A massive example of re/urbanization failure in DC: DC Court of Appeals fosters automobile-centricity
The Northwest Current reports on the approval process for a microunit apartment building in the Shaw neighborhood of DC. See the page one article, "Blagden Alley project drops no-parking plan."
The original proposal was to provide zero parking for automobiles, but a wide array of sustainable transportation elements. From the article:
Planned “micro unit” apartments in Shaw’s Blagden Alley will have parking after all, after the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed an approval of designs that included no spaces for cars.But some residents challenged the approval, suing the Zoning Commission. Rather than go through continued iterations with the Zoning Commission, figuring that well-heeled residents would continue to litigate elimination of parking, the developer decided to conform with parking requirements, and eliminated all the sustainable mobility accommodations. From the article:
Developer Saul Urban, previously known as SB-Urban, won approval in early 2015 for a 123-unit project with buildings at 90 and 91 Blagden Alley NW, near 9th and M streets. The small apartments of less than 400 square feet each are planned as fully furnished for short-term leases ...
To assuage concerns by neighbors and the Board of Zoning Adjustment about the lack of parking, the developers initially agreed to a host of strategies to ensure that tenants wouldn’t arrive with cars or choose to buy one while living there. These included informing prospective renters they couldn’t park at the site or on the street, and blocking tenants from ever obtaining a Residential Parking Permit. To provide alternative transportation options, the firm also agreed to fund a Capital Bikeshare station, set aside space for 42 bike parking spots and a bike repair facility, install electronic displays with real-time transit information, and provide free carsharing memberships to new tenants. Under Saul Urban’s latest proposal, all of those requirements have been eliminated. ...
The revisions to the project resulted from a D.C. Court of Appeals decision last fall that the Board of Zoning Adjustment had been too lenient in granting the parking relief. The court ordered the zoning board to reconsider the application, but Saul Urban opted instead to amend its plans to conform with today’s requirements.Instead of a building that attracts sustainable mobility centric residents,the building will have to charge higher rent to pay for the cost of constructing parking for 21 cars.
This is terrible. Not a surprise. But terrible.
I have always been nonplussed that people who prefer to be automobile-centric demand that everyone else travel similarly, not recognizing or acknowledging that because the amount and capacity of travel lanes in the city is fixed, having more residents who reflexively choose to drive as their first choice, the worse congestion is.
See "Car culture and automobilty: 5 stories of inside the box thinking" and "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city."
The point of having some buildings be sustainable mobility-centric is that you attract more people who travel differently, who don't compete for scarce space against other automobiles.
It's called sorting. And sorting for transportation, in the center city, is a good thing.
Microunit apartment buildings, density bonuses for apartment buildings in the central core, and by transit stations, and accessory dwelling units are ways to add population that strengthen the sorting effect towards sustainable mobility.
But developers will fold on this in the face of costly delays and litigation.
My best piece on developing a transit-centric land use and transportation policy is this almost 11 year old blog entry, "Comments on Proposed EYA Development at Takoma Metro Station, Washington DC."
Then, WMATA approved a proposal to build rowhouses on part of the land at the Takoma Metrorail Station, each with two backyard parking spaces.
Instead, I proposed the construction of a multiunit building with no parking spaces, but with underground parking, to support the commercial district but also to provide space for car sharing vehicles, bike parking, etc., focused specifically on "recruiting" to the neighborhood residents who weren't car-centric. (In 2015, WMATA and the developer moved more towards what I recommended, but the project still faces car-centric opponents.)
The foundation of my argument was a discussion of San Francisco's "Transit-First" planning policy, which is an element of the City Charter.
... recommends that WMATA adopt a transit-first development policy generally, which should guide development plans for this and other similarly situated land parcels in the WMATA land inventory.Moving from "Transit First" to a "Sustainable Mobility Platform." Now I would move somewhat beyond "transit first," not focusing exclusively on transit, and more about the development and extension of a robust "sustainable mobility platform," with walking, biking, transit (including new microtransit options), carsharing, and delivery services.
The City of San Francisco adopted a "transit first" development policy decades ago. For the most part this means that new development in the downtown core has been built without parking, but with access to efficient transit.
Moving to a "transit first" land use and development paradigm
Most citizens and government agencies are imprinted with an approach to land use that is automobile-centric and oriented towards segregated, relatively undense uses. This is commonly referred to as a suburban-oriented land use and development paradigm. Stakeholders have an unconscious and systematic bias towards "automobility" and improving the transportation system for automobiles, at the expense of transit and pedestrian capacity, and urban design.
The suburban land use approach is particularly inappropriate for center cities generally, and Washington specifically, especially because the city is so well connected by transit, in particular the subway, and relatively efficient bus service throughout most of the city, and because of the importance of leveraging the tremendous public investments that have been made in building and maintaining this system. (Note that the polycentric design of the WMATA subway system is criticized because it promotes sprawl even more than it improves access to and within the center city.)
A "transit-first" policy would establish and emphasize that the basic framework of how the City of Washington should grow is through the linkage-articulation of land use and transit. Intra-city and regional mobility can be improved and congestion reduced by investing in the capacity of our transit system, and by linking land use policies to these investments.
Furthermore, every parking space is an automobile trip generator. We cannot simultaneously expand parking and reduce congestion. The concept of induced demand presented both by parking spaces and roads is well understood throughout the transportation planning profession.
WMATA, as a transit agency, should not be in the business of promoting automobility, especially through its land development and disposition practices.
For this platform to work and be robust, it needs an active user base.
The development of the sustainable mobility platform and a large user base comes from:
- focusing development around transit stations and mobility hubs
- intensifying land use appropriately (while respecting the historic building stock and urban design of the city)
- by discouraging privileging of the automobile, and
- by actively recruiting people who don't look to the automobile as their first choice for transportation.
It's also done by building a wider variety of housing types, including microapartments and accessory dwelling units, that support living, if not "car free," very much "car light," by enabling additional population in sustainable mobility rich environments that are in-demand places where they normally could not afford to live, because of the high cost of traditional housing (primarily single family housing) and nonexistent alternatives.
San Francisco through its Transit First policy, mostly discourages or prevents construction of parking as part of new development projects in denser parts of the city.
Similarly, Seattle eliminated parking minimum requirements in its downtown and about 11 years ago they extended this policy to areas of the city where light rail transit stations were planned (such as Capitol Hill and University Village).
Failure to eliminate parking minimums at some level turns out to be a major mistake within the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Rewrite. DC's Comprehensive Plan calls for transit-centric development and the zoning rewrite was supposed to reduce parking minimum requirements.
To assuage opposition, rather than eliminate parking minimums, parking elimination was encouraged, on a case by case basis, through a special review process involving "proffers" that support sustainable mobility (i.e., paying for transit shelters, bike sharing stations, accommodating, car sharing, etc.).
But the downside of the negotiation process is that it can be legally challenged independently of "the government."
And developers, not willing to rock the boat or spend a lot of money to prove a principle, will choose instead to go with the flow, and conform to parking requirements, to make it easier and faster to get building approvals.
Because of this reality, not eliminating parking minimums within the Comp. Plan, at least in the core, was a big mistake.
And therefore, even through automobility is less efficient and fundamentally anti-urban. we are not making nearly enough headway in discouraging automobile use in the center city generally and the core specifically.
Another example of the need to revise the Comprehensive Plan (and zoning) concerning parking. At least this can be addressed through the city's Comprehensive Plan revision process, which is currently underway, but I am not optimistic about the capacity of the Office of Planning to be particularly forward acting, despite the many recent negative holdings--in terms of their lack of support for what is called "Smart Growth"-- by the Courts
This happened because the Comprehensive Plan is written to be deliberately hazy to satisfy pro-growth and anti-growth sentiments. The city wasn't willing to take decidedly pro-growth positions and push them forward, making the arguments despite opposition.
Labels: car culture and automobility, parking and curbspace management, sustainable land use and resource planning, sustainable mobility platform, urban design/placemaking, urban revitalization, zoning