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Posts about DC USA


Metro will open an hour early on "Black Friday"

According to Jim Graham at the WMATA board meeting last Thursday, the District of Columbia has agreed to pay to run Metro's services one hour early, starting at 4am, on Friday, November 28th. The Friday after Thanksgiving, dubbed "Black Friday", is frequently a busy shopping day, and many stores open early with major "door-buster specials" to get crowds into the store.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Graham hopes the extra hour will help customers reach District shopping areas like DC USA in Columbia Heights. According to Graham, the extra hour will cost about $27,000.

At DC USA, Best Buy opens at 5:00 am on Friday. Target, Staples, and Radio Shack all open at 6.



Weekend reading: taxes, fees, and the effect of bad planning

Gas tax comeback? Congressman-elect Gerry Connolly (D-Fairfax) suggested raising the gax tax to close huge budget gaps. With Mary Peters and her seemingly-irrational opposition to the gax tax in all forms on the way out, gas prices low, and budget deficits high, this makes some sense. (WTOP)

Port Huron, Mich. Photo by k.l.macke on Flickr.

Not going to help: Port Huron, Michigan and Hollywood, Florida are both removing all parking meters to boost flagging. Parking Today thinks that's a mistake: employees will take up most of the spaces, parking still won't be more attractive than at the mall, and the cities won't even have money to use to improve downtown.

Greening our "unnecessary garages": Today's Post prints an op-ed by Ingrid Specht endorsing lower parking minimums for DC. "In fact, employees should receive benefits for not driving to work." Specht suggests the Columbia Heights garage could be better utilized if it stayed open later for restaurant goers, filled in some of the empty space with bicycle parking, or added Zipcar spaces, "rather than hoping they are someday filled with personal vehicles, promoting pollution." Tip: Michael P.

Paleolithic road planners: Dr. Gridlock considers a right-turn lane on Georgia Avenue at Spring Street (probably not a good diea) and reveals some ongoing old-fashioned traffic thinking at the Maryland State Highway Administration: "Their goal, [SHA traffic planners] say, is to get the most vehicles through the area in the most predictable way possible." Even pedestrians aside, the goal should be to get the most people through the area, not the most vehicles. It's an important distinction, since one bus carries as many people as a whole lane of cars.

And... The NOAA headquarters in College Park is indeed transit-unfriendly; Great Streets and the 11th Street Bridges may be on the budgetary chopping block; a Welsh translation attempt leads to a hilarious result.



Three days as a car-oriented shopper

For the last three days, I've experienced DC from the inside of a windshield. It's far from the first time I've driven in DC, of course; we own a car, which we use to get to the airport, Greater Greater Fiancée's parents', Tysons, interesting ethnic restaurants in Virginia, the DMV, and other auto-dependent destinations. But this week, with my parents in town to help out with home improvement tasks, we also drove to, and parked in, Adams Morgan, DCUSA, 14th and U, and the Home Depot.

Photo by JamesCalder on Flickr.

Before you ask: no, I haven't decided to become a suburbanism booster. Shopping by car is very convenient. It will always hold a place in our society. But it also reinforced an important idea: my convenience while driving always came at the expense of others. Here are a few examples.

DC USA. If you're going to buy a lot of bedskirts, trash bags, and towels at Bed Bath and Beyond, it's nice to have a trunk to put them in. But at 2 pm on a Tuesday, the 1,050-car DC USA parking garage has approximately 20 cars in it—enough that everyone can park at most a few spaces from the elevators. We know that even at peak times, a whole floor is never used. Taxpayers spent $42 million to build the thing, and I only paid $1 to park there while spending about $100 at the stores. Everyone who doesn't shop there, or shops there without parking, is subsidizing the garage.

The Home Depot. People certainly need cars for many of the things they buy at the Home Depot. We didn't though; we just ordered carpet installation and picked up a few light bulbs. Manhattan's Home Depot is very successful in three floors of a very urban building in Chelsea. Why couldn't we have something similar, along with a modest underground garage, in a more walkable development at Rhode Island Avenue?

Rock Creek Parkway. The shortest route from Dupont to National Airport is via Rock Creek (I think), and it's a beautiful drive. Unfortunately, it's not such a beautiful walk or bike ride. To get to the nice trails in Rock Creek Park, you have to walk alongside a highway as far as about Tilden Street; to get to the C&O Canal or Capital Crescent Trail, it's highway in the other direction until you reach K and cut over to the Georgetown Waterfront Park. Taking my parents to the airport, we enjoyed Rock Creek for five minutes; going for each of the two above walks, my dad breathed the fumes of cars for much longer. We need our parks for parks, not for highways.

Neighborhood retail. I like to patronize the 17th Street hardware store as much as possible. Of course, they don't have everything I need. That might lead some to always drive to the Home Depot, but having a store nearby is much more convenient. Unfortunately, and largely because so many people do drive to shop, there's no hardware store in many neighborhoods. Suburban big-box convenience hurts neighborhood retail. We don't want to take away consumer choice, but we also need to help the retail succeed.

The Brass Knob. This is an urbanism success story, not a failure. I got a great doorknob at Adams Morgan's amazing architectural antique store (turns out my door has an original "Columbian" mortise lock). And the multispace meters on 18th worked great. I paid a quarter to park and spend a couple hundred on merchandise. If it had been more crowded, like on a weekend, the meter could have cost more and still not deterred a trip to this great store. If I hadn't been with my parents, I could have biked there, and will in the future.

The Zipcar alternative. I didn't need to own a car to do all this. I could have rented a Zipcar; there's actually one behind the house next door to me. And if more people used them, they'd be able to have more cars to make it more convenient for more people. I choose to keep my car and own a parking space, which is my right, but DC taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing that. For the above reasons and many more, they are, heavily.

Much of this requires a cognitive leap. For my parents, who live in a classic suburban area, Home Depot is the first stop rather than the stop after walking to the neighborhood hardware store. A $1/hour garage doesn't seem too cheap. And the idea of depending on the uncertainty of getting a Zipcar when you need one is a little scary.

At the same time, they, like many other people, love the European feel of DC. There's a bakery (Firehook) a couple blocks away. There are at least two places selling crepes in the neighborhood. The beautiful and diverse buildings, combining moderate-density townhouses and higher density apartment buildings on the avenue, are a lot like Paris (but a few floors shorter).

Driving convenience and walkable urbanism are, to some extent, mutually exclusive. We could ensure everyone has a parking space all the time and that every store has lots of parking, but then traffic would cripple the city, housing costs would rise due to the underground construction costs, and neighborhood retail would die out. Or, we can focus on improving shopping choices so that people don't have to drive to Home Depot and Baileys Crossroads to fix up their houses.

I'm fortunate to be able to live in an area with two supermarkets, creperies and bakeries, and a hardware store. Not everyone is. We must give more people the choice of a walkable neighborhood with local retail if they desire it. They can decide that paying more for parking or having to park a bit farther from home, and a longer and less convenient drive to Home Depot is worth the tradeoff. Only good planning and transportation policies, however, can ensure more people of all income levels can make that choice.



DC USA: SmartBike yes (eventually), racks in garage no

New Columbia Heights talked to DDOT's bicycle program manager, Jim Sebastian, who confirmed that there will be a SmartBike station in Columbia Heights once SmartBike's next round of expansion gets going (time indeterminate).

Ad-hoc bike parking at DC USA's opening. Photo by Cheryl Cort.

DC USA will also get more bike racks, but not in any part of the completely unused level of the parking garage. A member of Jim Graham's staff told NCH that he, DDOT, and the DC USA developer have identified places to add bike racks, but "the Deputy Mayor's office has refused to consider racks in the garage." Update: DMPED argues that allowing bikes in the garage would pose a safety problem.

As the staffer points out, garage parking would be especially useful for employees of DC USA, who might be reluctant to park bikes out on the street all day. Casual shoppers may use racks in the garage, though they're more likely to use outdoor ones which are visible and easy to access.



New York's DC USA, but with a ferry instead of Metro

The New York Times claims Brooklynites aren't hating the Red Hook IKEA quite as much as they anticipated. The water taxi to Manhattan and shuttle buses to downtown Brooklyn, which run every day and are available to non-shoppers, make the neighborhood more accessible. Hopefully they will stay; IKEA has only promised to keep them running on weekends.

Photo by mjpeacecorps on Flickr.

There's also a new waterfront esplanade, though it's marred by the giant parking lot IKEA created atop a historic graving dock. That parking lot has only been used twice, despite strong sales at IKEA; according to the store manager, the lot is only for "insurance." Hopefully they will decide to sell this useless lot so it can have more stores, housing, or a park one day; this is why cities like NYC and DC need strategically-targeted maximums. (Oops, I talked about the OP parking proposal. Sorry!)

In other Brooklyn parking news, Councilmember Simcha Felder wants to replace all meters with multi-space meters. These would enable paying with credit cards. Felder also wants NYC DOT to set up pay-by-phone citywide. It's an especially great idea because once NYC has multi-space meters and pay-by-phone everywhere, it's technologically easy to implement performance parking in high-demand areas of the city.

NYC Councilmembers are less pleased about losing their reserved spaces outside their district offices. Mayor Bloomberg took away these special privilages for four Councilmembers after controversy. They still have placards allowing them to park illegally, however, so they don't entirely have to stoop to following the same rules as ordinary citizens.



DC USA's idea of drainage

I don't think "the sidewalk" is an acceptable answer for "where should we put the stormwater runoff".

The sidewalk outside DC USA.


More underutilized parking in Columbia Heights

Rob Goodspeed has a good piece for the Urban Land Institute about the renaissance in Columbia Heights. Everything is great, except more and more developers are realizing they built way too much parking.

Highland Park Apartments in Columbia
Heights. Image from the developer.

The Highland Park Apartments, across the street from DC USA, has 278 spaces for 229 apartments. So far, however, 90 apartments have been leased in the not-yet-completed project, but "only 9 parking spaces have been purchased, forcing [the developer] to look to local schools who may be willing to pay for parking." Wouldn't it have been great if, instead of spending $30-60,000 per space to build that garage, they had been able to offer a couple hundred dollars lower rent?

By the way, I recently learned that the 1,015-space garage at DC USA was originally required by zoning to contain 1,600 spaces. To get down as low as 1,000 required a special zoning variance. Yet the garage still has an entire level that has never been used.

This is why we need to pass the parking requirements reform that Office of Planning is recommending. The Zoning Commission hearing is July 31, and we need residents to write letters or testify at the hearing, to make the case for the changes and make it clear that residents support it.




Commenters today raised some great ideas for DC USA's completely unused parking level. Alex B. suggested we convert it into roller hockey or an indoor skatepark. Along those lines, maybe mini golf?

A win-win for DC USA and the Zoo? Idea courtesy
of reader Bianchi. From Google Maps.

Bianchi had the cleverest idea of all: instead of building parking at the Zoo, let's use that garage and run a free shuttle (or aerial tram) the 0.8 miles to the zoo (which would have the added benefit of enabling visitors to use the Green Line in addition to the Red). I'm sure the shuttle would cost less than the parking (above-ground garages cost $25-30,000 per space and over $30 per space per month for maintenance).

Any better ideas for how to use the empty space?



Entire level of DC USA garage has never been used

Councilmember Jim Graham is rightly very proud of bringing Target and other stores to Columbia Heights, giving residents places to shop and jobs. And many of them are taking Metro. Graham emailed community lists to report that Metro ridership at the Columbia Heights station is up 24% on weekdays and 39% on weekends since the stores opened.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

And the garage is going mostly empty. That's good news for public transit, since the robust number of shoppers must not be all driving. But DC is still paying for it. According to Graham, the 1,015-space garage averages 250 cars with a peak of 350-400 cars. "In fact, the second level has not been used to date."

Next time we build a project next to Metro, let's remember that retailers may ask for more parking than we need. Overbuilding parking encourages some driving trips that could be transit trips, and costs taxpayers around $2.8 million a year just to pat ourselves on the back that we aren't using the garage.

And there's still not enough bike parking.



DC USA garage still mostly empty

The DC USA garage will cost DC about $28 $2.8 million a year, if it continues at the rate it did in March. Each of the 1,015 spaces is in use a little less than 2 hours each day.

Photo (not of DC) by a440 on Flickr.

When the garage opened, I ran some back-of-the-envelope calculations on the economics. By my estimate, the garage would pay for itself if it earns $3,441 per space per year.

Based on statistics for March, the garage earned an average of $1,901 per day. Total. That's $1.87 per space per day, meaning that most spaces are generally occupied for about 1-2 hours per day.

$1.87 per day is $683.77 per year, for a loss to the DC government of $2,527 a year or about $28 $2.8 million in total.

About 1,250 total cars used the garage each day on weekends and about 650 used it each weekday. The stats don't say how full the garage gets at its peak, but it's clear that most of the garage is going empty most of the time despite the extremely cheap rates.

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