Image by emily geoff on Flickr

When Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, almost everyone from planners to the public believed in freeway construction, single-use zoning, and urban renewal projects. Today, you’re not going to see a lot of people commenting on a blog like DCist arguing that we should run a freeway between Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, though some still dream about drawing lines through the city.

The Jane Jacobs of parking policy, Donald Shoup, published his groundbreaking book in 2005, giving us 44 fewer years to educate people about the fallacy of free parking. That’s why DCist’s article yesterday about parking debates in Columbia Heights and the ballpark district generated comments like these:

I would like to see new apartments, offices, and commercial buildings built with additional below-ground pay/free-with-validation parking lots for visitors. These public lots should be accessible via separate entry gates so that residents and employees that have assigned parking would be unaffected by the lines, and enter quickly and directly through private entrances.

A city where everyone drives from the garage under their apartment to the garage under their office and then to the garage under their grocery store is a vision for urban life, but it’s a lousy one. Free parking encourages driving, but someone is paying the costs. In the case of stores offering free validation, it’s higher prices charged by the store, only you pay that price whether you drive there or not. In the case of apartment buildings, it’s adding $30,000 or more to the cost of the units, making everyone’s housing more expensive.

This opinion was alive and well at last week’s parking working group meeting for the zoning review, where Marilyn Simon of Friendship Heights wants the zoning code to require larger parking garages under commercial buildings and mandate validated parking from all stores.

Fortunately, her views were a minority, but a lot of people—even progressive, urban-dwelling, thoughtful people—are so accustomed to the idea that parking should be free, government-provided and plentiful, that parking reform faces a tougher road for now. But one day, I’m sure average blog readers will intuitively understand that subsidized garages don’t solve parking problems, just as they now understand that building freeways doesn’t solve traffic problems.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.