Don't Build Parking, And They'll Come--Without Cars
For decades, the District and residents wary of overdevelopment have used the city's parking regulations as one of their main weapons in the war against congestion. Complex formulas require a certain number of parking spots for each chunk of new residential or office space.
But now D.C. planners and a growing number of urbanists are proposing to scrap those minimum parking requirements on the theory that big urban parking garages are a destructive and unnecessary public subsidy for car owners. The argument is that building garages in densely populated urban neighborhoods undermines public transit, wastes space that could be used for affordable housing and more attractive retail, and pushes up the cost of housing, guaranteeing lower-quality development.
The city's proposal notes "a growing shift across the nation away from parking minimums as cities realize the hidden costs of over-parking."
The District's planning commission will meet Oct. 16 to consider reducing or eliminating minimum parking requirements, and generally making the city's parking rules more flexible--letting developers use nearby parking spaces rather than building their own, and encouraging builders to provide space instead for car-sharing services and bicycles.
David Alpert, the Greater Greater Washington blogger and urban advocate, has been pushing hard for this relaxation of parking rules, and planning director Harriet Tregoning says she will hold hearings all around the city before any changes are made.
Tregoning argues that the city has diminished its own ability to foster a car-free environment by forcing developers to build enormous numbers of parking spaces that then sit unused. Cases in point: The new DC USA shopping mall in Columbia Heights (Target, Marshalls, etc.) has a huge indoor lot that remains mainly empty, as most customers arrive by Metro or on foot. In Adams Morgan, the new Harris Teeter supermarket similarly has far more parking than it needs.
"I use a granny cart and we walk to the store," says Tregoning, who lives not far from the new market. The new Giant in Columbia Heights has also found itself with more parking spaces than it knows what to do with; I've repeatedly been startled to find that I can park within three or four spaces of the store's doorway, even when the shop is teeming with customers.
"People come from all over the city to Target," the planning director says, "but the parking is hardly used." Similarly, at many new apartment buildings in close-in neighborhoods, the parking spaces required by the city are going unsold--some buildings report selling garage space to only one of every 10 apartment buyers.
Free or nearly free parking induces car usage, the planners say. And in a city with 140,000 parking spaces in garages or other off-street parking, there's a strong case to be made that in some places, there is plenty of parking already. Indeed, if you think about it, the city's most walkable and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods tend to be those with the least parking--Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill. That doesn't mean there aren't tremendously frustrating experiences searching for parking in those neighborhoods, but it does mean that people find ways around that problem.
"Since alternatives to driving are abundant on transit-available streets in the District," the city's proposal says, "dedicated off-street parking for housing should not be required but can be permitted as an option for developers."
Don't build the parking, and residents will be more likely to buy into a transit- and walking-based urban life. That pretty well sums up my experience living in neighborhoods that had very difficult parking vs. those where parking is plentiful. If you know you're going to have to spend an hour roaming around searching for a space, you are dramatically less likely to take the car out on the next shopping or leisure venture.
Do you buy the theory? And do you think the city can get this idea past the neighborhood activists who have long clung to parking minimums as a tool to wield against developers?
By Marc Fisher |
October 1, 2008; 12:16 PM ET
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