Greater Greater Washington

Without balance, parking bills will hurt business

Parking on one side of every residential street in DC's Wards 1 and 6 could be reserved for residents only, at all times of the day, under a pair of bills introduced by Jim Graham and Tommy Wells, the Councilmembers for those two wards. Tomorrow, the Council will hold a hearing on both bills, the Residential Parking Protection Pilot Act of 2009 and the Ward 6 Residential Parking Protection Pilot Act of 2009. In addition, one or both bills would provide visitor parking passes to residents, expand RPP sticker eligibility, and adjust RPP fees.


Photo by slack13.

The first covers Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights and U Street, while the second would encompass Capitol Hill, Southwest Waterfront, Near Southeast, and Mount Vernon Triangle. Both would reserve one side of every block with Residential Permit Parking (RPP) for residents of the individual wards. Households would each get one visitor pass to hand to daytime domestic workers or out-of-town visitors, entitling that visitor to park in a residential space. The Ward 1 bill also specifies that every household in the ward can receive a sticker for their car. Currently, residents of some apartment buildings facing commercial streets, or people who live on non-RPP zoned streets, are not eligible for the stickers, and thus receive no RPP privileges at all.

Is it right to reserve one side of every block for residents only? Many residents feel that curbside spaces outside the commercial areas are "theirs," and residents ought to receive priority for the limited parking spaces available. Especially near popular nighttime destinations, visitors from other wards or outside DC park on residential blocks for free, and outside of RPP hours, often for a long period of time. I used to live right near Lauriol Plaza, in an area without off-street garages and where almost all parking spaces are residential. At night or on weekends, I'd need to circle for 15-30 minutes to find a parking space. On the other hand, preventing those visitors from parking in certain spaces without making it easier for them to find other spaces will also harm the businesses they patronize.

Reserving space for residents, like widening freeways, may only alleviate pressure in the very short term. Many people don't own cars, and others pay relatively high rates to park in off-street garages. Making it easier for residents to park will only encourage more people to own cars or save cost of off-street garaging. The new cars vying for the same spaces will make on-street parking once again difficult. Therefore, this bill may only shift the equilibrium state to one with more resident cars. Moreover, by increasing eligibility for RPP stickers and adding visitor passes, even more cars can now occupy those spaces indefinitely, increasing demand.

Moreover, residents aren't the only people who need to find spaces to park. Employees of local businesses do, and so do the patrons. The Mount Pleasant daytime parking pass program is the right solution for employees. Instead of keeping blocks unzoned for RPP, which invites abuse, or forcing employees to move their cars every two hours, which is illegal, the program lets employees buy a parking pass for a daily rate similar to one day's bus fare. And, of course, many employees do reach their jobs by public transit.

That leaves shoppers, diners, and other patrons of the local businesses. Ideally, in dense areas like Ward 1, most patrons arrive by transit, but some do have to drive, whether because they live in car-dependent areas, can't walk long distances, or many other reasons. If we simply make it harder for those people to reach our neighborhood commercial areas, they won't.

New parking garages cost far too much money and further promote automobile dependence and traffic. DC first tried out reserving one side of each street as part of the performance parking pilots in Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill. There, we prohibited shoppers from using certain spaces, but also added meters to many spaces closer to the businesses and set the rates at market prices. The meters encouraged turnover. Patrons found it harder to park on residential streets, but easier to find metered spaces, and could confidently park near a restaurant for a tiny fraction of the price they spent on dinner.

Residents have been extremely happy with those pilots, particularly the part reserving one side of every street. Unfortunately, DDOT hasn't seriously worked to prove the value of complete performance parking, overpricing some areas and limiting hours, and just not getting the meters installed. No wonder Councilmembers who initially supported the program are now picking it apart.

Nevertheless, a unified strategy is better than a piecemeal one. The performance parking pilots helped out residents and shoppers. Replicating one without the other could cause great harm. Residential parking scarcity is a problem for many residents. However, this bill isn't the best solution, and doesn't solve the entire problem. A few years ago, a Parking Task Force set up by Mayor Anthony Williams looked at the issues of parking, and formulated some more thorough recommendations. In the next installment, we'll look at some of those and how the Council could improve these bills to actually help residents and businesses alike.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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I don't think these groups are equal. Residents -- like the disabled, elderly, or families with small children -- DO deserve priority over business patrons and employees. We are one-car families who use bikes and transit whenever possible. But we buy groceries and carpool children places and we need to have access to our houses for loading and unloading furniture or construction materials or groceries. Businesses already have their valets and their garages. Never again am I going to let that Escalade with Maryland plates force me to walk two blocks in the rain with groceries and a tired child just because they wanted to save the valet or Reeves Center parking fee. Business employees can bike or metro to work, just like I do every day. Residents deserve this bill.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 19, 2009 12:30 pm • linkreport

Ward 1 Guy -- your approach is fine so long as you don't complain about a long walk on the other end when you drive to a grocery store, hardware store, or restaurant somewhere else in the city because that community's residents have demanded their own on-street parking spaces.

by Dave on May 19, 2009 12:37 pm • linkreport

A comprehensive approach is needed, and that would include uniform enforcement of the laws already on the books. A good place to start is enforcement of the double-parking and parking in no-parking zones on Sundays that the MPD tolerates at the behest of churches with political connections.

by Paul on May 19, 2009 12:42 pm • linkreport

I'd be willing to make that trade, Dave.

As for "more" cars point, RPPs don't have to be unlimited, or the same price for each. Why not provide the first one free or low cost ($10), but each additional one for a given household increases in price. $100 for the second. $1000 for the third. $10000 for the fourth. You can always get non-preferred parking for free or less cost.

by ah on May 19, 2009 1:41 pm • linkreport

The Mount Pleasant ANC is planning to endorse testimony prepared by Jack McKay advising that we don't think that escalating RPP fees for additional cars would be very effective nor do we think that protected residential parking makes sense in every neighborhood.

Personally, I think that the ANCs should be the primary arbiter for whether a street should receive the "1 side protected for residents" designation.

by Phil Lepanto on May 19, 2009 3:31 pm • linkreport

Paul, where is the equivalency? You are placing your priority on enforcement affecting the quietest day of the week, only in the Sunday morning hours until about 1 or 2 pm for church parking, vs. 7 days a week, all day / all night parking hassles for some residents. Your church parking woes can and should be dealt with, on a case-by-case basis through negotiations between neighbors and pastors. Solving that does NOTHING to resolve the bigger problem of residential parking in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, etc.

You are OT.

by Trulee Pist on May 19, 2009 3:43 pm • linkreport

Trulee Pist: Not OT at all. The pilot program in Ward 6 designates one side of every block RPP-only 24/7, that would include Sunday morning. (But residents there were told--with a wink and a nod--that enforcement would be nil outside of baseball game nights.) Also germane in my post is that the MPD is charged with parking enforcement outside the hours when Parking Enforcement is working, hence all the "deals" MPD has cut with ministers who have suction at the Wilson Building. If you think Sunday morning is a "low demand" time for parking, you don't spend much time in Shaw or Logan Circle. Central to my post is that on-street parking--like so much else in this city--is doled out as a political favor, whether officially or unofficially.

by Paul on May 19, 2009 3:54 pm • linkreport

Ward 1 Guy -- your approach is fine so long as you don't complain about a long walk on the other end when you drive to a grocery store, hardware store, or restaurant somewhere else in the city because that community's residents have demanded their own on-street parking spaces.

My point is that those businesses that make sense to drive to, like Home Depot and grocery stores, already have their own parking. Many restaurants have valet parking. So I have no complaints there. My only complaints are the people who choose to drive in to my very transit-friendly neighborhood because they can park for free in front of my house.

So I'll accept your challenge and be very quiet if we can pass this RPP measure.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 19, 2009 4:42 pm • linkreport

Phil -- why would an ANC *not* vote for 1-side resident parking? I favor it, but think either it should be done citywide in residential areas or determined based on some objective criteria (e.g., number of cars relative to spaces, either as registered or as parked per survey). I don't see how an ANC-based decision will be principled in any way, or informed.

by ah on May 19, 2009 4:49 pm • linkreport

If by "business" you mean that nightclub patrons should be encouraged by free curbside parking to drive after a night of drinking I'll have to disagree strongly and would be surprised if any of those owners would say that. That's as irresponsible as it gets and is just outrageous.

by Tom Coumaris on May 20, 2009 12:24 am • linkreport

elderly and handicapped are one group that deserves a break. Too many families in the USA are car-oriented and , goddamn it, you dont need a *&%^%(* SUV to raise a family- it has been done well by parents for millions of years w/o cars and there is no reason they need priority treatment over others.

In my opinion, far too many people drive or own more than one vehicle in the city and expect the impossible. There needs to be a shift away from using or depending on the car and a resurgence of walking, bicycling and transit. I have not had any need for a car in over 25 years and have a great standard of living in DC- and I am not alone. There are just too many spoiled, overweight, and lazy people in this country and city and I have no desire to subsidize them or to make life and better for them at my expense when I live in a far more sustainable way.

by w on May 20, 2009 12:20 pm • linkreport

@w: Maybe you don't need an SUV or two cars to raise a family, but you do need at least one car. I bike and use transit to work every day but get back to me after you raise a family completely car-free. You don't have to be lazy, spoiled, or overweight to need reliable transportation on demand for a sick child, a school emergency, or a regular famiy trip out of the city.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 21, 2009 1:41 am • linkreport

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