 50 individuals do. Perhaps most importantly, especially with tour groups of children, they HAVE to stay together.

Back before Metro became untenable for my commute, I got on at Braddock Rd. For reasons I could never figure out, it was a major school group loading point.

A group of 50 kids doesn't act like 50 passengers. They have to have one large clump on one side of the gate, another clump on the other, and go through the gate very, very slowly. They also arrive in one fifty person unit at exactly the same time. Even a Metro bus disgorging its passengers at a Metro station doesn't do that.

by Another Nick on Feb 3, 2014 4:43 pm • linkreport

@Gavin

"The other issue, which David raised in his earlier post, is that some commuters currently park in the free Mall spots, according to NPS. Assuming those commuters are parking all day, metering the spots on the Mall would likely cause them to shift either to the free parking in farther-flung parts of the Mall, or resign themselves to paying the meter and move to city-street parking which is likely closer to their workplace."

I'm confused. Don't those spots have 2-hour limits on weekdays? Meters might change their behavior, but I'd also think ticketing them would, too.

by jh on Feb 3, 2014 4:45 pm • linkreport

Meters might change their behavior, but I'd also think ticketing them would, too.

It's a lot easier to issue tickets with meters.

To enforce a time limit without a meter, you need two enforcement visits: one to start the clock, and one to issue the ticket.

With a meter, you only need one visit: check and see if the meter is paid; if not, write a ticket.

by Alex B. on Feb 3, 2014 5:10 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, I was referring only to the "availability" features. Of course there would still need to be kiosks to facilitate alternative payment. I suspect (but certainly could be wrong) most tourists arriving at the Mall in a car will have passengers, at least one of which is likely to have a smartphone that can help the driver navigate.

by dcmike on Feb 3, 2014 5:13 pm • linkreport

The last thing we need is yet another app for parking in the area. I sure hope NPS can manage to use the same vendor used by DDOT (or at least the ones used by Montgomery County or Alexandria).

by Adam F on Feb 3, 2014 5:22 pm • linkreport

@ Adam F:The last thing we need is yet another app for parking in the area. I sure hope NPS can manage to use the same vendor used by DDOT

Or you go open source, like many cities in Europe do. All you need to do is number the spots, tell the vendors in what format you want the parking data and how much in payment, and then you let them do their thing. So they can offer options for methods of use (call, txt, app) and surcharges (per use, per hour, flat monthly fee). It would lead to ... you know ... competition. It's a difficult concept. Much easier to force consumers into a monopoly. More profitable too.

by Jasper on Feb 3, 2014 7:41 pm • linkreport

For a longer term solution to parking, including bus parking on the Mall, try this one:

See "National Mall Underground" video at http://www.savethemall.org/

by Joe Steinbock on Feb 4, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

Joe Steinbock, the Nat Mall proposal only addresses parking (well, stormwater too), but it is not comprehensive as it relates to dealing with visitors to the Mall and to the city. So it's not comprehensive at all.

cf. this entry and the cites within, http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-national-mall-focused-heritage.html

2. Jasper, that photo from Germany, I have a question. Are the numbers for each "place" for parking structures (which I presume not, except for the last one, because of the "roof" on the "p") or on street?

Downtown BID has discussed this kind of stuff but hasn't adequately pushed it forward in my opinion. And I've argued it needs to be part of a comprehensive approach to parking planning in the city.

by Richard Layman on Feb 4, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

I think it's selfish that all the spaces around the Botanical Gardens and Capitol Reflecting Pool, are designated reserved for police or Congressional staff only, at all times 24/7, although they're completely empty in the evenings. They should open these spaces up for families who come to attend the evening military band concerts held every week on the west Capitol steps and have nowhere to park.

by slowlane on Feb 4, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

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