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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

DC makes the Wall Street Journal twice in one week: big box retail wages and zoning changes on parking

With an editorial (and a mention in today's real estate section) against the big box retailer wage bill ("Every Day High Unemployment") and more importantly, with an article, "Cities Cut Parking Mandates," on initiatives by cities, leading with DC, to reduce the amount required for parking provision in new housing developments. 

From the article:

District of Columbia planners intend to present the proposal to the city's Zoning Commission in late July as part of the first comprehensive overhaul of the city's zoning in more than 50 years.

The changes would allow developers to determine how much parking, if any, is needed for projects in the District's downtown and within a one-quarter-mile radius of any of its Metro stops.

It is a profound shift that several other U.S. cities have made in recent years. In 2010, Denver reduced its parking requirements near light-rail stops. Last year, Philadelphia did the same for residential projects downtown. Los Angeles last month waived parking minimums around certain transit stops. New York City in May reduced its maximum allotments of parking for residential projects in downtown Brooklyn.

Urban planners, who have pushed for years for cities to become less car-dependent, say such rules will encourage more residents to embrace mass transit, biking and walking. They also argue that freeing developers of the steep cost of parking can help reduce real-estate prices and rent levels in some cases.

It also features quotes from opponents to the change, by Nancy MacWood and Meg Maguire.  From the article:

Yet some question whether that goal is realistic. Nancy MacWood, chairwoman of the Committee of 100, a citizen-planning organization that monitors District of Columbia zoning proposals, said the goal of waiving minimum parking requirements "is to try to…convince new residents that they don't need a car. But there isn't much comfort that this is actually going to be the result." .

Right: photo by Melissa Golden  for The Wall Street Journal.  Ekaterina Solovieva, who like many Washington, D.C., residents doesn't own a car, rode her bike to shop at the DC USA mall on Saturday.

It happens that this issue is being discussed in an entry in GGW, "Curb parking and garage parking aren't the same."

And the entry and the comments illustrate the problem of dealing with one element of parking and mobility policy without simultaneously considering the other elements that shape and affect such a change.

I have argued that at the same time the city changes zoning requirements concerning parking, it needs to change other practices concerning the management of parking and curb space, including

(1) publishing a census of parking and curb space inventory;
(2) creating "transportation management districts" (not "parking districts") to implement and manage multi-modal transportation planning at the sub-city scale;
(3) incorporating off-street parking facilities into the parking planning mix and inventory;
(4) creating integrated parking wayfinding systems; and
(5) increasing the price for residential parking permits.

Changing one element without the others likely will have limited positive impact on reshaping mobility towards optimality.  See "Testimony on parking policy in DC" for more discussion.

DC is two cities: the inner city core and the outer city and their respective spatial patterns and distance from activity centers shapes mobility choices

Mobility practices differ significantly in the core of the city which is best served by transit and has a traditional grid of streets and blocks that makes transit, walking, and biking efficient methods for getting around.  In the core people walk, bike, and use transit more than they drive.

Outside of the core, this is less the case, and households are more likely to rely on automobiles to get around.

That doesn't mean that a car is required, but people often argue that getting around by sustainable methods is impossible, when it isn't.

But even the outer city is two different mobility landscapes, one is well served by transit, especially the subway, and the other part isn't.  I discussed this in the blog entry "Understanding why Upper Northwest DC residents don't buy into the sustainability mobility paradigm."

Opposition to the change is centered in the outer city and opponents tend to be older as well.

DC's political environment is dominated by the outer city: and the inner vs. outer city dynamic shapes the discussion on parking policy (and everything else)

Not unlike how the State of Virginia legislature or the US House of Representatives are dominated by rural interests because of the way that political district boundaries are drawn, DC's political culture and the model of how elected officials represent the city and/or their wards tends to favor the outer city over the core. 

Ward 1 and Ward 6 are fully located within the "inner city."  Ward 2 is split between the inner and outer city, perhaps more attitudinally and demographically rather than spatially (Georgetown residents, lacking a Metro station, tend to have higher rates of car ownership than rowhouse neighborhoods in the core). 

While they have sections that have housing patterns and transit service comparable to the inner city, Wards 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 comprise the "outer city," although Ward 8 being poorer than Ward 7, is more focused on access to transit than the other wards.

That's why despite the fact that the city is decidedly an urban place, politically it has more of a suburban shaped agenda when it comes to resident attitudes about land use, development, and transportation--fostered by the fact that most residents who weren't born here tend to have moved to the city from suburban locations, and even without realizing it, they bring the suburban planning paradigm to bear on these issues.


Below is a map of Upper Northwest DC, showing 1 mile radius distances from the Takoma, Petworth, and Fort Totten stations on the eastern side (east of Georgia Avenue) and the Friendship Heights, Tenleytown and Van Ness stations west of Connecticut Avenue.  (Although this is augmented by high frequency bus service on 14th and 16th Streets, plus Georgia Avenue.  The 16th Street line is now the highest ridership bus line in the city, approaching 20,000 daily riders.)
Upper Northwest DC subway station, 1 mile catchment areas
As you can see, large swathes of Upper Northwest--Ward 3 and Ward 4--lie more than 1 mile away from a subway station and from a decent commercial district, although they tend to be served by bus service, but it may not be be frequent.

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At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

primary pushers of parking as a total necessity include CHRS & the Committee of 100- both of whom are popluated by old people set in their ways and convinced that no one can possibly live w/o a car. These organizations need to seriously consider generational changes in the city- but even more importantly- within their OWN ORGANIZATIONS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The problem with the parking minium debate is becoming a theologic debate. I really doubt residentts in Woodly and Chevy chase are pickup loving fox news red blooded americans.

And even in the "central city" a lot of the parking free projects are pretty questionable. Take that church conversion near Columbia Heights. Sorry, when you are building 600K+ condos you're going to get a car with in.

(Not to mention the RPP system in DC is very messed up, and you can solve a lot of problems by moving to 2 hour parking on weekends)

Also, I'm having a hard time seeing projects that are being killed b/c it is so difficult to get a parking variance. The theatre EOTR? Are there delays? sure. You can't build a building form the 1930's from scratch again for a lot of reasons.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous rg said...

Given that Maguire, Macwood and their brethren at the Committee of 100 live in a city where most trips are under a mile or so, I would venture that they are probably guilty of plenty of 'clown driving':

They also probably do a lot of kvetching about how they just cannot find the time to regularly exercise...

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous rg said...

The ultimate in clown driving: driving to the gym. I see dozens of people doing it every day. In a neighborhood (Capitol Hill) that is eminently pedestrian and bicycle friendly!

At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes- so true- and the CHRS at least twice rejected the proposals for Results gym to install a swimming pool- the excuse was that they couldn't get it to fit in with the freeway and some minor details- but the reality was that CHRS did not want any of the gym parking taken away which would impact their precious street parking. Again- CHRS is all about parking preservation- this has become their primary focus. This and getting involved with construction proposals outside of the "historic district" which no longer contains their antics...

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Obviously, you won't find me defending HPists on this dimension.

And yes, I should do weights, but... a primary reason I bike is for health.

Interestingly, Suzanne said something to me a few months ago, that moving to DC from LA and selling her car there and not bringing it here is likely significantly important in terms of her health because otherwise she wouldn't be exercising (walking to and from the subway or bus stop) very much, plus our walks to Takoma and other places on weekends, etc.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HP is a wonderful thing as long as they stick to their topic and not a huge array of other issues. However, declaring monstrosities like IM Pei's SW boxes " historic" clearly is shocking and disgusting- as is the declaration of the parking lot "historic". If this is what HP has become- it needs to be changed and taken out of the gutter- or auto sewer..

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

My estimte is that a european city (or NYC) is worth about 10-15 pounds, while a city like DC is worth maybe 5-7 pounds off.

(almost everyone I meet is horrified I walk 4+ miles a day, with the usual questions about my mental health).

Drivng to the gym is critical if you work out your legs -- if done proprely you can't stand. In fact, I've seen a huge decrease in my squat since starting walking to the gym.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

That makes sense to me. ... it's been decades since I've lifted weights in a significant way, and there is no question that I should do it for overall fitness.


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