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Arlington plans performance parking pilot, other progressive parking policies

Arlington is ready to put a lot of Dr. Shoup's ideas from The High Cost of Free Parking, and other progressive urban ideas, into the County's parking policy.

Photo by nahh.

At the September 26 meeting of the County Board, Arlington officially proposed major changes to its parking and curbspace policies by advertising a new Parking and Curb Space Element (PDF) for the Master Transportation Plan. There's just one more round of public comment before and official Board consideration, scheduled for November 14.

The policy sets a priority hierarchy for curb space. Safety is first: there will be no-parking zones for visibilty and fire access, and curb ramps for pedestrian safety. Other uses are public vehicles like bus service, dedicated or temporary use like taxi stands and car sharing, Short term parking, and long term parking. The relative priority of those uses differs among high, medium, and low-density corridors.

Arlington proposes to vary parking meter hours of operation and prices based on observed parking demand. The policy establishes an 85% target occupancy rate in areas of high demand, as Dr. Shoup has recommend. It extends the hours of meters or adds them where there is demand in excess of supply, and proposes a pilot project to test the effectiveness of variable pricing. This is the biggest change for Arlington and represents a significant step forward toward the parking policies recommended on Greater Greater Washington.

It would be better if the policy stated that some of the parking meter revenue would be earmarked to support improvements in the neighborhoods that have variable meter pricing, in order to get support for the policy, but it's possible to do that even if it's not in the Master Transportation Plan.

Another piece of the proposal, also recommended in Shoup's book, is to "unbundle" parking. Housing and offices will be encouraged to offer parking separately from the rent or condo fee. That allows workers or residents to choose between paying for a parking space, or letting someone else rent it. This reduces the demand for parking spaces and for trips taken by car. We strongly support giving people a choice to pay for parking rather than getting it included automatically.

For some districts like Columbia Pike, Arlington is proposing "in-lieu fees." These fees allow a developer to build less than the required amount of parking if they contribute to a public parking fund. Arlington will use this fund to partner with local private garages and ensure that private garages are available to the public. Arlington should ensure that these fees are related to the costs of building additional parking spaces, so that developers face a real choice. Very expensive spaces should not be built (because it's unlikely people will pay enough to use them), but this fee should not allow developers to pay very little to get out of such a requirement.

For off-street parking, although Arlington will continue to have "free or subsidized parking" around retail businesses, there won't be an effort to entirely satisfy that demand, shifting resources "to more efficient and beneficial public amenities". The county is going to take into account available transit, transportation demand management (TDM) strategies and other factors in reducing required parking.

The county will continue to require "by-right" buildings to include the minimum parking spaces required by the Zoning Ordinance. However, based on site conditions, the County may allow reductions below this minimum. Any developer building more than the minimum site needs may be allowed to donate excess parking to other nearby sites to count toward their requirement.

The draft element promotes on-street parking in residential neighborhoods and commercial streets as a traffic calming measure. For single-family homes, residents should be able to park "within a block" of their home, and high-rise apartments should expect guests and service vehicles to have to park "a few blocks away" at peak times.

The resident parking permit program, the first in the nation, will continue much as it exists today. One change recommends implementing a process where residents can have their zone reviewed to reduce its size and eliminate cross-commuting.

Arlington is proposing an official policy discouraging off-street surface parking. "Nowhere in the County should pedestrians have to walk through a parking in order to access a structure," it reads. Parking lots should be underground, structured, or at worst, screened behind or to the side of a building. Buildings, not parking lots, should face the arterial streets.

There's a lot in this plan to like. Arlington's policies are slowly moving away from the old-style "minimum requirements and low-priced curb parking" used in most of the US, and toward parking policies that reflect demand, the cost of supplying parking, and available alternatives. It doesn't eliminate parking minimums or time limits or attempt to push retail parking prices up to the cost of comparable off-street parking, but this is the policy that can pass politically. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the most important policy (getting on-street pricing correct) is in the draft element.

The Arlington County Board wants to hear your comments. Comments should go to Ritch Viola at

Michael Perkins serves on the Arlington County Transportation Commission, though the views expressed here are his own. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children. 


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not to be [too]snarky, but if 85% usage is your goal, I wonder if the county would consider LOWERING parking costs on the blocks on the Wilson blvd corridor that don't see that level of use.

by charlie on Sep 30, 2009 4:08 pm • linkreport

Charlie, I haven't read the proposal itself, but what suggest is in fact exactly what is recommended by Shoup and others. The price isn't a goal in an of itself - it's a tool to manage demand. If parking is routinely less than 85% full (which seems unlikely in the Wilson Blvd. corridor, but you never know) the price drops until it hits that level. There's also spreading price variability over the time dimension, making parking more expensive when there's the most demand and less expensive when there's less. In theory, that could mean that at the lowest-use time, parking will be free.

by Distantantennas on Sep 30, 2009 4:57 pm • linkreport

I like the overall approach, but am a bit concerned abour reserving spaces for cabs. Cab stands are fine, but simply having "Taxi Parking Only" signs leads to empty off-duty cabs taking up spaces that could be used by residents, shoppers, etc. Since many DC-are cab drivers own their own cabs and use them for their personal vehicles, this becomes a free-parking subsidy for them.

by metronic on Sep 30, 2009 5:52 pm • linkreport

This looks like good stuff. I wonder if there is anything in the plan to encourage businesses to actually have a street entrance. There are some terrible designs around that I would expect to be bad for business.

Specifically, I am thinking of a Staples along Wilson that faces the street, but the front doors are locked. A pedestrian must climb a fence into the rear parking lot (or walk the whole way around the block) to enter the store from the rear. Maybe this is a different issue, but it seems related to the goal of eliminating the mandatory walk through a parking lot.

by Matthias on Sep 30, 2009 6:52 pm • linkreport

Lotta alliteration in the title there!

by Gavin Baker on Sep 30, 2009 6:55 pm • linkreport

Thanks, Michael, for breaking this down for us.

So the board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the plan in November. Is there any chance to amend the plan, either before or during that board meeting, or will it be an up/down vote?

by Gavin Baker on Sep 30, 2009 7:20 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the suggestion. The Board can do what it wishes, including rejecting the whole plan, amending it or approving without comment.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 30, 2009 8:38 pm • linkreport

Matthias - They try to avoid two-entrance stores because it makes shoplifting a lot easier, and requires an additional cashier position for relatively few additional purchases. If there is enough streetlife to represent a significant income, they'll certainly go for it if the building allows, but that entrance isn't just a one-time expense.

This is just one aspect of the many self-reinforcing aspects of density and good streets.

by Squalish on Oct 1, 2009 12:03 am • linkreport

I hope they penalize the Whole Foods in Clarendon somehow or start charging for people to park there. There is _always_ too much traffic blocking the road for up to a block down the street so people can _try_ to park at Whole Foods. The car drivers are always surly and cut across the sidewalk while I'm just walking along or actually trying to get into the Whole Foods too. I think having that parking lot there is a disaster.

by James on Oct 1, 2009 12:16 pm • linkreport

"I hope they penalize the Whole Foods in Clarendon somehow or start charging for people to park there. "

AMEN! TESTIFY! That is some prime real estate being wasted for parking. They should have to host a farmer's market in that parking lot on the weekends.

If people really want to drive their Lexus hybrids to a WF, they can go to the one on Leesburg Pike in Fall Church. Hell, they should be living out there anyway.

by Biker Mark on Oct 1, 2009 2:00 pm • linkreport

cab use only doesn't mean for a driverless taxi vehicle. It also means for a taxi licensed to operate in Arlington County. By definition, taxis in other jurisdictions not licensed to operate in Arlington would be excluded.

by Richard Layman on Oct 1, 2009 2:40 pm • linkreport

In an otherwise very good posting, I was disappointed by the following when referring to in-lieu fees: "this fee should not allow developers to pay very little to get out of such a requirement." I totally disagree. The perfect in-lieu fee is zero. If a developer wants to build no parking, it should be allowed to do so. If street parking were managed appropriatiately through pricing and regulation, no off-street parking requirements would ever be needed.

by Allen Greenberg on Oct 1, 2009 3:54 pm • linkreport

@james I hope they penalize the Whole Foods in Clarendon somehow or start charging for people to park there.

@BikerMark AMEN! TESTIFY! That is some prime real estate being wasted for parking.

And a +1 definitely! I've been getting nearly run over at that place since it was built as a Bread&Circus back in the day!

by ajw93 on Oct 1, 2009 4:54 pm • linkreport

This sounds great! While parking will become more expensive, it's already expensive for the environment because people have to spend time driving around to find spaces, and because buildings have to include parking. I hope it's a big hit.

by Kevin on Oct 2, 2009 10:20 am • linkreport

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