Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Parking parking parking (requirements) continued

Renderings of the proposed housing development on Wisconsin Avenue discussed below.

(Said to the tune of "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" from the Brady Bunch).

"All I hear all day long at school is how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia did that. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia."

That's how I feel about parking in the context of land use/urban design/revitalization.

1. So there was an article and editorial in the Northwest Current a couple weeks ago about the proposal to have no parking at the condominium development to be constructed at the location of the former Babe's Billiards on Wisconsin Avenue,which is located about 200 feet from the Tenleytown Metro Station.  (And about a 3/4 mile walk to the Friendship Heights Metro Station and to the retail and other amenities there.)

The editorial was against not providing parking. Current stories are available in a pdf, but if you don't want to do that, this DC MUD article suffices, "Babes Billiards Redevelopment Plan Heading to Zoning Commission."

2. On Wednesday I was at a focus group on a forthcoming citizen planner initiative to be launched by DC Office of Planning. I knew a couple of other people at the meeting.

One in particular I have tremendous respect for although we have fundamental disagreements about transit-centricity even though she is transit dependent and doesn't drive, for the most part she argues that all residential developments should have parking, because most people drive.

Anyway, the back and forth between her and a couple of other people indicated that there is a vociferous discussion on a Tenleytown listserv about this, and one of the proponents for no parking (the three people in the meeting all favored parking at the project) was referred to as a "maniac."

3. Meanwhile, there is this Oregon Public Broadcasting piece, "No Room For Parking At Many New Apartment Complexes," about how in Portland multiuse housing developments proximate to transit don't have to have parking. (This is true in Seattle also, see "Rowhouses and No Parking Requirements: Coming to Seattle!" from Publicola and to some extent in San Francisco as well.)

While Portland is considered the poster child for great transit and land use planning, the reality is that far more DC residents use transit and/or walk than in Portland, although Portland has more bicyclists than DC.

Despite this fact, people in DC have a hard time thinking about and planning for the future and instead are embedded in old mobility paradigms that are changing in other cities, but have been changing, significantly, in DC.

4. Now sure, even in Portland some people think building apartments and condominiums without parking can be a bad idea ("Northeast Portland residents opposed to new apartments with no parking not alone" from the Portland Oregonian, although in this particular case, the proposed development is in an area not well served by transit) but this does come down to providing a greater diversity of choice, especially for people who are willing to choose a no car/light car lifestyle.

Generally, I am not in favor of relativistic thinking in terms of increasing choice. I prefer the seeking of optimality.

But this is an instance of providing optimality and more choice simultaneously through a scalar change in how housing can be provided, specifically without provision for parking, in a housing development environment that normally requires that all housing be provided with parking.

Belvedere Apartments - 1301 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC
Belvedere Apartments - 1301 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC. Flickr photo by Anomalous_A.

In the DC region, studies for WMATA have found that in new development within 1/4 to 1/2 mile from a subway station, 50% or more trips are served by transit, and more with walking and biking. And I remember reading years ago about the Belvedere apartment building at 13th and Massachusetts Avenue NW, where 80% of the residents don't have cars. Too bad we don't have a complete inventory of parking/parking usage across the city.

Because of the way zoning works, all new residential units have to include one or more parking spaces. So everyone has to buy a place to live that includes parking even if they don't use it.

This drives up the cost of housing because in places where land is expensive, parking has to be built underground or aboveground (but not usually in DC because of height limits, and parking below ground doesn't count).

Why not, in those places where sustainable transportation modes are optimized, reduce rather than increase car usage and offer housing options that don't require the provision of parking?  (I made this point with regard to provision of housing at the Takoma Metro many years ago in written testimony, "Comments on Proposed EYA Development at Takoma Metro Station.")

This provides the opportunity to self-select. The people who will choose to buy or live in this condominium development--200 feet from the subway station--will choose to live there because of the proximity to the subway and the lack of parking. People who want to have a car and park it will choose to live somewhere else.

And that's okay.

5. This presages arguments that will rise to the forefront this fall when the Zoning Commission begins taking up the consideration of a new zoning code for DC.  The proposed changes include  significant change in the requirements for how parking is provided and this has already stirred up a hornets nest of opposition.

-- Trans-Formation: Recreating Transit-Oriented Neighborhood Centers in DC: Design Handbook (out of print publication from the DC Office of Planning)

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