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


Breakfast links: Rolling backward

Photo from MCPL.
Leggett again chooses against walkability: County Executive Ike Leggett has decided to keep the Wheaton Library in an unwalkable area, reconstructing it in its current location instead of moving it to downtown Wheaton as the Sector Plan calls for.

No more rollback: The WMATA Board authorized installing rollback protection in the 5000-series rail cars. This will prevent crashes like the 2004 Woodley Park incident where an empty train rolled back into one with passengers at the platform.

Anti-transit GOP: Maryland Republicans' plan for the state's budget includes cutting funding for WMATA. Because getting people to work is not a conservative value. (Newschannel 8, Michael P)

Not another parking lot: A development plan for the closed Bruce Monroe Elementary in Columbia Heights is delayed from the economy. The Deputy Mayor's office wanted to turn it into a pay surface parking lot, but neighbors preferred some "temporary urbanism" like a park, temporary buildings with computer labs, or a farmers' market. Between neighbor opposition and Jim Graham, the Deputy Mayor has now backed down.

Parking full, no Metro for you: A Dr. Gridlock letter writer's daughter can't use Metro because the parking lots fill up early in the morning. Worse yet, you can't tell if there's room before entering and paying. The doc suggests some lots to try; this is also a good reason WMATA should set rates per-lot to equalize supply and demand. (Get There)

Farmers markets may become accessible to poor: WIC vouchers, which let low-income single mothers buy healthy produce, will now work at farmers' markets if states and markets participate. Unfortunately, Virginia declined, and DC only has one training, in Greenbelt, meaning many DC markets are likely to remain unavailable. (DC Food For All)

Bixi pix: BeyondDC recently took a trip to Montreal and has photos of Bixi, the largest North American bike sharing system, and one system DC might use. (BeyondDC)

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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. 


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If parking lots at metro stops are full, metro should not increase pricing, metro should build more parking spots. Or alternatively, figure out why those car drivers are not coming by bus and adapting the bus schedule and/or routes.

It is an illogic idea to turn people who want to use metro away by increasing parking prices, especially if the same people argue that price-elasticity should not apply to metro-fares.

Metro is a transit system. The purpose is to move people from A to B. It should have easy access. If metro can not provide decent bus access to its stations, then it should build sufficient parking. Otherwise people won't use it and the system turns into a road without ramps.

by Jasper on Feb 26, 2010 10:01 am • linkreport

However, at the same time, if parking lots/garages at Metro stations are full, one could also argue that the price to park at those stations does not reflect market demand. This is an excellent example of why Metro should institute some sort of performance parking at its station lots/garages.

by Froggie on Feb 26, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

I am going to have to agree with Jasper on this one. As metro service cuts get worse and rates increase higher parking costs will only turn more people away.

However, more money could be made with more parking, and perhaps even attract drivers who stopped using the metro becasue of parking.

by Matt R on Feb 26, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

Jasper, you are assuming there is space to build more parking. At most lots, short of building structures on surface lots, which is expensive and we reduce parking during construction, there is not much of an ablity to do so.

Your alternative about redoing the buses is a good idea.

by nathaniel on Feb 26, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

Yeah i agree improving the bus service to the metro is one good way to ease this problem of full lots. Not with regular-stop-everywhere busses though. With some shuttle busses taking off from designated stops and going right to the metro. Adding another 45 minutes to the commute with busses that go through neighborhoods stopping every other block picking up one person at time is a huge barrier to using transit too. Might need to provide a little parking around the spot from where the shuttle takes off.

by Bianchi on Feb 26, 2010 10:42 am • linkreport

You stop increasing the parking price when the lots start going too empty (less than 90% full at the peak). That way, you can't be accused of driving people away. The people that were driven away because of cost are replaced by people willing to pay more but normally arriving later. Almost every lot in the system operates at 100% capacity. People willing to pay are turned away due to a lack of spaces.

"More money could be made with more parking"

Really? The construction, maintenance and operating cost of an additional space is about $10 per work day when you stretch over 20 years. If Metro finds the money to build, say, 100 spaces for $10 a day and sells them at $5 a day, how does that help? Sounds like Metro just figured out a way to lose an additional $500 per day.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 26, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

I'm pretty sure the H Street farmer's market accepts WIC. That needs to be expanded, and this country needs to stop subsidizing the unhealthy foods that encourage poor people to choose that diet.

Now Republicans, if I can't get to work because you cut my transit, how am I going to help the economy recover?

by Matthias on Feb 26, 2010 11:03 am • linkreport

If the parking lots are as full as everyone says, I don't understand why performance parking wasn't a part of Metro's plan to close the revenue gap. Obviously they get it with bike parking.

by Gavin Baker on Feb 26, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

Another vote for Jasper's proposal. The "market" should be able to support building parking lots, if the ridership increases. Again, the unquantifiable costs saved by more people using mass transit: health issues related to car pollution, raod repair, medical costs from fewer accidents, health costs by encouraging walking, etc....

by Thayer-D on Feb 26, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

Gavin: my point exactly.

Thayer (and Jasper and Matt R): please read Michael's post regarding parking space cost. By that, I'm not saying that we shouldn't build more Metro parking, but given the costs of construction versus what Metro gets back in parking fees, it is not a solution in and of itself...

by Froggie on Feb 26, 2010 12:03 pm • linkreport

Metro has no business to be in the parking industry. Those lots should be operated by the local governments as part of their funding committment to Metro. Metro should focus on its core bus and rail services and not have to worry about maintaining acres of surface and structured parking

by Cyrus on Feb 26, 2010 12:22 pm • linkreport

Ok, bundling a lot of reactions together:

The notion that transit can be treated by the free market is nonsense for several reasons:

1) Most transit is nearly monopolized and hence it flies against anti-trust law. The reason why transit is monopolized is that the free market would not supply an efficient transit network.

2) Transit is part of infrastructure and not a product, just like a road trip is not a product but just a road trip. This is in fact an argument for transit being free (fully government/tax-payer funded). I favor this, and oppose toll roads for the same reason.

However, politically, that is not feasible, and in most cases, the user ends up paying for (most of) the operation cost. That is acceptable.

3) When scarcity arises in a transit system, that only is an argument to increase the capacity of the system, not an argument for increasing the price. Most of us here know the reasons why transit transportation is favorable over car transportation.

One last observation. In most places where I've lived, politicians desperately tried to get people to use transit more to alleviate all the congestion. Which is a hard thing to do. And so you ended up with empty buses driving around, and megalomaniacally large and failed projects. Everything to get people to use transit.

Here in DC, we are pretty much in an opposite situation. We have a transit system that is bursting out of its seams, and is relatively popular with its users. Yet, due to lack of proper funding, passengers are driven out of the transit system into their car.

Transit is a tool facilitating activity, not a luxury product that operates in a free market of competing products. It should be treated as a tool and valued for the economic activity that it facilitates.

by Jasper on Feb 26, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

If I got the general view of the commentariat:

It's great to keep increasing parking garage and any other parking costs until drivers react by reducing their car usage (thereby showing it's at its most efficient), but it's not a good idea to raise Metro fares until users stop using it because the rules of economics shouldn't apply.

by Fritz on Feb 26, 2010 4:19 pm • linkreport

I am putting this here because I emailed it to David a week or so ago, but it's not up on the calendar, and I have not seen it any other place.

March 10, 2010 is the final chance to testify on recycling. According to my communication with Graham's office, the chairman of the public works committee, Jim Graham, likes the law just fine the way it is now. If you would like to weigh in, your final chance to do so is at the combined commercial and residential recycling hearing on March 10. Please call the committee to sign up to testify

Personally, I think the recycling law is bad, and even worse because there is no enforcement.

Also, in the DC register, the comments are open for the bag tax. Please do weigh in there - positively I hope!

David, can you please add the recycling hearing to the calendar?

Thank you.

by Virginia on Feb 26, 2010 6:56 pm • linkreport

Regarding the Columbia Heights parking lot... this recent post on PT's Parking Blog might interest some:

And regarding the lack of parking at WMATA, I'd be curious to know where... especially with garages, I usually just drive straight to the top floor -- open to sunshine and all -- where I'm often the lone car. The top several floors are pretty sparse at the Maryland stations, on any day, at any time. To be a fanboy some more: that's another thing Parking Blog has covered pretty recently -- it's not a shortage of parking so much as it is a perceived lack of convenience owing to a lack of immediate visibility.

by Bossi on Feb 26, 2010 10:18 pm • linkreport

@Fritz: You're implying that to be consistent, we should raise both fares and parking in order to drive people away, implying that there's no difference.

Wrong. Parking at most metro stations is so crowded people are turned away every morning (or don't make the trip at all). This implies a scarcity in the market. We can try to fix the scarcity by providing more supply or by adjusting the price, but leaving the scarcity doesn't do people much good. Adding more supply would add more cars to local roads. Driving imposes costs on other people, like congestion, pollution and risk. We shouldn't work hard, pay taxes and spend it on more parking lots in order to increase the amount of driving in private cars people do.

On the other hand, most of the time transit is not so crowded people are turned away. Most trains and buses can take extra passengers without extra costs, or with only minimal crowding costs to others. Fuller vehicles require less subsidy to operate. More transit passengers make it easier to justify a more extensive network and higher frequencies. More transit passengers mean that capital improvements benefit more people, and are thus easier to justify. As a whole, increasing transit ridership doesn't impose costs on others, it reduces those costs and provides benefits to other riders.

There is one case where extra riders aren't needed: Metro's crowded rail lines during rush hours. The trains are already at the maximum allowable length, at maximum frequency, and are operating at or near maximum passenger loading.

That's why part of our fare proposals have included a "peak of the peak" fare increase, which is intended to encourage riders to shift their trips out of this high peak when possible, and to collect revenue from riders that can't or choose not to shift. This extra surcharge is a lot like increasing the parking charge at crowded lots. You've reached a point where you can't add any more customers, so the prices increase to help bring down demand just enough to make the situation bearable.

We're not ignoring the rules of economics, it's that parking and transit are very different goods with characteristics that mean the policy should be mostly different, but sometimes the same.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 26, 2010 10:52 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins: Since when is the goal of transit to turn away potential passengers due to congestion (in the parking lot, during rush hour, whatever)?

Isn't the point of transit to alleviate congestion?

The fact that metro is bursting out of its seems should be a motivation to expand capacity, not to increase prices.

It's not like it's impossible to clean up a rundown transit system. London did it (by electing a very socialist mayor who had no problem taxing cars). New York is doing it. LA appears to be making good steps forward (but I haven't been there). Why can't we?

by Jasper on Feb 27, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: If there's congestion and there's no way to add any capacity, such as on the orange line during the worst 30 minutes of the trip, then it is better to raise prices then and use the money to expand capacity (or maintain capacity) elsewhere. Hopefully some people will be encouraged to shift their travel, which both uses the newly expanded capacity and alleviates some of the congestion during the worst time.

Same with parking. If the lot's too full and there's no way to expand it (or for policy reasons scarce capital dollars are better spent expanding *transit* rather than parking), then it's better to raise the prices and use the money to provide more transit, for example feeder buses or parallel routes (or in WMATA's case minimizing the amount of service cuts needed to balance the budget).

The point of transit is to reduce congestion and provide mobility, but it's subject to budget constraints. Metro doesn't have the money to expand capacity right now. We need to use the existing capacity better. It doesn't do us any good to all try to jam on the same trains at 7:30am, and then have the trains half-empty at 6:30 or 8:30. Same with the parking lots. It doesn't do us any good to keep the parking cheap and have it fill up at 6:30am, leaving no spaces for people that need to arrive at 9am.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 27, 2010 3:01 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins: then it is better to raise prices then and use the money to expand capacity

Yes. But that's not what's happening. Prices are solely increase to fill the generally underfunded WMATA budget.

I am more than open to general discussions about the price level of WMATA services. I just get pissed off when prices go up while service is being cut and other parties refuse to pay their share.

Remember that those parking structures were once built to make metro more accessible for people in the burbs where bus service was and is crappy in general. They used to be free. The idea was to give people opportunities to park at outer metro stations so that they would not drive anymore, alleviating congestion on I-66, I-270, I-395 etc. This was a good, and popular idea. It is unfair to now punish people who made the right step and do use metro for their good behavior by creating scarce parking spots and using a new argument about price elasticity. Again: we are destroying a popular transit feature due to lack of funding. It is unfair to let people whose neighborhoods are not decently served by metrobus pay for the fact that there are many such neighborhoods leading to full parking lots at outer metro stations.

If WMATA came up with a plan to increase base fare to $2 and the max fares to $6 or $7 but had also a clear plan to build an M street line with a new tunnel to Rosslyn, extend the blue and yellow lines, and a good bag of money from the Feds, District, State, Commonwealth and counties, I'd be all over it.

I do however refuse to be the milking cow while others do not pay their share. Furthermore, I do not believe that price elasticity should be applied to transit. If price levels need to be changed, then that's one thing. But they should not be fixed solely for budgetary problems.

by Jasper on Feb 28, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

@Jasper: That's why I said "(or maintain capacity)" earlier in the comment. Please don't cherry-pick what I said. I said it once at the beginning and in order to avoid repeating it every time, I just used "expand capacity" as a placeholder for both expanding and maintaining capacity.

It's not a new argument about price elasticity. Parking spaces are scarce. Prices are a fair way to deal with scarcity.

Your plan is great. It's not happening, though. The alternatives are raising revenues through fares and parking fees, and/or significantly less service. The more we raise fares and parking fees, the less service gets cut.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 28, 2010 2:08 pm • linkreport

To aid in this discussion, I just posted a summary of parking lots and their occupancy during October 2009:

by Michael Perkins on Feb 28, 2010 3:39 pm • linkreport

@Michael P - The parking lot occupancy percentage doesn't mean what it seems on its face. A parking space can be occupied twice in a day, once during the daytime and again by someone going downtown in the evening. At Shady Grove, especially there is a lot of evening use. Also at Grosvenor for Strathmore Hall (it's not clear how Strathmore Hall users are counted here). I think Grosvenor also gets a fair amount of short-term parking for business trips into D.C.

I am very familiar with garage use patterns in Montgomery County from organizing leafleting for ACT. I passed out leaflets myself in the morning rush hour at Shady Grove last September, and have done it several times, although not as recently, at Grosvenor. From personal observation, plenty of people are coming out of the parking lots at 9:00 am. The parking supply at both these stations is equal to or slightly greater than the demand at current prices.

Glenmont fills up by 7:30. However, another garage will soon be built there. It's not a customer-friendly business practice to jack up prices due to a temporary shortage and then lower them again when more supply comes on line.

At Forest Glen and Rockville there is a genuine mismatch of supply and demand. However, these are both relatively small parking lots, so there isn't much scope for additional revenue.

Overall, these numbers confirm my impression that the current pricing for Metro parking is about right to match supply and demand. A further factor to bear in mind is whether demand for parking is being depressed by rising gas prices, which induce outer-suburb Metro users to shift from car to bus access. (I don't know this for a fact, but it is my belief that this trend is probably occurring - a statistical analysis would not be too hard to do if you had time series of parking use and am peak boardings.)

by Ben Ross on Feb 28, 2010 4:51 pm • linkreport

i thought that the bloomingdale farmers market accepted WIC as well. not sure how this is new...

by IMGoph on Feb 28, 2010 10:16 pm • linkreport

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