Sortation: If you don't get it, you don't get it: more on car culture and automobility and Ward 3
So the January 16th Northwest Current has an editorial, "Striking a balance," about the approval of plans for a 60 unit apartment building in Tenleytown with a smattering of retail and more importantly, no parking (well, one spot). (For more on the project, see "No Parking: Zoning Commission Approves The Bond at Tenley"" from DC Urban Turf.)
There has been a lot of opposition to the project, even though it is located a few hundred feet from the Tenleytown Metro Station and on one of the city's most frequent and highly ridden bus lines, because for the most part, they can't imagine some people being able to live generally (and in Ward 3) without owning a car.
From the editorial, which extends the discussion to proposed changes in zoning regulations that will eliminate parking minimums for multiunit buildings located in transit rich parts of the city:
We agree that less parking is needed in such areas, but eliminating the requirements goes too far. 'If you don't build it, they won't come by car' just doesn't work as a precept. It's clear that many people find it perfectly convenient to live without a car, but others consider automobile ownership essential to their way of living. ...
The point is to attract more people to the city to live and work who consider walking, biking, and transit and membership in car sharing services as more "essential to their way of living," rather than to take on all the costs of servicing people who consider automobile ownership essential to their way of living.
(This is not dissimilar from discussions about how the city should be focusing on attracting families, without recognizing that it costs at least $15,000 per year on average to educate each school aged child in public schools, and that this amount tends to be greater than the tax revenues generated by typical city households. We need similar figures about how much it costs to maintain the road system, parking, etc.--recognizing that the roadway network benefits all of us in many ways, whether or not we use it to drive cars we own or cars we don't own.)
DC was never designed for the car.
In fact its design was set during the Walking City and Transit City eras (from before 1800 to 1920). In the beginning people walked or rode horses/carriages. Horse-drawn trolleys came about in the 1860s, and electric or cable streetcars in the 1880s.
That doesn't mean that cars aren't accommodated, and the reality is that cars are prioritized in the city's transportation policies.
But space-wise, it's much more efficient to get people to the city, around within the city, and out of the city by higher capacity modes (transit) complemented by space-efficient modes (walking and biking), further complemented by "assistance devices" (delivery services, car sharing) that enable living without "having" to own a car.
Left: amount of space required for surface parking to service the number of people moving in and out of the city's core by transit. Image from the WMATA Strategic Plan.
In short, in the space of 3 cars you can fit one bus. (This doesn't even take into account subway cars, which hold more than double the number of people on a typical bus.)
The bus likely has 30-60 passengers, while the three cars have 3-5 passengers. To move the same number of people on the bus in cars instead, you need at least 45 cars, which takes 15 times the amount of space in the travel lanes, but also have to be parked and therefore space for parking needs to be provided at most possible points along their journeys.
It's not a war against cars, but a question of physics.
Interestingly, the same issue of the Current has other stories, "Local author espouses benefits of walkability," a discussion with local resident Jeff Speck and his new book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time" (a big part of Speck's book is how prioritizing and privileging car use induces demand) and a review of new condos available at CityCenterDC, a new development about 2 blocks from Gallery Place Metro and about 3 blocks from Metro Center, that fundamentally, are about a lifestyle that de-emphasizes the "necessity of having to own a car."
Again, if car owners were really out for the own interest, they would be encouraging car lite lifestyles as much as possible, in order to enjoy an automobile-centric lifestyle with fewer people competing with them for the use of scarce street and parking resources.
This gets back to arguments I used to make 10 years ago, that the point of urban revitalization for Washington, DC wasn't to make over the city to appeal to suburbanites, it was to strengthen and extend those qualities that make the city unique and attractive and appealing ("urban") to those people who want to live in a city/urban place as opposed to "the suburbs" (which are not monoculture either, but that's another argument).
Right: Wisconsin Avenue by vpickering, on Flickr. This is Upper Georgetown, not Tenleytown, but the road conditions are similar.