Posts about Parking
Plans for renovating and rebuilding parts of Union Station are well underway, the aim being to better connect train, bus, pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle traffic to accommodate a surge in ridership over the next 25 years and beyond. On Wednesday, the public got a closer look at some of the possibilities.
Union Station houses DC's busiest Metro station, is the hub for both of the region's commuter rail systems, MARC and VRE, and is both the second-busiest intercity train station in the country and the second-busiest station in Amtrak's system. In anticipation of rising demand, planning started last year for a $10 billion, four-year expansion project that could triple station capacity.
Several hundred people attended a Wednesday night meeting to hear what the Federal Railroad Administration, which owns Union Station, has in mind for the overhaul. While plans for expanding the area where passengers wait to board trains surfaced Wednesday morning, this meeting was about telling the public about the need for renovating and rebuilding virtually the entire complex, from parking areas, bus terminals, taxi stands, and train platforms to the original station building and the space above the tracks just north of the station.
With Union Station being in its 109th year of service, some of the project's literature refers to the project as the "Second Century Plan."
Here are some of the functional features the project team said it's looking to bring to Union Station:
A more efficient way for taxis and car services (including ridesharing programs) to pick up and drop off passengers. Taxi drivers typically have a 30-45 minute wait in the taxi queue at the station today.
A more bike-friendly environment. There's currently too little capacity for both bicycle parking and bike sharing to meet even current demand.
Wider train platforms, as the ones there now aren't compliant with ADA standards, and also do not meet standards for an emergency evacuation. Widening the platforms will actually mean a decrease in the number of tracks at the station, from 20 to 19. But planners also emphasized that intercity rail capacity will increase because the platforms will be significantly longer-- nearly a quarter mile in some cases.
Larger, more open concourses that can handle the expected tripling of passenger demand by 2040.
A safer bus terminal, where there's less of a chance that people and buses will need to use the same space. Also, a more visually appealing bus terminal.
A complex that meshes well with the H Street Bridge, which will be rebuilt in the next several years.
One thing the FRA is putting significant emphasis on is the aesthetic appeal of the new station. The current building is on both the National and Washington DC Register of Historical Places, and its key features, such as the great hall, will remain unchanged. Presenter Paul Moyer reviewed examples of other stations around the world that are both functional and attractive, to use as an example.
While demand is maxing out for just about every mode of transportation that passes through Union Station, there's one mode where it's not: driving. Usually, only 70-90% of the parking spaces Union Station's garage are full at peak times, and nearly a quarter of those are leased out on a monthly basis, meaning they're likely used by workers in surrounding offices not directly tied to the station.
Rather than increasing the number of parking spaces, the planners are simply looking to make a more visually appealing parking facility. An architecturally renowned garage in Miami was cited as a possible inspiration.
Also, having empty railyard just blocks from the US Capitol is not the most economically stimulating use of space. Therefore, the air rights over the tracks were sold to Akridge, who will develop a project called Burnham Place, a mix of offices, retail, hotel, and residential that will sit above the tracks. Because the air rights begin at the current height of the H Street Bridge, designers will not be limited to a claustrophobic experience like what travelers experience at New York's Penn Station.
As you can see in the graphic above, the Federal Railroad Administration (and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation), Amtrak, Akridge, DDOT, WMATA, and the National Park Service all own different portions of the affected site, and will need to sign off on the plan, as will various historical review boards and federal interests.
While at least some of what was presented is very likely to happen, nothing is a done deal yet. The official purpose of the meeting was to solicit input from the community before developing formal proposals.
Community members were shown a scale map of the study area (roughly, the current station footprint, including the parking garage, plus the tracks as far north as L Street), and asked to place cardboard templates representing possible concourses, bus terminals, and other features in various places on the map, to gather feedback on possibilities.
The strongest sentiments at both this meeting and the last one, which was in December, were about how the Union Station project will affect surrounding neighborhoods.
The business community is looking for better intermodal connections (between Metro, Amtrak, bus, and streetcar), and local residents is looking for better connections to the neighborhood itself, such as through the long neglected entrance off of H Street, and to have many of the nearby Metrobus routes actually stop at the station, rather than blocks away.
Because the projects are dependent on one another, both local residents and the business community asked that the required environmental reviews for Burnham Place and the rest of Union Station will be done at the same time. This is not guaranteed, because the process for each project is different.
If you would like to view the presentation from the FRA, it is posted here, and comments are still being accepted on the site. The next public meeting, where project alternatives will be presented, is scheduled for this summer. Once the project is approved, construction is expected to last about four years.
In a recent post about cleaning up after Snowzilla, Roll Call, a
blog newspaper that covers Congress, published a graphic showing that if you combined all the parking lots on the Capitol Grounds in need of plowing, they'd cover the National Mall. That's a crazy amount of parking.
Imagine if some of Washington's best locations for parks or buildings were parking lots! You don't have to! It's like that today. Image by Roll Call's Sean McMinn and Jia You.
Acres of surface parking lots surround the Capitol and its accessory buildings, and the question of whether they should even be there has long been a sore spot for those paying attention to land use in the District.
That amount of parking is particularly disheartening when you consider that all of these lots used to be blocks of apartments and offices that were very welcoming to people. The McMillan Commission imagined monumental office buildings surrounding the Capitol. In the 1920s, Congress expanded that vision dramatically, adding the open spaces to the north and buying up the lots to the south for future office buildings.
Now, they're parking lots, or parks on top of parking lots. Here's a map of all the surface parking on the Capitol Grounds:
Congress gets a lot more parking than the rest of the government
The branch of the government that manages the land, the Architect of the Capitol is holding onto the land for now. It likes providing ample parking spaces for legislators, staff, and employees. The AOC won't say exactly how much parking, but a 2005 master plan allotted 5,800 spaces to the House of Representatives alone. Depending on how much the Senate, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and support staff get, the number is probably far higher.
Because Congress writes the rules, they've never been subject to review by the National Capital Planning Commission, which sets the parking regulations. The AOC's independence and access to funding has led to a bad reputation, from architecture critics to Congress itself.
To be fair, the AOC does plan to eventually spruce up their properties. Their 2011 Master Plan aims to eliminate all surface parking lots by 2026. But that master plan is short on details for how they'd do that, and it's not clear whether they'd bring the amount of parking in line with the rest of the Federal Government's limits on parking.
Given the sheer volume of parking at the Capitol complex, along with the possibilities for how we could otherwise use the land, the matter of how to scale it back deserves more thought.
Correction: This post originally referred to Roll Call as 'a blog that covers Congress.' While the article at hand was filed on Roll Call's blog, it's more accurate to call the publication a newspaper. Also, it has been clarified to note that the 5,800 figure for parking spaces is only for people who work at the House of Representatives.
Walmart has turned many towns into high-dry food deserts, Nashville is considering its transit options, and Uber had to get creative to get insurance. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!
Walmart's small town shuffle: Walmart is closing shop in a number of small towns despite only recently arriving and putting other grocery stores out of business. Residents say the effect is devastating. (Bloomberg)
Music City moving: Nashville's transit authority is working to put forward a plan for developing transit. The most robust possibility would build new light rail, streetcars, and bus lines, and would cost $5.4 billion. The smallest plan, at $800 million, would focus on buses and the existing commuter rail line. (Nashville Tennessean)
Uber insurance: Uber as a ride hailing service might not exist if not for one of its employees convincing insurance agents to cover drivers. There's a lot of grey area in how to insure someone who is waiting for the app to connect them with a customer. (Buzz Feed News)
Build up for cars: As soon as cars came on the scene in cities, residents and businesses needed places to put them. In dense places, people put cars on elevators and stored vertically. These pictures show how that technology evolved from the 1920s to 1970s. (Mashable)
To live and ride in LA: Transit ridership has gone down in Los Angeles by 10% from the high reached in 2006. Officials are wondering how to attract more high-income riders, and whether they should stick with current plans to build more bike and bus-only lanes. (Los Angeles Times)
Cities as testing grounds: Gridlock at the US Capitol and in state houses nationwide has liberal leaders testing new laws and ideas at the municipal level. The hope is that cities will prove certain laws work, which will lead to change at state and federal level. (New York Times)
Quote of the Week: "The government is one group that doesn't get to choose its customers. We want to make it work for everyone." Jennifer Pahlka, who started Code for America to help cities work better with their citizens. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Philadelphia has fewer parking spaces overall, but it's now easier to find a space in the city's garages and lots. What gives?
Philadelphia has cut its number of parking spots
Planners in Philadelphia do a parking census every five years, and Plan Philly reports that in the past five years, the number of public off-street parking spots around Center City (the name for Philly's downtown areas) shrank by seven percent, or a little over 3000 spaces.
Most of the decline in off-street parking is because surface parking lots have become new buildings, some of which built new parking but many of which did not. A lot of spaces that were lost used to be in public parking lots or garages that were sold to make way for new office and apartment buildings.
Center City is getting denser and demand for land means that it's more lucrative to redevelop these parking sites for more than just car storage. Some of the parking will be replace once construction is done but most spots are gone forever as some of the buildings reserve what parking they have for tenants instead of anyone just looking for a place to park to visit elsewhere.
The percentage of people using parking spots has fallen as well
Meanwhile, there's a smaller percentage of people parking in Philadelphia's available spots. It's much easier to find one than it was five years ago.
Parking Lot occupancy rates in Center City Philadelphia. Image cropped by author from Philadelphia Parking Inventory.
It turns out that there are simply a lot of people in Philadelphia who choose to use transit, walk, or ride a bike to get around.
Cities are realizing they don't need to build parking
The news from Philadelphia's parking inventory is the latest in a trend that shows that cities are getting smarter about parking. A critical first step for many cities is to simply count how many parking spaces it actually has. Philadelphia is ahead of the curve in that respect.
But Philadelphia also runs a lot of its garages through the Philadelphia Parking Authority. DC doesn't manage nearly as many garages, with over 20 different garage operators filling the role. Getting good information on the total number of spots and how often they're used might be harder for DC to collect.
But once a city knows how many spaces are availablem it is in a much better position to actually plan for how much parking it will need in the future rather than relying on parking ratios that may be decades old. Philadelphia's inventory is a good start and confirms a lot about what we've learned about parking here in DC as well.
The National Institutes of Health won't add any new parking spaces to its campus after all. After saying "high-ranking scientists" were too important to take transit or carpool, NIH leaders have seen the error of their ways and modified the master plan to cap the parking.
NIH last presented a draft master plan last April. The plan would add 3,000 employees to the Bethesda campus, and NIH wanted to build 1,000 new parking spaces for them.
However, the National Capital Planning Commission rejected NIH's plan. NCPC has a policy that federal facilities outside DC but near Metro stations (like NIH) should have one space per three employees. NIH has 1 space per 2.3 employees, more than the NCPC standard.
When NIH last updated its master plan, NCPC planners pushed NIH to work to reach the 1:3 level. But at the April meeting, NIH facilities director Ricardo Herring irritated NCPC commissioners by insisting that achieving that was "impossible" because "high-ranking scientists" just won't abide not being able to have their own free parking spaces.
Apparently it's not actually impossible, because NIH has now changed its plan. Instead of adding 1,000 spaces, it will add zero, capping parking at the current level of 9,045. That would shift the parking ratio from 1:2.3 to 1:2.6.
NCPC spokesperson Stephen Staudigl said in an email, "In response to our concerns, NIH suggested a cap on existing parking on the campus, as opposed to its previous proposal to add new parking. We see this cap as an interim step towards achieving a long-term goal of the 1:3 ratio. ... Looking forward, we plan to continue working with NIH staff in anticipation of its next master plan update in 2018, which should include a more detailed approach to parking reduction over time."
The plan will consolidate much of the campus' surface parking into a few new parking garages. This will let NIH actually increase the percentage of open space on the campus from 36% to 39% while growing, because parking will drop from 9% of the land area to 5%.
As NCPC commissioners pointed out in April, a public health organization, in particular, ought to recognize the value of having people not dependent on cars. Thanks to NCPC's pressure, it seems to have come around.
On December 5, 1951, the world's first "park-o-mat" driverless parking garage opened on K Street NW, between 14th and 15th Streets. The building doesn't exist anymore, but this newsreel is a neat look into one of history's previous attempts at driverless transportation.
The original park-o-mat buildling was just 25 feet by 40 feet, but at 16 floors and with two elevators, it had room for 72 cars.
As downtown DC developed and the city's height limit began to limit land availability, property values eventually made it impractical to keep using this building as parking. Today, a normal building full of people replaces it.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Would you rather pay $27 a month or $2.50 a month for your phone? A lower price means more dollars in your pocket, right? But what if one of those were an iPhone and the other a flip phone?
We're buying smartphones in droves even though they cost 10 times as much as the flip phones of old. Clearly, there's more to these decisions than price.
We make decisions based on value, not just cost. But on a pair of transportation issues, we're hearing rhetoric that tries to obscure this issues. It's coming from groups of people more concerned with swaying public opinion than informing the public. The first one is tolls on Interstate 66 in Virginia; the second, DC's new parking pilot for the Chinatown area.
Continue reading my latest column in the Washington Post. Also, the Post editorial board agrees with me on parking; in an editorial, the editors liken the experience of circling for downtown parking to the long gas lines during the 1970s energy crisis. Meanwhile, Michael Hamilton argues the rates should vary even more than DDOT plans to do.
Earlier this week, we posted a map of something in DC and asked if you could identify what it was showing. The map shows parking lots and parking garages within a quarter of a mile of Metro stops in the District. Did you get it right?
Map made by the author using data from the District government's open data portal.
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