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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More on *o* d*m* parking, parking, parking

SmartCars might drive like crap but at least they don't take up much space.  And some people think they look cool.

So a discussion about how not having parking minimums in new construction will destroy DC as we know it is on the Chevy Chase e-list (man, I'm glad I don't live up there, except that I miss out on easier access to Magruders and Booeymongers) and it has migrated to the Takoma e-list, which I am on.

People have written that by using Federal Highway Administration figures to demonstrate a drop in car ownership, DC is manipulating numbers because these figures don't include SUVs and small trucks.  While that may be true, mostly I see people using Census household figures on this question, so it's a non-issue.

Other people are spouting off the g*d* "choice" argument, which I think is a mistake, because just because you have choices doesn't mean you are inclined to make good choices, just easy choices.

And if you make driving easy (and cheaper) that's what people will do, regardless of the choices they have available to them.  (I call it "car heroin."  It's easy to get addicted once you start.)

Anyway this is what I wrote just now:

Giving people better "choices" isn't enough.  It's the carrot vs. the stick vs. better design.  If you design a system where cars are prioritized, why should you be surprised that most people drive?  My biggest criticism of the choice argument, which not only Sue Hemberger uses, so does Harriet Tregoning, DC's director of the Office of Planning, is that choice, mostly, is sub-optimal when it comes to DC transportation.  It's about the design of the system, which for the most part, even in DC, favors the car.

In DC, at least at the core, cars aren't prioritzed, walking is.  That's something left to us by L'Enfant and the design for the city.  The same design optimizes biking and transit.

Strictly from a space perspective, it's not possible to accommodate a car-dominant transportation paradigm in the city both in terms of storing cars when not in use, and on the streets as moving vehicles.  It would not be possible for the number of people moving about in the city during peak periods to be handled by cars.  That's obvious.

So encouraging more people to use cars by mandating providing parking is a mistake.  Instead you prioritize other ways of getting around.  Which by the way is how Arlington County, in their master transportation plan, does it.  So the result is that they have added a lot more population in certain parts of the county, while keeping motor vehicle traffic volumes relatively constant.

And note you should see the quantum negative impact that adding more car users has to various chokepoints in the system.

At more and more intersections at more times of the day, just by adding a few more cars to the mix, the system seriously degrades.  Examples of intersections that significantly degrade during rush periods include Blair Road at Cedar Street, Blair Road between Butternut Street and Piney Branch, Southbound Georgia Avenue at Florida Avenue (this is abetted by cars turning left, which block the through lane because of parking spaces that prevent the right lane from being entered by through traffic), Riggs Road at Blair Road in both directions.  I sail through it by bike, but it takes multiple cycles for cars to get through those intersections at peak periods.

To keep DC livable, and you ought to care about that, you want to minimize car traffic.  Discouraging parking accommodation in high quality transit catchment areas is the way to do this with minimal negative impact on residents and current residents at that.

As far as how DC's policies privilege automobile ownership, look at the cost of a residential parking permit.  Now only $30--for decades it was $15--there is no way that $30 comes close to the cost of maintaining a precious piece of public space as car storage.

As a Zipcar and Car2Go User, indirectly because of the higher fees paid to the city for use of the public space, which come back to me in higher costs per hour, I pay far more for the use of this space as an occasional user, than car owners do.  Why should car owners be more privileged and prioritized to use this space compared to car users?
Traffic lined up on Rhode Island Avenue NE, east of 4th Street
Traffic lined up on Rhode Island Avenue NE, eastbound of 4th Street.

The photo above, taken from the Metropolitan Branch Trail overpass over Rhode Island Avenue, is a kind of real life example of that famous image, repeated in many places, of the amount of road/sidewalk space taken up by various modes of transportation.
Amount of space required to transport the user the same number of passengers by car, bus, or bicycle
Urban Ambassadors, Des Moines, Iowa

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At 3:16 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Probably not the best day for this post, as I've been very thankful over the weekend that:

1. That I have a well designed, not floodable, underground parking spot (it actually is more like a second story than underground since I'm on the side of a hill)

2. A private car so I can move around w/o bikeshare and transit

3. Underground power lines which do no good in storms and don't have power currently

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

People in this story refer to cars as a "motorized umbrella."

So yes, getting around by bike is harder in bad weather. Transit too especially if it's closed.

I do see your point.

Plumb, Taryn. “Life with no car is no problem for New Hampshire Family.” Boston Globe, 5/22/2008.

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

It will be interesting to see how Manhatten and NYC get by in the next week.

Bikes are very useful in this siutation as well.

Again, car-lite. Not car-free.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

for dystopic views of communities in crisis, check out the movie Contagion that's been running on HBO.

I guess too the issue of car lite vs. no depends on scale etc.

Most of my intra-city life can be met car free. If I go somewhere with Suzanne, that changes (unless we get a tandem).

Going in and out of the city, depending on the time and number of discrete subtrips, maybe a car is better.

For exogenous events like travel or disaster evacuation, that's another story too.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

well, the reason I harp on this is so much of the rhetoric from car-lobby and owners is "car=independence". 65% of that is just teen angst -- use the car to get away from your parents and make out -- but 45% is what I am talking about here. Bikes/scooters provide another de-centralized solution but not in bad weather.

And as I said in another thread, we do perhaps over-emphasize cars during snow events and the road-clearning fetish, when in a place like DC is a simpler to let it melt in a week.

Perhaps the urban form is the controlling factor, but defintely an example of why street parking is not an ideal way to store your vehicle.


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