DC and parking, parking, parking
D.C.'s .’s plan to make it even harder to park") in the Post about the horrors of DC reducing requirements for the provision of parking in new buildings in the city, in what the Office of Planning defines as high quality transit service zones (subway stations, high frequency bus service).
I laughed because the piece was co-authored by Sue Hemberger, someone that OP was trying to massage through her participation in the "Citizen Planner Initiative" over the summer and Mahlon Anderson of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Automobile Association. Clearly, OP's machinations had no effect.
Citizen planners + the AAA is a bad combo to my way of thinking.
The "government" countered last Sunday with an op-ed ("Parking rules for a 21st-century D.C.") by Harriet Tregoning and Terry Bellamy, respectively the directors of DC's Office of Planning and Department of Transportation.
The debate continues.
The hullaballoo about changes to parking regulations in the city, ranging from discussion in blogs, including this one, newspaper articles, community meetings, and a recent "op-ed" in DC Watch about how the city is anti-suburban and how this is counter to the symbiotic positive relationship between cities and suburbs by Gary Imhoff (note that this alleged positive symbiotic relationship is not an element of academic scholarship on the topic), made me think about Lord Grantham and Downton Abbey and the relevance to planning for the future of cities and DC specifically of that show's story line about responding to societal changes.
Robert Crawley's failure to adequately plan for the economic future of Downton Abbey first, by not diversifying his investments but instead putting most of his (via his American wife) money into the Grand Trunk Railroad in Canada which went bankrupt so he lost virtually everything, and his opposition to modernizing the farming operations of the estate, preferring instead to direct the windfall received via Matthew into "investments" with Charles Ponzi, put everything at risk.
They would have lost the estate--the fate of some of their other relatives up in Scotland--had Crawley not eventually acquiesced to Matthew's plans for modernization.
The 20th Century required new ways of conducting business and managing the estate, just as cities keep needing to adapt as the way people live, work, and get around changes as the centuries change.
Although the reality is that the best ways for getting around the city haven't really changed over the last 100 years, from the standpoint of modes.
Strong cities are built around urbanism and transit, not automobility
Cities are good at being some things and not others, and it is important to recognize and focus on your advantages, rather than making the city over for something it is not suited.
That is the case with the walking-biking-transit city versus the spatial patterns that support automobilty. (Image from The House Book by Keith DuQuette.)
Which I write about all too frequently, but apparently this reality still escapes many.
The city was designed to optimize walking first, and then biking and transit.
See 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.’ and 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.
Fortunately today, trends for living and commerce favor (some) cities once again--those on the coasts, those with transit systems, those with walkable urban places, those not focused so much on automobility--so they are gaining population, and these new residents are bringing vital investment to places that had for so long experienced only disinvestment.
The thing is, do you plan for the future, or do you continually aim to adopt planning practices, particularly those focused on automobility, that ultimately are inappropriate for ensuring success of the city? Do we invest in car-based mobility--the equivalent of a risky, dangerous, speculative investment--or do we invest in sustainable modes--walking, biking, and transit--complemented by car sharing, electric vehicles, and significant investments in transit expansion?
Seattle as a better example of how to change parking policies
In 2007, at the Main Street national conference in Seattle, I saw an amazing presentation by the City of Seattle Planning Department on their "neighborhood business district" program, which included significant zoning changes, including an element of Seattle's longstanding policy to reduce automobility centrality in their planning and development practices.
In the mid-1980s, Seattle removed minimum requirements for parking provision in new construction Downtown. THe city did not die, in fact (of course, assisted first by Microsoft and then by Amazon) the city, especially investment Downtown, improved.
Around 2006, in advance of the launch of light rail service, and as part of a wide ranging comprehensive set of changes focused on improving neighborhood business districts they extended this policy to the next level of urban centers (neighborhood business districts such as University Village by the University of Washington) and commercial districts to be served by transit stations (such as Beacon Hill), not unlike what DC proposes to do in the context of the Zoning Update.
In fact, I was so impressed with this presentation that I immediately sent email to various people at DCOP and wrote a blog entry about it ("The City of Seattle has the most amazing planning for neighborhood business districts").
Seattle as an example of how to justify changes to parking regulations: a data-based approach
The thing is, knowing that such policies are likely to be met with a great deal of opposition, just like what has been happening in DC with regard to the zoning update and the Chicken Little responses, I have been disappointed at the failure to plan for opposition by having voluminous data to support the position for change.
To wit, data on parking usage and availability throughout the city. Seattle conducted parking studies for the entire city in 2000 and 2004, and had solid data on the experience Downtown, and this data shaped the changes, provided support for the changes, and provided real data rather than supposition about changes. (I have not seen DC produce comparable data on parking practice at the neighborhood and district level in the manner in which it has been done in Seattle.)
Part of the problem in DC is that we are really two cities, the urban city at the core, and the more suburbanized outer city--much of this part of the city was developed after 1920, during what Muller calls the "Recreational Auto Era," where both broader urban spatial patterns and housing design began to adapt to the automobile.
In the outer city, more residents own and rely upon cars to get around, even if they are near to transit, the neighborhoods tend to be less dense, making walkability less efficient in many areas, although there are many neighborhoods outside of the core that are dense enough and well served by transit, so that automobility isn't in fact required.
But that's not what they think.
King County as an example of how to develop and market new practice: developing parking-specific tools to support reductions in parking requirements
The Puget Sound Business Journal reports, in "How many parking stalls does an apartment complex need? New tool gives some answers," about a new tool, the King County Multi-Residential Parking Calculator, for determining the right amount of parking at multiunit housing developments.
The project, called Right Size Parking looked at parking use at more than 200 different developments across the county in developing the tool and the recommendations. From the article:
The long-held belief is that almost every household owns at least one vehicle. But the reality is that a combination of factors — location, price of parking, proximity of housing to jobs and access to good bus service — are the true drivers of parking demand.
Metro officials said that while one household may need two cars, a growing number of households living in denser urban areas are choosing to go carless.
The findings of the study show that on average, multi-family residential developments offer 1.4 parking spaces per unit — yet only one space is actually being used.
The research also concluded that the right number of spaces per unit varies among locations, which suggests parking requirements that work in Seattle are different than those in Bellevue, Kirkland or other cities.
This extends the work done in Seattle previously, and is the kind of data-based approach that we seem to be lacking in DC, as it relates to justifying the proper course of future action, by strengthening the city's focus on sustainable mobility rather than automobility.
Note too that in 2005, WMATA did a study, the Development-Related Ridership Survey, to determine the utilization of transit versus other modes in different types of development. The WMATA study found that proximity to transit stations--the closer the better--shaped how much residents and workers. And in-city locations demonstrated greater transit ridership compared to denser suburban and outlying suburban stations.
Data and education is necessary to quell opposition to pro-urban, pro-city zoning changes
Otherwise we are going to continue to experience the ongoing battle between the suburban and urban city, the young and old, and the innovative versus the mossbacks--pick your issue grouping and argue accordingly--and we will continue to suffer the consequences.
Similarly, for years I have argued that the Office of Planning, rather than move immediately into a zoning update phase after the Comprehensive Plan was approved in 2006 should have instead then spent the next 2+ years educating people about the plan and the city's future.
The way I read the Comp Plan, it supports sustainable mobility and de-emphasizes the kind of suburban development and spatial practices that were enshrined in the 1956 Zoning Code, the code which still guides current planning and development practice in the city.
Apparently many people disagree with my interpretation because they are arguing that the Comp Plan language does not support focusing on transit and other forms of sustainable mobility, does not support accessory dwelling units, and incorporating mixed use developments in commercial districts, etc.
The lack of consensus we have on what the city is and should be is the outcome of the failure to use the Comp Plan and the process as a tool for education and building a common vision.
I am not too hopeful about the Zoning Update process as it relates to parking, accessory dwelling units, and other elements, regardless of the "soaring language" present in the Comp Plan.
It's clear that there is a major disconnect between cherishing the past and focusing on maintaining the status quo, rather than preparing the city as a place to live, work, and play in the 21st Century.
New section of links on the webpage
Note that the King County Metro Transit Right Size Parking study and calculator and the very good blog Reinventing Parking (check out its various resources on the issue including an awesome bibliography) have led me to create a subsection of links on parking within the various long list of "Dr. Transit" related links in the right sidebar.
I hope to be adding to this section over time.