Testimony on parking policy in DC
There is a hearing today at City Council on the "residential parking permit program." It's a related but separate process from DC Department of Transportation's "Parking Think Tank" initiative, the last meeting of which was written up in GGW, "At summit, people ask for free parking for themselves."
This testimony summarizes for the most part, my thinking on the issue.
Thank you Chairman Cheh and Council members for the privilege of testifying to you today about the Residential Parking Permit program. I am Richard Layman of the Citizens Planning Coalition.
Even in the best situations, on-street and off-street parking is problematic. Parking is a problem in commercial districts, in night time entertainment districts like Adams-Morgan, Georgetown and H Street; around subway stations; and in densely populated neighborhoods (typically R4), especially in the core of the city.
Most commercial districts either include housing or abut neighborhoods making “residential” parking problems a citywide issue. We suggest that you consider that your review of the “Residential Parking Permit” program is too narrowly conceived, that a more comprehensive review is necessary.
While sustainable transportation advocates like me are quick to suggest that the problem is too many cars, others make different arguments: not enough parking spaces; lack of municipal parking structures; escalating prices; hyper-aggressive enforcement; nonresidents and institutional users competing for spaces. In any case, more people want to park than there are parking spaces available.
It’s obvious why parking is often called the third rail of local politics because some people won’t be able to get what they want—it’s impossible to provide an unlimited supply of free parking in a tightly packed place.
Concurrently with your Committee’s review of the RPP program, the DC Department of Transportation is conducting a parking planning initiative. However, I would argue that their process needs to be more comprehensive and certainly doesn’t rise to the detail present in the Parking and Curb Space Management Element of Arlington County’s Master Transportation Plan (both are national best practice examples). (FOOTNOTE 1 and 2)
This hearing provides the opportunity for Council to step in and point the Executive Branch in the direction of a more comprehensive parking and curb space management planning effort.
The planning process has an added benefit of educating users on the variety of needs, constraints, opportunities, and problems present within the system by different stakeholder groups.
For example, people complaining about the use of street space for bike lanes and transitways fail to consider that every person using alternative means to get from place to place is one less person competing with them for scarce parking places. Similarly, a bike corral uses one street parking space, but provides parking for ten customers. By including off-street parking spaces as part of the parking system, when street space usage is directed away from parking, negative impacts on parking availability can be minimized, etc.
Without a comprehensive plan, the Executive and Legislative Branches of DC Government lack the necessary knowledge and framework required to shape a coordinated, integrated, and complete response to the “parking problem,” one that addresses, to the best and fairest extent possible, the concerns of all stakeholders.
And while the Legislative Branch may prefer to address parking issues without the constraints of plan guidance, the reality is that comprehensive functional plans help us to better address complex and controversial matters, while providing “cover” and support to elected officials, who, let’s face it, don’t like to make difficult decisions.
The problems with parking policy and practice. The RPP program is both part of the problem and part of the solution. This list below summarizes most (FOOTNOTE 3) but not all of the issues that a comprehensive parking planning effort (FOOTNOTE 4) should address:
• L’Enfant’s design of the city optimizes walking, biking, and transit (FOOTNOTE 5);
• There are competing priorities for the use of street space (short term and/or long term parking, through traffic lanes, bike lanes, dedicated transitways, community public space, residents vs. nonresidents);
• There is a limited inventory of on-street parking spaces;
• Car users typically expect an abundant supply of low price/no price on-street parking wherever they go: in neighborhoods; commercial districts; Downtown; and other destinations;
• Dense neighborhoods have more dwelling units and residents of driving age than can be supported by existing on-street parking spaces;
• Many neighborhoods are experiencing increases in population and commercial activity—in some places commercial activity also extends later into the evening; all contribute to increased parking demand;
• DC competes with activity centers in other jurisdictions that may provide no cost, low cost, and/or more convenient parking;
• 2 hour time limits should probably be extended to 3 hours to encourage trip chaining (hair appointment + meal + shopping requires more than 2 hours; finding a place to park + walking to your destination + meal + shopping probably requires more than 2 hours; etc.)
• Many visitors to the city are uncomfortable having to parallel park;
• City policy prioritizes parking meter revenue generation at the expense of achieving other goals;
• On-street parking spaces are underpriced compared to off-street rates, shifting demand to street spaces;
• Rising transit fares and a decrease in federal transit benefits has shifted some people to driving, adding to parking demand;
• City policy currently privileges car owning residents at the expense of other users;
• Residential parking permits are almost free (the cost for a permit works out to less than ten cents/day);
• City Council intervention on residential parking matters generally avoids consideration of RPP price increases as one method to shape demand in the context of limited supply;
• Performance parking “pilot” projects are designed to prioritize resident parking;
• The free visitor parking permit program offers potential for abuse and fraud;
• New multiunit housing adds parking supply but also increases demand;
• New zoning policies eliminating requirements for off-street parking in transit priority zones are controversial because this may increase demand for existing on-street parking spaces (FOOTNOTE 6) without adding new capacity;
• Integrating transportation demand management programming (car sharing, biking, better transit, walking, package delivery, coordinated freight delivery management, etc.) into the RPP program would help reduce parking demand;
• Car sharing as a revenue source is prioritized over its role as an element of managing parking demand (non-car owning residents who use car sharing pay far more for the use of public space parking than do car owners);
• The RPP program privileges residents in the immediate vicinity over residents from other parts of the city;
• The RPP program pits various stakeholder groups against each other, in competition for scarce space, and makes the process very acrimonious;
• RPP zones should be smaller to reduce abuse (it’s done in some neighborhoods, e.g., in Ward 4, RPP zones are tied to ANC boundaries, and not in others, in any case, practice is inconsistent);
• The RPP program provides limited options—free unlimited parking for immediate residents, a 2 hour limit for everyone else, and aggressive parking enforcement;
• Under-pricing of on-street parking makes provision of off-street parking economically infeasible;
• Commercial parking operations mostly focus on tenant/employee needs, to the exclusion of serving other market segments;
• Post 9/11 security concerns mean that for the most part, parking facilities in federal buildings cannot be used by the public;
• City parking policies do not treat off-street (commercial) and on-street parking as two linked components in one integrated system;
• Parking wayfinding and information systems are inadequate or nonexistent;
• (Most people don’t know that) Lobbying of Congress by the local parking industry (FOOTNOTE 7)has prevented DC from developing a system of municipal parking structures (unlike other nearby communities such as Montgomery County, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, and the City of College Park—10% of the College Park city budget is generated by revenue from parking);
• The contractor parking permit program offers a model to serve other market segments/ stakeholder groups that are ignored by current practices (employees of commercial businesses located in RPP zones; Eastern Market flea market vendors needing to park on weekends; and teacher, police officer, and firefighter parking in the vicinity of their duty stations; etc.);
• Disabled parking accommodation and abuse of the privilege needs to be addressed.
Each aspect should be addressed as part of a comprehensive plan and each item reinforces the point that the Committee should broaden the scope of its review of parking matters beyond the more narrow definition of the RPP program.
In doing so, the Committee should use its review to shape the values, goals, objectives, and priorities of DDOT’s parking planning and management programs:
1. Ensuring that the process is fair and better serves all users, not just car owning residents;
2. Recognizing that as long as City Council is unwilling to support pricing changes to the RPP program, there will continue to be far more demand for parking than there is parking available.
3. Ensuring that if DDOT is yielding their authority to enact expanded zone parking restrictions to ANCs by providing only limited review, then the City/DDOT needs to ensure that ANCs enact such restrictions with full due process.
With regard to the RPP program, the city has a wider range of options, if we are willing to consider best practices elsewhere and can accept the relevance of market economics.
• Charging more for permits: Toronto (from $216 to $576/year + sales taxes); San Francisco ($102/year); and Vancouver (up to $76/year) charge more than DC for residential parking permits;
• Some cities (Savannah; Seattle) raise the permit price for additional vehicles registered at the same address;
• Toronto’s highest street parking permit price is assessed to permit holders who have on-site parking available to them;
• No city appears to increase pricing for additional permits comparable to how bike sharing systems escalate charges for use beyond 30 minutes—the rate increases with each additional 30 minute increment that the bike is checked out (in DC, the price is $2 for the first additional 30 minute period, $6 for the second 30 minute period, $14 for the third 30 minute period, etc.) ;
• Vancouver has three different RPP rates ($38, $56, $76), set according to the parking demand and supply issues present in particular neighborhoods;
• No city charges for permits based on vehicle size (e.g. larger vehicles pay more, truly smaller vehicles—super subcompacts—pay less);
• Seattle provides a price discount for low-income households;
• San Francisco allows businesses located in RPP zones to purchase up to four parking permits, including three permits for use by delivery vehicles;
• Chicago charges $8 for a pack of 15 visitor passes;
• Assessing personal property taxes on motor vehicles is another way shape demand and generate revenues to support the provision of transportation infrastructure (Fairfax, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Arlington do this). Note that the tax is assessed on all vehicles, not just those parked in public space;
• One size fits all policies aren’t helpful. For example, denser neighborhoods should have higher priced permits, recognizing that supply, demand and opportunity costs are higher than in less dense neighborhoods, locations abutting subway stations, etc.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The city needs a complete, thorough, and innovative Parking and Curb Space Management Plan serving all users in the fairest way possible.
City Council can lead the way forward through this hearing and oversight process, by (1) directing the DC Department of Transportation to create a robust and comprehensive Parking and Curb Space Management Plan, (2) adopting the finished plan, and (3) ensuring that the plan is implemented.
1. Arlington County Parking and Curb Space Management Element
2. Arlington County Master Transportation Plan. Parking elements in transportation plans from San Francisco, Vancouver, Sacramento, and Seattle are also best practice models.
3. Parking matters not relevant to the scope of this hearing are management of freight deliveries, special event mobility management, tourist bus parking, and commercial district loading zone operation and pricing.
4. Ideally, a comprehensive planning effort would include a discussion of the history of parking in the city, financing systems, how the programs work now, system coordination options, tax and funding options, and case studies of best practice concerning finance, revenue, technology, innovation, system coordination, management, and communications.
5. Adams, J.S. “Residential structure of Midwestern cities.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 60: 1, pp. 37-62 (1970). Melosi, M.V. “The Automobile Shapes the City: From ‘Walking Cities’ to ‘Automobile Cities.’ Muller, P.O. “Transportation and urban form: Stages in the spatial evolution of the American metropolis,” in Susan Hanson and Genevieve Giuliano, eds.,The Geography of Urban Transportation (New York: Guilford Press, 3rd rev. ed., 2004), pp. 59-85.
6. DeBonis, Michael. “D.C. zoning revamp stokes residents’ fears about changing city.” Washington Post, 12/1/2012.
7. Bernstein, Adam. “L.B. Doggett, Jr.; Parking Tycoon, Civic Leader.” Washington Post, 8/14/2008.
From the 1950s to the early 1970s, Downtown DC businesses sponsored a comprehensive parking validation program for their customers. Advertisement (scan), Washington Post, 1/22/1961, p. A11.
Neighborhood parking survey data from the Seattle Transportation Strategic Plan
Integrated real time parking wayfinding signage, San Jose, California
Downtown Lancaster Central Market parking sign