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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 07/15/2010

Mall garage not worth one magic wish

By David Alpert, garages in D.C., D.C. underground garages

Last week, Don Dilworth suggested giant underground parking garages beneath the Mall.

Suggestions to build municipal parking garages pop up often. Maybe it's the Mall, or U Street, or Cleveland Park.

But there actually are garages, like the one at the Reagan Building, which happens to be expensive -- it costs $8 for one hour and $20 for 3 hours. So when Mr. Dilworth argues for a garage, really he's arguing for a cheap garage.

And that's the problem. Underground garages are expensive. Really expensive. In building projects, underground spaces can run $50-60,000 per space. If a magic parking genie appeared and said he'd grant a free garage under the Mall, maybe it would be nice, though it would also attract more traffic.

But in the real world, especially one where the federal government is not going to build it (they aren't willing to even fund keeping the grass alive), the question is what else won't get funded. If a city wants to bring customers to a business district, building a garage is one option, but adding better bus service is another. U Street, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan got a new Circulator last year, which has been extremely successful.

In other words, if the magic genie wanted to give us a garage, we might say yes, but if he was willing to grant just one wish worth millions of dollars, there are better things to wish for.

David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington . The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By David Alpert, garages in D.C., D.C. underground garages  | July 15, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network, National Mall, parks, traffic, transportation  
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Comments

Great post.

Posted by: Cirrus42 | July 15, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

A smaller one for tour busses might be feasible and cost-effective, a la Sen. Webb's recent proposal.

How 'bout Segway rental stations on the Mall?

Posted by: krickey7 | July 15, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Why build a garage without the roads to get cars there in the first place?

Posted by: jiji1 | July 15, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

The question is then 'where will all the tour buses go'?

Tourists don't go to U St in the numbers that they go to the Mall.

In real world America, we're not going to lose any of the buses. People from elsewhere prefer them (esp for their kids). Their lobby will ensure that they stay.

This was addressed a while back on your blog, and it is a valid question.

Do they clog the parking lanes? Do they idle and cause pollution? Do they keep circling the block and cause more traffic jams?

Posted by: mikecapitolhill | July 15, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

First of all, Don Dillworth NEVER suggested that the underground garage be built with government money and NEVER suggested that the garage would be, or should be, inexpensive. Go back and re-read his column. Alpert is simply flat out lying when he makes it sound as if Dillworth actually suggested the use of tax dollars for the garage or a lower than market rate price. Talk about creating strawman arguments! Alpert has no answer to WHAT DILLWORTH ACTUALLY SAID, he responds to what Dillworth did NOT say. That's completely dishonest. And, if we're going to talk about "hidden" motives, it's pretty clear to anybody who reads what Alpert posts here that he just hates cars and the people who drive them, and doesn't support anything that would make drivers lives more convenient.

Now let's get back to the merits of an underground Mall garage. Why NOT allow a private developer spent its own dollars to allow tourists to park underground on the Mall on their vacations? Let's face it, tourists will be the bulk of the users, and they won't balk at paying $20 for the convenience. For people who are trying to fit the most into their vacations, that's a small price to pay to avoid the unreliable, confusing, and slow Metro system and more expensive taxis. And an underground garage would allow DC to mandate that tour buses park there (without idling) rather than on the street. There are loads of valid reasons to encourage a private parking garage on the Mall that charges market rates.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 16, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Great post!

It's true that Don's post didn't say it would be funded with federal money, but Don didn't give any ideas on how it should be funded at all.

Mr. Alpert is not "lying" when he talks about how federal money is not an option. He's just speaking against the merits of one possibility.

Posted by: potatoman | July 16, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

@Dame: Why not allow it:

1. More cars in this area = more cars on the roads around the mall which are already over-crowded and incapable of dealing with increased traffic.

2. Tourists in cars = traffic hell for commuuters. DC is a tourist town, but I would rather the cars on the road are local for commuters benefit, not tourists. Tourist on metro and circulators is better for DC, as DC is not an easy drive.

3. How can DC mandate buses move to a private facility? Would those buses be then mandated to pay a parking fee? Could the private company, once they own such a permanent market, then increase those fees as they wish, or would government regulation be needed.

4. As the mall is filled in swamp, and the tidal basin is deep, how effective is an undergrounbd facility?

I do have a suggestion for tourist buses: DC should by the use of eminent doman take ownership of the Hill parking used for congress and their staff to make that a bus parking area publically available. These are already conveniently located near the Capitol and the Mall by Union Station Metro - 2 at E & N. Cap and 1st & D NE; as well as at Capitol South Metro 1st & C and Washington and D St SE. Buses can drop their tourists, and go park. Tada, problemo solved.

No need to mess up the Mall and create a private business boondoogle where the public should be the beneficiary of the increased tourist $ and cost of vehicles on the road. Tada.

Posted by: Greent | July 16, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Greent, Your first two reasons are just more "I hate cars" rhetoric. Tourists and commuters already drive around the Mall, the former forlornly looking for parking. Metro simply is not a viable option (fast, reliable, easy to navigate and cheap) for a typical tourist family of Mom, Dad, two kids, and Grandpa. The Circulator, as great as it is, doesn't get tourists from their hotels (many, many tourists get hotel rooms outside of DC due to cost) to the Mall. If your hotel is near Dulles or Tysons, you're driving downtown anyway, so why not give them a place to quickly park their cars near the museums.

Your reason #3: parking rules are always the domain of a municipality, and DC already forbids tour buses from street parking near the National Zoo. They have to pay to park in the Zoo's parking lots or private lots nearby. DC can do the same for the tourist buses that now line up opposite the museums.

Your reason #4: that's the best reason not to build. I agree that dealing with the Tiber Creek (the underground creek that's under the Mall) will increase the cost of the project, but if a private developer is willing to spend the cash, the more power to them.

Let give you a personal example of how parking garages help tourism. When I have to travel to Baltimore on business during the week, I take MARC. But when I visit Baltimore on the weekend to take kids to the aquarium or the Inner Harbor, I drive and park. I know that I can always get parking in the many parking garages that Baltimore has downtown. Those garages have helped Baltimore tourism because they make it easy for tourists like me to get close to where they want to be conveniently. And they're not cheap, either. There is no way I'm dragging myself and kids to Baltimore via public transportation. We'd spend more time getting there than at the aquarium (and MARC doesn't even operate on the weekends).

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 16, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Greent, Your first two reasons are just more "I hate cars" rhetoric. Tourists and commuters already drive around the Mall, the former forlornly looking for parking. Metro simply is not a viable option (fast, reliable, easy to navigate and cheap) for a typical tourist family of Mom, Dad, two kids, and Grandpa. The Circulator, as great as it is, doesn't get tourists from their hotels (many, many tourists get hotel rooms outside of DC due to cost) to the Mall. If your hotel is near Dulles or Tysons, you're driving downtown anyway, so why not give them a place to quickly park their cars near the museums.

Your reason #3: parking rules are always the domain of a municipality, and DC already forbids tour buses from street parking near the National Zoo. They have to pay to park in the Zoo's parking lots or private lots nearby. DC can do the same for the tourist buses that now line up opposite the museums.

Your reason #4: that's the best reason not to build. I agree that dealing with the Tiber Creek (the underground creek that's under the Mall) will increase the cost of the project, but if a private developer is willing to spend the cash, the more power to them.

Let give you a personal example of how parking garages help tourism. When I have to travel to Baltimore on business during the week, I take MARC. But when I visit Baltimore on the weekend to take kids to the aquarium or the Inner Harbor, I drive and park. I know that I can always get parking in the many parking garages that Baltimore has downtown. Those garages have helped Baltimore tourism because they make it easy for tourists like me to get close to where they want to be conveniently. And they're not cheap, either. There is no way I'm dragging myself and kids to Baltimore via public transportation. We'd spend more time getting there than at the aquarium (and MARC doesn't even operate on the weekends).

As for your suggestion regarding DC and eminent domain. A state or city can't exercise eminent domain against the Federal government, so if those parking lots are on federal land, which I believe they are, that's a no go.

And you know as well as I do that Congress won't allow anybody to take away its parking lots, including its freebies at National Airport.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 16, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand why anyone (regardless of their love or hate for cars) would want a parking garage on the mall.

It would benefit tourists almost exclusively, while potentially negatively impacting residents.

While I'm not anti-tourist at all, what is the need here? Is there any reason to think that the lack of parking near the mall has a negative impact on tourism?

Most tourists love DC's Metro, and since they are usually here on weekends, they use metro when residents use it less. It's a perfect system.

I've never heard anyone from outside DC complain about access to the mall, and obviously, tons of people use it all the time. So what would be the point here?

A parking garage on the mall is a solution in search of a problem.

Posted by: jamietre | July 16, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

@Jamie: "It would benefit tourists almost exclusively, while potentially negatively impacting residents." That is a big part of my reason # 1 and 2. This is solely for tourists at the inconvience of residents.

@Dame:

Silliness. I do not hate cars. I own one. I like cars and taxis. I also like rail and bus public transportation. I also own a bike. No hate, but no worship cars over other forms - so I don't believe more parking is in order.

I would support increased ciculator buses during tourist season. Or get those private hotels to offer DC shuttle service packages - every hour on the hour like they do for airport services - there is a money making idea for someone!


Easy idea for the tourists: spend your money on a hotel in DC. There are plenty that are affordable. Or, get a hotel near public transport. Metro in, cab out. Same price as driving + parking and less congestion.

Or deal with what there is for cars because there is PLENTY of weekend available parking in downtown DC. Try around Metro Center - a 10 minute walk to the mall. There are 12 garages near my office (14 & K) - none of them fill up everyday. 20 minute walk to the mall, str8 down 14th (and you could stop on the way there/back for food and restrooms). But be ready for 15-22 dollars, which ain't all that bad, actually.

Bah, I think DC should sue for eminent domain over those parking areas. If the Feds can take city land, city should be able to take fed land. Feds are not exempt from their own rules are they? (intense laughter)

Posted by: Greent | July 16, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

For everyone's information, there ALREADY IS a garage underneath the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. It offered general public parking in the late 1970s and 80s, (although it charged higher than prevailing local rates), but the garage was soon ordered closed, out of fear that a terrorist might plant a vehicle with bombs.

Posted by: slowlane | July 20, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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