Posts about Parking
Church parking is a huge problem in Shaw, especially today. It's commonly said that the churches in Shaw used to serve immediate residents, and thus didn't need as much parking, but as their congregants have moved farther away over time, they need space for their cars on Sundays. But is this true?
Of the 42 churches reporting in the NW Urban Renewal area (see map), only 14 had 40% or more of their membership in the renewal area in 1957. Yes, that is 56 years ago, but as present day churches grousing about parking dredge up members who've been attending for 40-50 years as an excuse to ignore parking violations of members of undetermined tenure, I say it is fair to look at membership patterns from way back then.
In [an Examiner article from October, entitled "Parking conflicts prompting churches to flee D.C.,"] Lincoln Congregational Temple is mentioned as one of the complaining churches. On page 39 of the 1957 survey only 25% of its congregants lived in the area and supposedly of that, most were elderly, people who should be by now at home with Jesus. With the Savior and not driving and trying to find a parking spot.The parking problem has grown especially acute recently. Residents petitioned DDOT to extend residential permit parking (RPP) to Sundays, meaning churchgoers who don't live in the area can only park for 2 hours on RPP blocks and not at all on one side of every street. That has made it impossible for church patrons to use the street parking.
In '57 a majority of their membership [were] up in Brookland and over in Kenilworth. It is possible that the church recruited a ton of members in the Shaw area since the survey, who then moved out of the area and come back on Sundays. However, I don't think that gives anyone a moral right to a parking spot, no more than having the right to use the toilet in your first apartment years after you turned in the keys and got your deposit back.
Shaw is chock full of churches, and some of them have figured out how to worship without double parking and the like. Sadly it is the ones who haven't seriously looked for solutions, other than breaking the law, who seem to scream the loudest. It is embarrassing as a believer, when some church leaders try to make parking a theological issue. Parking ain't in the Bible.
I also suspect that in 1957 Shaw had fewer resident-owned cars, so there wasn't the same level of competition for curb space.
DDOT has been working with individual churches for some time to try to find extra space that can accommodate parking on Sundays, like diagonal parking or space along the medians of wide avenues. But any such parking has to be open to all, not just churchgoers (anything else would be fairly clearly unconstitutional), and just adding more free parking won't ultimately solve the problem.
Many of the churches, but not all, have nearby office buildings or public schools with unused parking capacity on Sundays. There should be a way to work out a deal where the churches can use these lots. However, that parking won't be entirely free.
As we saw with the compromise the Washington Interfaith Network worked out for Columbia Heights churches to use the DC USA garage, once free parking is clearly not an option, suddenly a compromise that involves non-free parking becomes tenable.
The neighborhood parking also isn't entirely full, now that it's so restricted. It should be possible to let some people who want to drive to Shaw park on neighborhood streets, but there isn't room for all. How can DC allocate this scarce resource? The only ways to divvy up a limited resource is lottery, queue, pricing, favoritism (choosing one preferential group), or a hodgepodge.
Right now, it's favoritism for residents, with no option for others. The most sensible approach would be to set up a parking pass that's not free, perhaps also limited in number, which people could purchase to park in Shaw on Sundays. But the assumption that parking must be free, that free parking is a God-given right, is a straitjacket that forecloses better, creative solutions.
Update: The change to the parking included restrictions to RPP holders only on one side of every street. The original article did not mention this feature of the new policy. It has been corrected.
If signs say that you can park but must pay on one section of a street, while parking is illegal until 6:30 pm on another section, do you have to pay on that second section after 6:30?
The 800 block of 17th Street, NW has these parking signs along its length, in this order (plus another one farther to the left, at the corner, which isn't relevant here).
It's clear you can't ever park to the right of the rightmost sign (that's at the corner). It's also clear that between the left and middle signs (and to the left of the left sign), you can park from 9:30-4 on weekdays, but have to pay the meter.
You can also park after 6:30 pm in that zone, but have to pay. The 2-hour time limit doesn't apply, so you can park for 3½ hours, but have to pay $7 to do it.
But what about between the middle and right signs? You can't park from 7 am to 6:30 pm, and can stand only outside rush hours. Both restrictions expire at 6:30, but the "pay to park" rule seem to only apply left of the middle sign, since the middle sign has a leftward-pointing green arrow.
Drivers probably should have to pay in both zones after 6:30, since it would be a little silly to have half the block be free in the evenings while the other half is not, but at the moment, the signs don't seem to require that.
On a recent evening, a few drivers tried parking in the apparently-free zone, and an enforcement officer ticketed the 2 cars closest to the middle sign, but not the others, which is particularly odd.
A solution to the chronic parking problems some Columbia Heights churchgoers face could be at hand. The Current reports (mammoth PDF) that the Washington Interfaith Network worked out a deal with the District government to let church patrons use the underfilled DC USA parking garage for a discount rate.
Columbia Heights has a lot of churches with many congregants who lived in the neighborhood long ago. Many have taken advantage of better economic circumstances for themselves, or the rising value of their property in Columbia Heights, to move to houses in the suburbs which they desired. Others were pushed out by rising rents. Many of these former residents still drive back to the old church on Sundays.
At the same time, the population of the neighborhood has swelled. That means much fiercer competition for limited parking spaces on the street. As the Current story explains, parking rules in the area are suspended on Sundays, but only until 2 pm, which is too early for many who want to stay longer at church.
During a citywide "parking summit," members of many nearby church congregations asked DDOT for exemptions from the parking restrictions so they could continue to park for free, for unlimited lengths of time. Instead of more free parking, this deal will give churchgoers a $2 discount to park at the DC USA garage. The garage is never completely filled, as Target insisted on far more parking spaces than turned out to be necessary.
A key point here is that the churchgoers, who need parking, were willing to work out a deal with city officials without the promise of unlimited, unrestricted, free parking. In fact, the very fact that parking was not so available, thanks to greater demand and new restrictions, likely made people willing to think creatively.
It may indeed be worthwhile to subsidize, to some extent, parking for certain groups based on political necessity. What's important is not to subsidize it to the point of being completely free. When people share in the cost of parking, they might choose to carpool, or ride transit if it's available. They have a stake in keeping the total parking demand manageable. There's a reason not to drive, and take up a scarce space, completely unnecessarily.
Not all neighborhoods have a big, underutilized garage, but there are other solutions as well. Some areas have office building or hotel garages which don't fill up on Sundays, or other ways to procure some short-term parking. These can give churches an opportunity to satisfy their congregation's legitimate parking needs.
But first, it takes a city not willing to succumb to the first temptation, to just give out free on-street parking willy-nilly and create problems for others. If leaders resist this, many opportunities open up to solve the parking needs for churches and many other organizations which have a real place in a community, but not the right to monopolize all parking to the exclusion of others.
Update: negotiated with the city on behalf of the congregations to work out this deal.
Whether you care about parking, bicycling, walking, or all three, in DC, Maryland, or Virginia, there are some important events coming up, from a parking meeting tonight in Georgetown to a forum on upcounty Montgomery pedestrian safety to a bike rally in Richmond.
Talk parking in Georgetown: Tonight (Wednesday, January 16) is a Georgetown community meeting about parking. Topher Mathews reports Georgetown is likely to get some form of performance parking, but before it does, leaders want to hear from residents about their parking needs and desires. The meeting starts at 6:30 at Hardy Middle School.
Make walkable neighborhoods for everyone: Many DC neighborhoods like H Street are becoming desirable, walkable places, but also increasingly unaffordable for many. How can we ensure these places serve everyone, including long-time residents, rather than one small segment of the population?
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the most influential smart growth group in the Washington region, organized a panel with Chris Leinberger of Brookings, David Bowers from Enterprise Community Partners, and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute's Ed Lazere. It's Tuesday, January 22, 6:30-8:30 (with some refreshments beginning at 6) at NCPC, 401 9th St NW, suite 500 North. RSVP here.
Talk pedestrians in upcounty: After a spate of pedestrian injuries and deaths in upcounty Montgomery, the Action Committee for Transit put together a forum on pedestrian safety at the Germantown Public Library, 2-4 pm on Saturday, January 26. Barbara McCann from the National Complete Streets Coalition will talk about the area's pedestrian safety problems and possible solutions.
Support biking in DC, Maryland: WABA is inviting folks to its offices on Wednesday, January 23 to talk about bicycle planning in DC and Maryland. The MoveDC initiative and a transportation planning process in Maryland will be collecting a lot of public input.
Stop by WABA's offices in Adams Morgan, 2599 Ontario Road NW, between 5:30 and 9:30 to talk with WABA staff and fellow cycling advocates about how to best weigh in during these processes and what to say when you do.
Support biking in Virginia: In the Commonwealth, the biggest bicycling issues are in the state legislature, where advocates are pushing for 6 specific bills that will make roads safer for cyclists. They are organizing a Bicycling Action Day in Richmond on Tuesday, January 29, starting at 10:30 at the "compass" plaza at Virginia Commonwealth University, followed by a bicycle ride to the state capitol for a rally.
Zoning update! And don't forget the Ward 4 zoning update information session, 6:30 tonight (again, Wednesday
Ever since the L Street bike lane opened (and while DDOT was building it), for-hire sedans, delivery trucks, and other vehicles have consistently parked in the lane, despite signs, bollards, and new loading zones across the street or around the corner to serve buildings' loading needs.
Jay Corbalis created a Tumblr, Who's Blocking the L St. Bike Lane Today? to collect photographs of these scofflaws. This is a great way to raise consciousness of how often it's happening.
If you ride down the lane and encounter a blocker, take a picture of your own! You can submit them directly to be included on the site.
DDOT has made a number of changes to its design for New Jersey Avenue NW between H and N Streets from its previous draft in late July, but the main elements remain
DDOT hopes to begin work in late September 2013, according to Michael Randolph of STV Incorporated. The goal is to create a "more residential feel" for the road, as the 2006 Mount Vernon Triangle Transportation and Public Realm Design Project recommended. DDOT will not widen the road south of New York Avenue, but will widen it somewhat north of New York Avenue to accommodate the switch to two-way traffic.
The team made a few significant changes to the design which you can see on the above diagrams.
More marked crosswalks (drag the scrollbar to line up with the point marked B): Pedestrians will now have crosswalks on all 4 sides of the New Jersey/New York Avenue intersection. The previous plans provided no crosswalk across New York Avenue on the west side of the intersection.
This is a smart move, since pedestrians would and could legally walk across the intersection whether there's a marked crosswalk or not. Better to put some high visibility zebra striping there to let drivers know pedestrians should be expected and have the right-of-way.
New York Avenue median gone (also point B): The median island on New York Avenue has been removed and replaced by a new westbound traffic lane. Randolph said this was part of an attempt to separate traffic headed into the tunnel from traffic that intended to stay on New York Avenue earlier in order to relieve congestion.
This appears to be a loss for pedestrian safety. An island would allow half the road to be crossed at a time. Now, the elderly and other slow-crossing individuals will be forced to cross 7 lanes of traffic in one cycle.
Innovative bike lane corner treatments: The corner of K Street and New Jersey Avenue (point C) will no longer get the "innovative" bike lane treatment that routes cyclists next to the crosswalks at corners. Meanwhile, at New York Avenue and New Jersey Avenue, instead of having the tiny islands to route the bike lanes at all 4 corners, there are only 2.
Randolph said that DDOT determined there wasn't enough space in the intersection for this treatment. It's not clear why that is the case, and is unfortunate, given that DDOT plans a major cross-town bike lane for K Street NE/NW.
Slightly shorter bike lanes (point A): The dedicated bike lanes on New Jersey Avenue have been truncated somewhat. Instead of running the entire length of the project from H to N Streets, the lanes would stop at Morgan Street (which is located between M and N Streets).Randolph said, "The bicycle lanes were eliminated in this section to better match the typical section of the roadway to the north of N Street and to provide a transition zone for the cyclists between intersections." This answer doesn't really explain why it had to change.
A bay of angled parking spaces was added just north of I Street (to the right of point C), cutting into the sidewalk on the west side of New Jersey Avenue. This means reducing an area of green space to make room for the sidewalk that will now be farther from the street edge.
A sharper right turn onto 3rd Street is included in the design (point A). This will force drivers to slow down more before they make the turn which crosses a bike lane and crosswalk, and should make this corner safer. It also gives pedestrians a more direct path to cross 3rd and stay along New Jersey Avenue.
In addition to these specific changes, the project team talked about a few general issues.Pavement quality: Residents complained that rear-end crashes occur often on New York Avenue because of poor pavement quality. The project team will conduct a "geotechnical investigation" of the pavement on New York Avenue, from 1st to 4th Streets NW, to provide a "10- to 20-year fix" for the pavement.
A traffic analysis will be done for that stretch of New York Avenue, as well as New Jersey Avenue from H to N Streets. Residents hope this will determine the best way to get traffic headed towards the convention center through the neighborhood.
Overhead signs that direct traffic onto I-395 are large, highway-style signs that make the area feel more like a freeway and less like a neighborhood. DDOT will evaluate these in hopes that the city can remove at least one of the 3 that currently exist.
Leading pedestrian intervals: Residents asked about the possibility of having the walk sign come on before the green light at New York Avenue, so those walking across the street would have a chance to get a jump on vehicular traffic. Residents raised concerns about seniors having enough time to cross a road as wide as New York on foot.
Pedestrian bridge: A request for a pedestrian bridge over New York Avenue was quickly shot down due to both cost and practicality. The ramp to such a bridge would likely have to begin more than a block from the intersection for the slope to be gentle enough to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
DDOT will present additional alterations to the plan online sometime in January of 2013. There are currently no plans for further public meetings to discuss the project. Residents with questions or comments can email Abdullahi Mohamed, the project manager.
Tonight is the second public meeting for the DC Zoning Update, at 421 7th St. NW in the Penn Quarter. Let us know if you can come to this one, or one of the others in December and January.
Steven Yates attended the first meeting, Saturday in Southwest. He reported:
Parking seemed like the most contentious issue. There were some people concerned with the elimination of some parking minimums (particularly in the transit zones). They were particularly concerned with spillover into the neighborhoods, which sounded [solvable] with resident-only parking.Let's talk about what's in there about parking.
There was also a sizable group (I'd guess roughly equal in size to those concerned with parking) that were vocally supportive of what OP [the Office of Planning] is trying to do in regards to parking. The biggest (really only) applause for comments were those who were OK with less parking. Many people there seemed genuinely curious about what the update meant and had some fairly wonky and specific questions.
The 1958 zoning code mandated parking for new buildings on the assumption that everyone would be driving in the future. Like adequate public facilities ordinances in the suburbs, this subordinates development to automotive infrastructure. If there isn't enough room for cars, build nothing until there is.
Predictions that there would be only one mode of transportation, driving, in the future turned out to be wrong. We have Metro, buses, biking, walking, and more. Rather than accommodating demand, requirements to build parking instead create strong incentives for people to drive who wouldn't have otherwise, pushing the mode share in one unsustainable direction and making traffic worse for existing drivers.
Early working groups for the zoning update considered eliminating almost all or even all parking minimums, but facing pressure from some neighborhood groups, OP backed off and only now propose eliminating minimums for a few categories:
- Small residential buildings of up to 9 units
- Higher-density areas (today's R-5) and mixed-use/commercial zones near Metro or high-frequency bus lines ("transit zones")
- Production, Distribution and Repair (industrial) land
The final set of "transit zones" isn't set, but OP created this preliminary map showing where they probably will be:
Note that any low-density land, even right next to a Metro station, doesn't count, even most row house neighborhoods (designated R-4 today). An individual townhouse will be exempt under the small residential building requirement, but any non-residential building like a school, even next to a Metro station, will have to have as much parking as if it were nowhere near the Metro.
Property owners won't have to consult a transit timetable to decide if they are in a transit zone. Instead, the actual zoning category will differ. An apartment building area near transit would be an AT zone, while one far from transit would be an A. Likewise, commercial and mixed-use corridors are M zones without transit and MT zones in areas near transit.
The Zoning Commission approved a general proposal to have some as-yet-undetermined parking maximums as well, but the Office of Planning has dropped this from the update.
One proposal had been to allow buildings to build a lot of parking if they want, but require that parking beyond a certain limit use a design that makes it possible to convert the space to other uses, like below-grade retail, offices, or even storage. However, developers said that this would add considerably to the cost of that below-grade space with no immediate benefit, and OP dropped this requirement.
One maximum remains in the draft code: surface parking lots can't exceed 100,000 square feet, or about 2.3 acres, as of right. By comparison, the surface parking lot for the Home Depot and other stores near Rhode Island Avenue Metro is about 350,000 square feet, or 8 acres.
However, anyone can ask for a special exception to exceed this limit if they create a Transportation Demand Management plan which DDOT approves. The BZA also has the ability to require screening and landscaping, or put requirements on where the curb cuts to enter and exit are.
While it's better for the zoning code to err on the side of less regulation rather than more, a requirement to have a TDM plan for very large parking facilities, and to go through some review process for the design, makes sense. The special exception process does not present an extremely high bar to getting things approved, but it does force people to go through a legal process.
For the individual homeowner wanting to rent out a garage, a special exception is a large burden, but for anyone building a 2.3-acre or larger parking lot, it's not likely to be. In fact, this would argue for a lower threshold above which the special exception and TDM process kicks in.
A number of rules guide how a parking lot or structure can be designed. Parking lots over a certain size will have to have trees to create shade and reduce the urban heat island effect. Drive-through queueing lanes have to be a certain length. And so on.
You can read all about that stuff in Subtitle C, chapters 2106-2112.
One of the rules in the zoning update, which prohibits parking between buildings and the street in most areas, already became law in 2011, after the Office of Planning brought that particular chapter forward ahead of time as a text amendment.
It's great that many supporters of reducing burdensome parking minimums made it on Saturday, but we'll need to keep that up at the other meetings, especially Ward 3 on January 8 but also many other wards. Please let us know which meeting you can make!
Ward 3 Vision.
Every neighborhood controversy, sooner or later, seems to come down to parking. Why is parking such a difficult issue?
This might seem like a silly question, but there are a lot of essential things in limited supply that we don't fight over. Take gasoline: We don't argue over who's entitled to gasoline or to how much. I can buy as much as I want, whenever I want.
When I go to the gas station, I don't have to worry that they may have run out of gasoline because I didn't get there early enough. The same could be said of milk, bread, clothes, and other essential things.
What if the government handled gasoline the same way it does free parking?
Imagine for a moment that each month the District somehow came into a lot of of gasoline, and set up a "residential gasoline program" where any resident could buy as much gas as they wanted for 10¢ a gallon, first come, first served.
What would happen? We'd all buy as much gasoline as we could, even if we didn't really need it. The supply would run out very quickly, and we'd start fighting over it. We'd start having to ration it. Special groups would argue that they're more deserving of gasoline than others.
Worst of all, we'd be inclined to prevent new people from moving to the District, because they'd be competing with us for our sweet deal on 10-cent-a-gallon gasoline. All of these unnecessary conflicts and complications and undesirable side effects. Why? Because the government is selling something valuable at a small fraction of its true market cost.
That's where we are today with residential parking. We don't have enough to go around, but we haven't faced up to that reality. The reason we're not having DC Council meetings about milk or about gasoline is that the demand for those things is moderated by price. And that's what needs to happen with residential parking.
The current system doesn't work
The RPP system is broken. I see 5 big problems with residential parking in the District today:
- There are more residential permits than residential spaces available in many neighborhoods. As a result, for example, in Dupont, where I used to live, everyone wastes time and fossil fuels driving around and around looking for a spot.
- Zones are huge and the boundaries drawn without regard to demand for parking. Very different neighborhoods like AU Park and Cleveland Park and Woodley Park are all arbitrarily lumped into the same parking zone. You have intrazone commuting, and people from AU Park can drive to my street, 2 blocks from the Cleveland Park metro, and park there all day, as if it were their neighborhood.
- The cost is the same everywhere, whether you live in a very low-density suburban-style neighborhood like Edgewood or Chevy Chase or a high-density urban neighborhood like Adams Morgan or Logan Circle.
- The 2-hour exception is arbitrary and useless in most real-world situations. It's more time than you need to pick up a prescription at CVS, but not enough time for dinner and a movie.
- The system deals awkwardly or not at all with visitors like babysitters, houseguests, churchgoers, and others who have legitimate reasons to park in residential neighborhoods.
The solution is not to add complexity
How do we address these problems? The answer isn't to add more layers of regulatory complexity. The current system is already a tangled mess that only a lawyer could love. We don't need more special exceptions, special zones, carve-outs, or special categories of drivers. We don't need more rationing or hourly limits or weekly schedules. We don't need more indecipherable parking signage.
This doesn't need to be complicated. Let's start with two basic principles:
- Storing my personal vehicle on public land provides me a personal benefit, and is not a public good. I'm not doing the people of DC a favor by parking on the street
— to the contrary. So when I park on public land, I should bear the cost of that privilege, at approximately market rates, rather than paying a rate that's artificially low because it's subsidized by all DC taxpayers.
- The value of parking varies according to demand, which varies according to location. Prices should be set zone by zone. But in order for residential parking zones to make sense, zones should be small and/or homogeneous enough to capture differences in demand from place to place.
What would this look like in practice?
Each small zone might have a base rate, based on demand. Everything else could then flow from that base rate: You'd have hourly rates and daily rates. Residential parking permits are essentially a yearly pass in the microzone of my choice, keyed to that zone's base price.
If I occasionally need space for visitors, I could buy books of day passes at a reduced rate. If I live in Chevy Chase and I want to drive to Metro in Cleveland Park and park on the street every day, then I could pay for daytime-only parking in that microzone. Babysitters or contractors could buy daytime passes as well. And so on.
In some parts of the city, residential parking may be so abundant that market value of parking is close to zero. There, the current token rate of $35 per year would continue to apply. In areas with high demand, the cost would be higher.
This may all sound like it would be complicated to implement, enforce, and comply with; but the technology exists to make this easy and is getting ever cheaper.
With this proposed approach, the only thing you ever have to consider is price. You park wherever you want, whenever you want, for as long as you want - as long as you're willing to pay what it's worth. Just like you can drink as much milk as you want, as long as you pay for it. Simple.
Does market pricing mean parking is just for rich people?
The District should do everything it can to reduce poverty and income inequality. But the District doesn't have across-the-board subsidies for clothes or furniture or gas or lots of other good and useful things.
Should the DC government subsidize parking? Perhaps, but certainly not for me and my comfortable neighbors in Ward 3. And even for low-income residents, we're not convinced that that subsidies for parking would be a particularly effective way to reduce poverty.
Surely there are more fundamental needs that we should be meeting first. We don't have enough affordable housing for people in DC, so it seems strange to argue that affordable housing for cars should be a priority.
At any rate, it's the current system that is profoundly regressive. About a third of DC households don't have a car at all. The existing parking subsidy takes money from all taxpayers, whether they drive or not, and effectively redistributes it to car owners in proportion to the number of cars they own. That's not fair and
it's not right.
Accurate pricing + better incentives = improved quality of life for everyone
I'm not "anti-car." My family owns a minivan and drives it and depends on it. But the current RPP system actively incentivizes more car ownership and more driving. Those incentives need to be reversed. Two personal cases in point:
- My own family gets by on one car. We've often thought about buying a second car. So far we haven't, for a variety of reasons. But the cost of storing the car has never been a consideration in that decision. Why would it, when we can store the car on public land for practically nothing?
- On my block, almost every house has a garage designed to house a car. Not a single one of those garages, including my own, ever has a car in it. We all keep our cars on the street, and use our garages for bikes and tools and junk. Why shouldn't we, when we can store our cars on public land for practically nothing?
More accurate pricing for residential parking would encourage individuals to find alternatives to owning a car; it would encourage families to own only as many cars as they need; and it would encourage people who have off-street parking to use it. All of this would result in fewer cars parked on the street, so that when
you do need to park, you can.
Imagine a city where every single block has a parking spot or two available, so when you do need to park you can always find a space, anywhere, any time of day or day of the week. Parking karma for everyone. That sounds like a fantasy, but it doesn't have to be. Because of market pricing, every gas station has gas, and every grocery store has milk and bread, and so on. We take this for granted, but we shouldn't.
With more accurate pricing, we can get there with parking as well. And in the process we can eliminate the underlying cause of so much of the neighborhood conflict and rancor we have over growth and development, and make DC a happier and more attractive and more livable place.
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