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 14, 2017

Parking, parking, parking revisited

-- "Parking, parking, parking: Eastern Market DC," 2014
-- "Parking, parking, parking #2: Notes from elsewhere," 2014
-- "Parking districts vs. transportation/urban management districts: Part one, Bethesda," 2015
-- "Parking districts vs. transportation/urban management districts: Part two, Takoma DC/Takoma Park Maryland," 2015

1. Reston, Fairfax County, Virginia.  I've written ("Reston Town Center parking issue as a "planning failure" by the private sector") about the issues with instituting parking charges at the Reston Town Center in Suburban Fairfax County.

The issue made the Washington Post yesterday because there was a "demonstration" a couple weekends ago by residents opposed to the change.

Twitter photo by Kevin Precht.  

 According to the article ("End of free parking is the last straw for some Reston residents") businesses are still experiencing a drop in patronage, and users find the e-parking application clunky, and the property owner, Boston Properties, hasn't simplified the parking validation system.
Photo by Don Renner.  Also see "Organizers say Town Center parking protest was a 'huge success,'" Reston Now.

A few weeks back Dan Malouff of BeyondDC produced a photo illustration to demonstrate how much parking there is available at Reston Town Center.
Parking structures straddle the Reston Town Center

The Post missed out on my point that this is a situation where even though the property is privately owned, the developer should have engaged in a "public planning process" to introduce the change.

2. Bethesda, Montgomery County, Maryland.  In January I blogged about issues around plans for intensification in Bethesda, an unincorporated conurbation in Montgomery County, Maryland ("Sub/urban land use and political development: Bethesda and Montgomery County, Maryland").

Last month, the Post did a follow up piece, "Suburbs turning to transit rethink their beloved parking." It discusses the value of focusing resources on sustainable mobility and less on parking, but the tension in real estate development and financing which still calls for including a lot of parking in developments that are proximate to parking.  From the article:
A 28-story building recently approved for downtown Bethesda will sit atop both a Metro Red Line station and a stop on the future light-rail Purple Line. A cycling and jogging trail will run beneath it, and dozens of shops and restaurants will be within walking distance.

The high-rise, which will have office space as well as apartments, is just the kind of high-density, transit-oriented development Montgomery County and other U.S. suburbs are planning on to attract younger residents as well as downsizing baby boomers looking for a more walkable, urban lifestyle.

But one detail of the building plan has drawn skepticism: a parking garage, with room for 700 cars.

It’s a discussion taking place in suburbs and sprawling cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Atlanta, as they straddle a vast divide between their autocentric pasts and futures that hinge on more people getting around by foot, train and bus. Experts say the amount of parking in areas designed to be more transit-oriented will help determine how successful they are in curbing traffic congestion, making walking and biking attractive options and providing more affordable housing.
The argument is not dissimilar to that in Reston, as suburban areas intensify, they need to adopt transportation demand management strategies more typical of cities (note however, that Montgomery County has already been doing this for a long long time; it has transportation management districts in its major activity centers and its suburban bus system, RideOn, is considered a national best practice).
Space required to transport 60 people
The problem with such policies is that they don't support "sorting."  What you want to do with properties like the one described in the Post article is attract residents who don't want to drive, rather than people who think automobility is central to their lifestyle.  By attracting more people committed to sustainable mobility, the sustainable mobility platform is strengthened.

3. Downtown Columbus, Ohio.  Streetsblog calls our attention to a new proposal in Downtown Columbus, Ohio, where property owners have suggested giving workers free transit passes, rather than build under-profitable parking structures, to encourage using transit to get to and from work, rather than the automobile. This was reported on ("Building owners might subsidize free bus passes for 40,000 Downtown workers") by the Columbus Dispatch. From the article:
More than 40,000 Downtown workers could receive free bus service under a plan to free up thousands of parking spaces and increase the renting of office space.

Half of the $5 million cost to provide the passes for more than 2½ years would come from 550 owners of properties in the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, who would pay 3 cents per square foot of space per year, said Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of the district. Capital Crossroads would seek grants from foundations and others to pay the rest of the cost.

Capital Crossroads would team with COTA to provide the bus passes for district workers from June 1, 2018, to the end of 2020.

An $80,000 test program that ran from June 2015 through January 2017 involved 844 employees at four companies in the district. In that test program, the proportion of those commuting by bus almost doubled, from 6.4 percent to 12.2 percent. ...

If results from the bus-pass test hold up and the program opens to all 41,165 district workers, Capital Crossroads estimates that it would free up 2,400 parking spaces — about four parking garages — and allow for 2,900 more people to work in the district. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people would trade their cars for COTA on their commute, the district estimates.
Columbus commercial property owners are motivated because the city has strict regulations tying development approvals to available road capacity and intersection levels of service.

New urbanists and smart growthers say that these are unreasonable measures that harm doing better development, but the reality is that in an automobile-centric mobility paradigm where virtually everybody drives, concerns about traffic are reasonable.

This proposal offering free bus passes is an interesting and innovative initiative that would not only allow developers to build more, it would seed a greater use of transit, and help set the stage for a shift in the area's mobility paradigm towards mass transit instead of personal transit via a car.

Columbus, the largest metro in Ohio, home to Ohio State University and the State Government, has the building blocks in place to foster sustainable mobility.

 It is served by Car2Go and has a nascent bike sharing system. But both of these programs are having a hard time ("Car2Go shrinks its service area," CD) given how dominant the region's mobility paradigm is shaped by the car.  [A couple weeks back we used a Car2Go that clearly had been shipped to DC from Columbus, because they neglected to change the radio stations programmed into the console.)

Having more riders choosing transit--even if free--adds another building block to the SMP (sustainable mobility platform).  From the article:
Increasing parking isn't feasible, Ricksecker said, because a parking garage costs tens of millions of dollars. Fewer are being built because of programs such as this one that aim to increase alternatives to one person driving to work and parking all day.

"To save $110, $115 per month, people figure out where their bus stop is," Ricksecker said.

If matching money is found for the program, it will be the first in the country to be funded by property owners, Ricksecker said.

For the program to start June 1, 2018, as planned, Capital Crossroads must decide by August and secure funding for the program by then.

"If the numbers do grow, we'll change a culture," COTA's Stutz said.
Granted the profit making imperative is strong, but it's interesting to see how developers get on the transportation demand management bandwagon, because they can see the value in new development, but also in more efficient utilization of "space," in this case the road network.

In a mobility system that has been shaped around car ownership, it's hard for people to get their heads around the fact that transit can be an effective means to get around, and in compact development scenarios it works better than automobile-centricity.

But because so few people have practical experience with such a scenario--outside of major cities pretty much transit is seen as a social service provided for people who can't afford to own a car--it's difficult for them to appreciate this.

It's difficult for them to vote in favor of transit funding programs when they don't have practical experience with transit.

And justifiably, it's difficult for them to understand about reducing provision of parking, because in their experience, automobility is the only way to get around, and a car has to be parked when it isn't in use.

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At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

again- the old people who live proximate to eastern market all drive and complain vociferously about parking being taken away by new construction such as Hines. My bet is that the huge underground lot that is built will go unused.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

fwiw, the structure being included in the Hine development isn't particularly big. I argued that it should have been bigger, and marketed as a public parking option for the commercial district.

A big thing I have learned about parking is that usually we have "enough" but it isn't organized to be able to be efficiently used, or that people are more comfortable using certain types of parking. Plus, yes, they don't want to pay for it, regardless.

Having parking there seems counterintuitive because it is at the Metro station. OTOH, it would be central and visible and you could "park once" and go to many different places as part of your trip.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I didn't use the phrase "parking wayfinding" but I should have. The issue is "legibility". People don't understand what parking options exist as it is.

I have "argued" for years that the "Eastern Market" district needs to create a transportation options brochure comparable to those produced by Takoma Park

and Hyattsville

(But there isn't the right organizing vehicle to do it through. Too balkanized set of interest groups.)

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes- this same balkanization resulted in the fire that destroyed EM thru competing factions squared off against one another until the structure was allowed to decay beyond hope. Typical lawyer control mentality- sure sue sue and hope for the best. Not a good way of handling historic properties

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

off topic:

Good point on the amount of parkings vs. availability.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

thanks for sharing that link. I think it's ironic that here, making those same arguments, the traditional new urbanism/smart growth folks would be arguing in favor of the architecture that the Denver folks find FUGLY.

As you know, I've been making the argument for a long long time that we need mandatory design review.

Especially because unless the buildings are apartments, the facade is likely to stay the same forever and if not forever, for a couple generations (20-60 years) at a minimum.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Q for you: what do you think about the proposal for a "Green Bank"? I started an outline for a piece, before I realized that they aren't going for something on the scale of the Bank of North Dakota...

Mayor Bowser Announces Plan to Establish DC Green Bank
Washington, DC will be the first city in the U.S. and second in the world to create a Green Bank

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she will introduce legislation in the coming weeks to make Washington, DC the first city in the United States to establish a Green Bank. Green Banks are innovative policy tools that seek to expand renewable energy, lower energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create green jobs.

“As the nation’s capital, we need to lead the way when it comes to protecting and preserving the environment,” said Mayor Bowser. “By creating a Green Bank, we will create more jobs for DC residents, which will allow us to continue our push for inclusive prosperity, and we will take an important step toward reaching the sustainability goals set forth in Climate Ready DC.”

Green Banks are capitalized with public funds which are then used to offer loans, leases, credit enhancements, and other financing services to close funding gaps for clean energy projects. Typically, Green Banks invest in mature clean energy projects, including commercially viable technologies, such as solar energy systems, energy efficiency measures, water management systems, and clean transportation infrastructure and equipment.

Green Bank financing enables private capital to fill gaps by reducing real and perceived risk, absorbing transaction costs, and providing private investors the chance to learn about new market opportunities with the security of government partnership. By creating a Green Bank, DC will be able to accelerate the deployment of clean energy technology by removing upfront costs, leveraging private investment, and increasing the efficiency of public dollars.

“I commend Mayor Bowser for introducing this innovative legislation,” said Department of Energy and Environment Director Tommy Wells. “The DC Green Bank will pair private capital with public investment to more efficiently achieve our ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

The introduction of Green Bank legislation is part of the Bowser Administration’s continued efforts to make Washington, DC more resilient to the effects of climate change and to support the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement. Find more information about Climate Ready DC, the DC Government’s climate adaptation plan, at

At 5:17 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Haven't seen that.

My gut level -- I don't trust any DC politican with a bank!

But need to look at it.

Query: Can the Small area plans in DC have more in terms of Design Plans/District?

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt SAPs, theoretically yes. But there isn't enabling legislation for design review.

There is discussion from time to time about creating what are called "conservation districts" which provide for design review of a sort, but usually hyper limited protections against demolition.

But yes, my criticism of SAPs is that they aren't comprehensive plans or the equivalent of "sector plans" in places like Arlington or Montgomery Counties, which go through "all" the various elements--parks, education, etc..

I say they are more "build out opportunity identification, analysis, and management plans."

E.g., knowing little about parks and cultural planning 11-14 years ago, I didn't adequately advocate for such in the context of the H Street and NoMA Plans (I got ANC6C to pass a resolution calling on OP to do a NoMA plan, which helped to trigger the process). Those plans are examples of how uncomprehensive the SAPs are.

2. Although I said that there isn't legislative enablement of design review, I guess you could argue that the principles in the acts creating the Committee of Fine Arts and related bodies could be used as a justification.

Obviously, I've argued for years that the competitive advantages of the city rest in part on historic architecture, urban design, and the identity that develops from them.

Baltimore has an urban design review process. Cleveland has what they call a "business revitalization district overlay". Both provide extranormal review processes.

Unlike DC, Lancaster has a combo of a traditional historic district (managed like those that exist in DC) and a "heritage conservation district", where the latter provides some review, as I described above.

this is the city's webpage for the conservation district:

Generally, I haven't been a fan of conservation districts in the DC context, because of the lack of building protections from demolition.

Alexandria has a design review process for a couple of their areas that aren't historic districts. A couple years ago there was a program on Kojo Nnamdi about it.

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lot to unpack there.

On the green bank:

OK, so it is just a proposal! I was worried I missed it.

So I think the problem is going to be scale. How large is the one in CT? Or in the UK/London. It looks as if we are talking maybe $35M after 5 years. Not doing much.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yep. when I first saw the headline, I was thinking "Bank of North Dakota." This isn't anything like that. It's financing and assistance, but that isn't particularly extraordinary. DC spent that much money just on supporting the parking garage at DC/USA.

I will write a piece on the subject I guess, spurred by the program, but mentioning some other community development initiatives that are relevant.

... one of the ones that I thought about mentioning was a sustainable vehicles promotion initiative in British Columbia. While I am not sure how I feel about these programs generally (although decades ago the then chairmain of Union 76 pointed out that the best thing to do would be to create a targeted buyback program for the vehicles emitting the most pollution), what's cool about the program is that it includes support for e-bikes and bikes.

2. But yes, generally, the idea of DC setting up a bank is terrifying based on past precedent, such as the Children and Youth Investment Trust, where there wasn't critical distance from the Trust and the ability of elected and appointed officials to shape grant decisions and foster the misuse of funds.

3. not exactly the same, but this is another example of a semi-public investment program.

The Quebec provincial pension fund is proposing a new light rail system for which it will be the lead funder.

(cf. our previous discussion about the advantage of more undergrounded transit as an element of weather-related resilience. The REM won't be weather resistant the way the underground Metro is, which I think is a big problem given Montreal's winters... although I don't know if Montreal's winters are worse than Edmonton or Calgary, which also have above-ground light rail.)

4. But you're right, the biggest problem I think is that DC is too small of a geography and market to be able to best manage risk.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking at the proposed federal budget, I think DC is in a world of hurt.

1. Lots of targeting of federal anti-poverty efforts. Manna is dead. Lots of others. We are talking lots of grant money gone.

2. I believe the DC expansion of medicaid is built on no changes to the federal program -- and CMS and/or congress might do something.

3. Proposed cuts to federal agencies will really hurt DC and in particular the federal contractor. This is going to impact both income tax revenue. If it speeds to housing that is going to be a very large drop in tax revenue.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

"I hate to say I told you so." That's what I predicted, while you predicted the govt. would grow, and that by default, the area would benefit.

Military yes, the rest of the govt. will shrink. Military bases and manufacturing rather than DOD HQ, so this area will not benefit, outside of bases.

And will experience serious contraction.

I can't see the Republicans controlling the House and Senate to be particularly against these kinds of cuts, because as far as they are concerned, they benefit disproportionately cities/urban areas/people who vote Democrat.

Will they have long term devastating impacts on the economy. Sure. But they don't seem to have a very long range approach to dealing with these matters.

Outside of the insurance thing, it will take a long time before the people who voted for Trump to see the negative impacts.

E.g., while Brownback is suffering some defeats, he still managed to beat back a tax increase. Meanwhile the Kansas economy, schools, etc., is having a hard time. Didn't experience miraculous growth because of big tax cuts for the well off.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes -- you were more right!

The defense/homeland security hires will help the region, mostly on the Virginia like in all likelihood.

We haven't seen the infrastructure program, and the caveat is that the budget is passed by Congress. But clearly a message that urban poverty programs are being targeted.

In terms of the green bank, read the auditor's report of the affordable housing trust fund.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

thanks for the tip on the AH trust fund.
Green bank is just a fancy name for an incentive funding program...

2. Yes, VA and parts of Maryland will re-benefit from increase in military spending. As you have pointed out in the past, sequestership cut military spending in these places a lot.

3. I was just thinking about a couple posts I wrote on the then imminent Obama administration, (1) how they could rejigger agencies to be more urban oriented and (2) how cities could benefit but needed to already be prepared. I talked about Pasteur's line "chance favors the prepared mind," instead stating "chance favors the prepared city."

I think I will write a post revisiting this theme.

What's happening is like what's happening in the UK and Kansas. It will be very ugly. Kansas has some counterattack, but it still loses out some to Brownback.

With the UK, the suggestion of Scottish independence again as a response to Brexit etc. is comparable.

Will the cities and metropolitan areas revolt? The problem as you know at the state level is that most legislatures are districted to favor rural interests, and the city/urban population is concentrated.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Obama.

Intersting. As I said Larry L's measurement of how federal money actually gets to cities is very interesting.

TIGER Grants were clearly a mechanism to bypass states and move money into cities.

A lot of the poverty-industrial complex is from LBJ; but Clinton added a lot as well. The idea was to increase nonprofit stakeholders. Not a great policy for alleviating poverty.

"Will the cities and metropolitan areas revolt?"

Good luck with that. That is falling into the russian behind every bush thinking that is very prevalent right now.

As you said in GGW yesterday, the fiscal union prevents deficit spending by states and cities. Until they have a way to create those capital accusations (such as state pensions, cough, or municipal pension funds) I don't see that as a reality.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yep. I meant in terms of voting/politically.

While there needs to be a restructuring of political authority and control to better favor and support metropolitan areas, it's not likely to happen.

Legislators don't want to give up their power to be God.

And even though metropolitan areas provide the tax money that then gets spent on the Red States, the Red States don't see it that way, don't understand that they are the welfare queens and they won't want to give up their ability to smite the Gomorrah that is the city.

And the way people talk about "the deficit" we are not likely to get intelligent thinking and new approaches to capital budgeting at the federal level -- 'these projects add to the deficit.'

Or new capabilities for cities and metropolitan areas.

Granted the capacities are sometimes there. E.g., my point that PG and MoCo need to create a massive TIF for the Purple Line catchment area and creat a CDC program to build stuff, fund stuff, etc., to faciliate intensitification AND equity.

But rarely are people up to the task of pushing it through.

E.g., there was an article about a project in Balt. County in the Balt. Sun in the past month. In 2010, I said to them, the only way you can move this forward more quickly is to create a TIF to build the new roads, fund replatting, etc.

(IN fact I argued about this, unfortunately for me, with the person who became the planning director after the Nov. 2010 election--no place for me there afterwards...)

They are still looking for the money, because the county isn't particularly forward thinking on this element of the "investment concept" -- that you need to invest in infrastructure to foster development in the right places and way more quickly than it would happen otherwise.

2. I forgot to respond to infra in your previous comment. I am not particularly hopeful. For one, the projects take a long time to move forward, and the people in the House and Senate tend to be pretty disconnected from the principles outlining public goods as laid out by Adam Smith... And it's not like Trump Admin. people are likely to be particularly enlightened.

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Charlie said...

At the risk of exhausting the subtopics

Pretty clear from the budget the infrastructure push will be more tax based / private partnership

Some decent articles:

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

Thanks for these. I will get to that #2 infra article eventually.

fwiw, all along, given who Trump is and his track record, and the anti-investment philosophy of the Republicans, who now control the legislative and executive branches, I never figured much would come of this initiative.

I mean this is a guy who builds casinos and hotels and buys golf courses. He isn't particularly "smart growth" oriented or a denizen of Adam Smith and the concept of public investment in public goods.

With Mulvaney as OMB director, my outlook is even more negative, compared to when I wrote about these issues in November.

and yes, obviously, the "need" isn't with the projects that the private sector are already motivated to finance, but the projects that don't lend themselves to such financing.

... e.g., I saw a press release on EPA funding for water improvements (pre-Trump) of $1B. The need according to ASCE is at least $660B. So that means in 660 years, at that rate, the US can fix its water infrastructure.

Plus now with the ability to pollute local waters being less restricted, the costs will rise...


while there are exceptions, generally I don't believe that the all of a sudden empowered leopard is capable of changing his spots.


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