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, March 12, 2013

DC parking, zoning, etc.: some vehicles are truly larger edition

There are two entries on GGW, "Capitol Hill ANC poised to endorse zoning update" (earlier) and "Looser parking requirements are no threat to DC" (more recent, incited by an op-ed in the Post, although the op-ed doesn't contribute much to the discussion) where there has been spirited discussion about the proposal in the upcoming zoning rewrite to eliminate mandatory parking provision requirements in what we would call transit zones.

I think the thing that the threads have convinced me is that it's not possible to do this without also simultaneously fixing the process, laws, regulations, and fees around residential street parking.

That process doesn't work now, as demand for street parking rises, the inventory of available spaces is fixed, and the city refuses to apply basic economic principles--when demand rises, increase the price, or as Edward Glaeser says in Triumph of the City, when a resource is free, people overconsume it (and a parking permit, at the negligible price of $35/year is basically free).

I discussed this in the blog entry, "Testimony on Parking Policy in DC," and the Post's Dr. Gridlock has a piece from last week, "Longtime residents fear D.C. government will push their cars off the streets,"  I think Dr. Gridlock's focus on what I would call rewarding long time residents for living in the city in bad times with cheap parking is misguided.  Dr. G also mentions the 2013 Parking Action Agenda document released by DDOT last week, which I have not yet read.

From the article:

As the D.C. government builds the transportation system of tomorrow, with more transit, more car-sharing, more bike lanes, more walkable streets and less room for private cars, it’s fine to plan for hundreds of thousands of newcomers who will ensure the city lives on and prospers. But the government also needs to consider the people who stuck with the District for decades, through good and bad times.

They understand and appreciate the concept of mobility. Like Kweller, they want to have choices about getting around, and one of those choices may be a private car to haul groceries or take them where transit won’t go.

The issue is that today's circumstances are different than they were a couple decades ago, sure.  And we have to deal with that, irrespective of the past.There are more people, there are more cars, there are bigger cars, and for the most part, all those people want to park in front of their house, for free, whenever they want.

Dr. G misses the point that he is not aiming to reward people sticking with the city, it's about rewarding car owners.  And that choices have costs, not all of which are borne by the chooser.

What about rewarding those of us who've stuck with the city the last 25 or more years who've been bicycling, walking, using transit, not owning a car but using car sharing or occasionally renting vehicles?

This is like the argument people make, especially in Montgomery County, that there should be free parking at libraries, without acknowledging that they are asking for special privileges for their particular transportation mode, rather than asking for the same types of privileges for people using other modes, such as suggesting that transit fares to the library also be paid by the County.  See "Rockville subsidy will let library patrons park for free" and "County won't provide free library parking" from the Gazette.

One of the points I made in one of the threads is that increased SUV ownership takes up more precious street space too.  Some argued the point.  The photos below are from yesterday on the 400 block of A Street SE.

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At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

There's no doubt that some SUVs are more voluminous, but they're not necessarily tremendously larger.

They may be harder to handle in city driving, but that's more to their nimble-ness rather than sheer size.

A Ford Explorer SUV is 197 inches long on a wheelbase of 112 inches:

A Honda Accord full-size sedan is only slightly smaller: 191 inches long on a wheelbase of 109:

A Ford Taurus is actually longer than the Explorer (203 inches) on the same wheelbase - the cars share the same wheelbase because they likely share the same chassis. Many minivans also share a base platform.

Now, obviously these are not to be compared to smart cars or even to compacts. A Honda Civic is substantially smaller (179 inches long) than a full size car. A Smart car is only 106 inches long, but has far less useable space than any of the other options.

There definitely is a difference in width - even using the same chassis, a Ford Explorer is about 6 inches wider than a Taurus (including the mirrors - in fact, most of the difference is probably in the larger mirrors the SUV requires).

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous charlie said...


Another point is the smartcar, for example, is TERRIBLE at parking. Combination of sighlines, trasmission and manual steering.

That all being said, drivers in DC have gotten better in 10 years about squeezing cars is. It used to be a constant source of frustration as you have almost car sized gaps, and now it more rare.

The bigger issue, of course, is dumping condos into what used to be single family housing. That is the easiest and best way to use of street parking. Too bad we don't have a regulatory tool to force developers to build off-street parking for said structures.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I don't think SmartCars are hard to park, but you can't see squat out of the back window.

Good point Alex B. about the width of vehicles.

Anyway, my point is that bigger cars should pay more for permits, and as households slim down on the number of cars they own, they might buy bigger cars (as opposed to having a big car and a small car) and this is going to have some impact on capacity. Just one more thing to consider in the overall issue.

At 8:09 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Hard to part isn't efficent to park. I'd agree they are easy to stash into a space, but you have a hard time maximixing that space. Rear view certainly doesn't help.

How do you define bigger car? Overall length? Width? Wheelbase? turning radius?

Honestly, I don't see many large SUVs in the DC area anymore. They few remaining are driven by students (inherited?) or black people (choice). They are back to being a minority of new cars sold, which is a good thing, so this sort of legistation may not be needed.

That all being said, after spending time in the west end hotel areas, I've love to see SUV limos banned.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I wasn't fast enough to take a photo of a regular long stretch limo blocking the box at NH Ave. and Blair Road yesterday...

At 4:16 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I am not talking about legislating against SUVs, just charging more for parking permits based on the size of vehicles.

At 10:55 AM, Anonymous rg said...

I've lived in the District for 19 years. I do not own a car and therefore do not need parking. What is my reward?


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