Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Transportation Home  |  Discussions  |  Traffic  |  Columns  |  Q&A     |      Twitter |    Facebook   |  phone Alerts

Can parking be 'green'?

Cars are part of the transportation system even when motionless, and the warehousing of automobiles has absorbed the attention of urban planners for more than a century.

An exhibit called House of Cars at the National Building Museum traces a continuing evolution in our thinking about how to provide space for vehicles. More optimistic viewers will see the evolution this way: In the mid-20th century, parking garage design reflected out determination to adapt cities to accommodate cars. Today, we're trying to adapt the car to fit into our urban spaces.

As part of the building museum's program, I moderated a discussion last week with panelists who tilted toward optimism. Google images for "green parking garage" and the first thing you'll see is the parking garage for the Santa Monica Civic Center developed by architect James O'Connor of the Moore Ruble Yudell firm.

O'Connor, one of the panelists, said that he wasn't asked to create a structure with so many environmentally friendly features, but the city was very pleased with the results. Cars on the roof needed shade. Why not use solar panels to perform the task? The firm used recycled materials in construction and special glazings to limit heating and cooling. The storm drain system reduces pollution in the runoff.

Beyond the wide range of such elements, the building just looks really interesting. See the House of Cars exhibit, open through July 11, and displays will make it very clear how much of a leap forward the Santa Monica garage represents. Or just visit one of the concrete fortress that Metro riders use for parking at stations like Vienna, New Carrollton or Shady Grove.

Still, the Santa Monica effort created a 900-car parking garage. How green can that be? I asked District Transportation Director Gabe Klein, another of the panelists, if he hated people such as O'Connor, whose skills can create inviting, low-impact welcome centers for automobiles -- car magnets for an already congested city.

Klein said no, that what a sensible transportation policy does is offer mobility for everyone rather than focusing on one mode vs. another. In his presentation, Klein talked about the District's efforts to make parking payments easier for travelers while allowing the city some flexibility in pricing street parking. He also described plans to expand bike parking through a string of mini-parking stations across the city.

In the District, the government's role in parking policy is pretty much limited to the streets. The more off-street parking -- green or otherwise -- that gets created here, the greater the role of private enterprise in determining the details of how the city accommodates cars.

Last month, in another part of the museum's program, Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA made the case that parking comes with costs that go well beyond the driver's payment.

Shoup said the decisions that public and private planners make about providing parking can skew people's travel choices, raise the cost of housing, waste precious space, limit urban design options, harm the environment and damage the economy. He discussed three reforms that could tilt those impacts in a more positive direction:

-- Charge the right price for curb parking, setting it at the lowest price that will leave one or two vacant spaces on each block. (That reduces cruising for street parking, a big factor in city traffic congestion.)
-- Return meter revenue to the neighborhoods that generate it. Aside from generating revenue for local improvements, the policy builds political support for appropriate pricing of meters.
-- Reduce or remove off-street parking requirements. Requiring so many garage or lot spaces to go with new offices and residences limits flexibility in planning higher-density buildings and encourages driving over transit, biking and walking.

What's your opinion? Should we be fiddling with off-street parking policies in the D.C. region, or should we be encouraging localities to provide more such parking?

By Robert Thomson  | June 29, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  | Tags:  DDOT, Dr. Gridlock  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: 14th Street NW reopens to traffic
Next: More MARC delays anger passengers


_House Of Cars_ is an amazing exhibit at the Building Museum. History, architecture, technology, evolution of the city. And... there's this running video of famous Hollywood film clips all of which take place in parking structures.

Posted by: Virginiadude1 | June 29, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Yeah, great film clips including the scene of Bob Woodward meeting Deep Throat at the parking garage. Seems like directors use parking garages when they want a sinister, alien atmosphere. Sarah Leavitt, curator of the exhibit, told me they found other movie scenes from parking garages, but had to leave them out because they were too disturbing.

My favorite part of the exhibit: There's a big model of a parking garage with little toy cars on the top deck. You can take the cars and roll them down the spiral ramp from the top deck to the ground floor.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | June 29, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

If we do ever move into using more plug-in electric cars the parking garage will quickly turn into the gas station.

Innovative ideas such as solar panels and wind turbines could help to provide electricty needs and the operators of the garages could even allow consumers to purchase electricity off the grid or using alternatives (maybe at a slightly higher price?).

This should also help to increase earnings at parking garages making them much more attractive investments...not to mention decrease our reliance on foreign oil and decrease the risk of water contamination from our continued dependence on gas stations.

If we all drove American made Chevy Volt's powered by electricity from US sourced natural gas, coal and nuclear our country would be looking at a trade surplus of close to US$50 billion per month! We could probably pay our deficit in a matter of decades rather than generations.

Posted by: Southeasterner | June 29, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G, can you give any more details on the bike parking station plans that Mr. Klein mentioned? This is the first I've heard of them...very exciting!

Posted by: jeanne10 | June 30, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company