Ballpark area leaders push for walkable rather than car-dependent neighborhood
At Wednesday's Ward 6 performance parking meeting, community members and particularly Councilmember Tommy Wells demonstrated a real commitment to building a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood.
Right now, the wide roadways and fairly cookie-cutter new buildings aren't delivering that kind of neighborhood experience. Reverend Brian Hamilton of Westminster Presbyterian in Southwest said that right now, "big cavernous roadways" characterize Southwest Waterfront, instead of the walkable neighborhood that the baseball stadium was supposed to bring.
Hamilton added, "An urban community is urgently needed, not just for the high-income residents who are going to live here seeking a new quality of life which I wish on all of us, but for lower-income residents in our community ... who are vital to the diversity which we should seek to preserve." He called for improvements to "create a more pedestrian-friendly environment where we can get out of our houses, get our of our cars and get into public space."
Wells, too, worried about the development direction of the area. He said,
There are buildings in Near Southeast where if someone placed you in front of the doorway of each building, you wouldn't know where you were. They look all the same. We are recreating Crystal City at a rapid pace and not understanding that the reason people are moving back into the city is for the quality of the pedestrian experience, the multimodal experience. They're using Circulator, using Metro, using bikes and moving back into the city for a higher quality of life.
With the money from ballpark performance parking, leaders like Hamilton and Wells hope to make the neighborhood more than another Crystal City. Wells noted that some communities have places to tie up dogs outside stores, with water for the dog, so shoppers can walk the dog and shop at the same time. Sharon Bosworth of Barracks Row Main Street expressed excitement for the possibility of having electronic signs telling shoppers and diners when the next buses will arrive, and benches for people to wait for those buses.
Chuck Bergman, a board member of Eastern Market and Barracks Row, talked about using signs to make the area feel like one neighborhood and help people find and support local businesses instead of driving over to Virginia.
Most leaders were also positive on the meters themselves, including the Washington Nationals. VP for Government and Municipal Affairs Gregory McCarthy noted that 50-60% of fans take transit to Nationals games, the most in MLB, which has made DC's ballpark a nationwide best practice. He even suggested adding more meters in Buzzard Point, where many blocks now have no meters, no signs, and even in many cases no curbs. (DDOT's Damon Harvey said that DDOT was reluctant to put up signs which would give the impression it was okay to park there, but they are studying the area now to determine a longer-term parking policy.) Bosworth claimed that businesses in Barracks Row "suffered" when meters went in, and both suffered and benefited from the higher traffic associated with baseball.
One resident, Jerry Lee, wasn't so pleased with the meters. He currently lives in the Onyx and is buying a unit at the Velocity. Residents of these buildings can't get RPP stickers, and some are frustrated that parking meters require payment until 9:30 pm. Lee noted that he has an off-street parking space, but wondered about other residents who can't afford one. Lee suggested a parking policy more like that of Georgetown where parking is free starting in the evening.
Lee's reaction is common among people who haven't analyzed parking issues in much depth. It's hard for some people to park, so let's make parking free. However, as he noted, this doesn't impact him, and residents with less money are more likely to be the ones not owning cars who most benefit from DC focusing more resources on the Circulator and Metrobuses instead of more parking.
More importantly, making parking free and unrestricted isn't the only solution, and not a particularly good one; it would just create jam-packed blocks where nobody could find a space, especially around the ballpark. This is certainly a problem in Georgetown, which is a good reason not to copy their current parking policies. In fact, Georgetown is considering implementing its own performance parking system.
Fortunately, Wells has thought a lot about parking, and suggested a fair but much better solution. Right now, outside of game days, blocks around the Onyx and Velocity are fairly empty. That means meter rates are too high. Instead of making parking free, Wells suggested programming the multispace meters to allow people to park all night for a single, relatively low rate. This would especially solve the problem for visitors, which was Lee's biggest issue. They could drive to visit him, pay at the meter once, and not have to worry about a ticket as long as they left before rush hour the next morning.
Harvey also agreed that it may make sense to lower meter rates in some other blocks where parking is currently underutilized, including M Street, where Michael Perkins' analysis in March showed an occupancy rate of 40-50% instead of 85%. DDOT is also considering taking the meters off Virginia Avenue, which has very low utilization. Allen Greenberg, who works at USDOT in the area and , asked if perhaps the low utilization just meant the rates were too high, but Harvey replied that unlike on M Street, they believe that there is just very low demand and that the multispace meters would be better allocated elsewhere. Instead, he hopes to use time limits to limit commuter parking on Virginia Avenue.
Ideally, though, we would retain metering on every block. The pay-by-phone systems DDOT hopes to pilot soon could make this possible without the high cost and maintenance problems of multispace meters. Then, if as on Virginia Avenue the demand is very low, the pay-by-phone rates could simply be low as well.
What about the flip side, raising meter rates? Harvey said that based on their analysis so far, there aren't any blocks that need to have higher rates in the ballpark zone. But there are in Columbia Heights. Next, we'll look at the data for Columbia Heights and what DDOT should do to make that performance parking zone as successful as the one in Ward 6.
- Community stories show the shift to a walkable lifestyle
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Some are pushing to limit sidewalk cycling
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Where is downtown Prince George's County?
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners