Reston Town Center parking issue as a "planning failure" by the private sector
Correction: Note that Reston Town Center's does not charge for parking on weekends. See "All Reston Town Center merchant leases raised spectre of paid parking, owner says," Washingtong Business Journal). The text below has been corrected. 2/9/2017
Transforming Suburban Business Districts and summary report, Ten Principles for Reinventing Suburban Business Districts) even before its integration into the Metrorail transit system.
It's an illustration that urbanization is by no means a phenomenon exclusive to traditional center cities and suburban towns.
-- "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County"
-- "Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC"
From a planning sense, RTC is in the news because of the introduction of paid parking to the development, which is 100% privately owned.
Paid parking is not totally foreign to the suburbs, but it is still an exception. The challenge comes when privately owned "retail" centers become a mix of commercial and non-commercial functions, how does the public have input into the changes?
-- "What to do about public input when seemingly public facilities are privately owned?: Parking at Reston Town Center, Fairfax County, Virginia"
But it's in the news again ("Send lawyers and money: Reston Town Center merchants organize for potential battle with Boston Properties," Washington Business Journal) because the change has been introduced, and restaurants are experiencing up to a 40% loss in business. From the article:
Here is what has the largely independent retailers so peeved: Boston Properties instituted a $2 an hour weekday parking fee in order, it said, to cut down on commuter parking. In the month since, businesses have reported a drop in business anywhere from 10 to 40 percent, as well as a marked decrease in retail employment applications. Parking is mostly paid through an app, which many users say they have found confusing. Other patrons are just staying away on principle. ...
Meanwhile, a group of patrons is organizing a protest march at Reston Town Center for March 4.-- Reston Town Center Parking FAQ
-- Change.org petition
-- Park Free RTC Protest Facebook Page
1. The property owner said they needed to introduce paid parking to reduce "free parking" by commuters, seeking no cost parking to support their use of Metrorail. What that means is the problem they've identified is during commuting hours--the daytime--Monday through Friday,
2. But they've introduced paid parking on a 24/5 basis, including evenings, but not on weekends. Note that evenings and weekends are when retailers and restaurants conduct the bulk of their business.
3. Retailers can validate parking, but the company has introduced a program that limits validation by retailers to particular parking structures, making it impossible to "trip chain" or "park once" and conduct multiple activities seamlessly in one trip, for example, having a meal and seeing a movie.
4. This illustrates they've introduced a transaction focused, not service focused process. Which structure is used shouldn't matter.
5. Boston Properties shouldn't be so concerned about revenue, if they are merely focused on managing the parking inventory in terms of commuting.
1. Reston Town Center should be focused on managing the resource/charging for parking when it matters, which now is during the week during the "daytime." Like in Montgomery and Arlington Counties, where county parking structures usually have free or reduced parking at nights and on weekends, they should do the same.
2. If not, RTC should cover the cost of validation for the retail and entertainment establishments, at least for a long period of time.
3. They need to integrate all the resources (each individual parking structure) into one seamless system, and provide multiple options for paying, and even include people as the new system is introduced--it's a fully automated system now.
4. In recognition that the space is "owned" in part by its users, the property owner needed to create a very public planning process for the consideration and implementation of paid parking at the Reston Town Center.
While Boston Properties had some meetings and did studies behind the scenes, their efforts didn't extend to the lengths that a traditional public process would go, and they are paying for it now (See the letter to the editor, "Reston Town Center parking poorly designed, poorly implemented says transportation consultant" and "Reston Town Center paid parking discourages my family from visiting," Fairfax County Times).
Just the cost of counsel for one lawsuit is greater than it would have cost to run a public planning process. And who wants to go through the hassle of dealing with your customers as demonstrators?
Going forward, such developments should take steps to provide for public engagement and involvement, even though it wouldn't go to the extent of "oversight."
5. Create an advisory council. Reston is an unincorporated area of Fairfax County and has separately, a very powerful citizens organization, the Reston Association, which is very involved in area planning. Interestingly, the Association doesn't appear to have weighed in much on the RTC parking issue.
I would recommend the creation of an Advisory Council for the Reston Town Center, not unlike the WMATA "Riders Advisory Council" or how universities may have neighborhood-town engagement committees, to provide a regular channel for back and forth communications and consultation (George Washington University Community Advisory Committee).
Arguably, the organization could step in and broker the creation of this kind of committee, which should have membership based on relationship to the RTC (patrons, business owners, residents, commercial tenants, etc.), which therefore would preclude residentially-based membership restrictions, which is atypical for the organization's other committees.
Montgomery County Urban District Advisory Committees. Another model, although it is County-created, is how Silver Spring, and Wheaton have "Urban District Community Advisory Committees," when each of those areas is unincorporated.
More recently a similar committee has been created to advise on issues related to the redevelopment of the White Flint area, which has land use conditions similar to that of Reston, but a much wider array of "property relations."
From Ten Principles for Reinventing Suburban Business Districts:
Community building involves the mobilization of public and private capital to create assets that engender pride and value in a community. It involves the activation and growth of community support through stakeholder consensus. The transformation of suburban business districts relies on a three-way partnership of the private sector, government, and the broader community. Community outreach must be ingrained in the process from the outset.
Many community-building projects have failed or wasted precious time and financial resources either in litigation or in gaining community support because essential communication channels were not established at the beginning. In essence, such communication builds understanding and trust. The three-way partnership should be built on a firm foundation of shared goals and, at the very least, should include a fair and open process that allows all interested parties to be heard before decisions are made and implemented. (p. 11)