Photo by nahh.

Arlington is ready to put a lot of Dr. Shoup’s ideas from The High Cost of Free Parking, and other progressive urban ideas, into the County’s parking policy.

At the September 26 meeting of the County Board, Arlington officially proposed major changes to its parking and curbspace policies by advertising a new Parking and Curb Space Element (PDF) for the Master Transportation Plan. There’s just one more round of public comment before and official Board consideration, scheduled for November 14.

The policy sets a priority hierarchy for curb space. Safety is first: there will be no-parking zones for visibilty and fire access, and curb ramps for pedestrian safety.  Other uses are public vehicles like bus service, dedicated or temporary use like taxi stands and car sharing, Short term parking, and long term parking. The relative priority of those uses differs among high, medium, and low-density corridors.

Arlington proposes to vary parking meter hours of operation and prices based on observed parking demand. The policy establishes an 85% target occupancy rate in areas of high demand, as Dr. Shoup has recommend. It extends the hours of meters or adds them where there is demand in excess of supply, and proposes a pilot project to test the effectiveness of variable pricing. This is the biggest change for Arlington and represents a significant step forward toward the parking policies recommended on Greater Greater Washington. It would be better if the policy stated that some of the parking meter revenue would be earmarked to support improvements in the neighborhoods that have variable meter pricing, in order to get support for the policy, but it’s possible to do that even if it’s not in the Master Transportation Plan.

Another piece of the proposal, also recommended in Shoup’s book, is to “unbundle” parking. Housing and offices will be encouraged to offer parking separately from the rent or condo fee. That allows workers or residents to choose between paying for a parking space, or letting someone else rent it. This reduces the demand for parking spaces and for trips taken by car. We strongly support giving people a choice to pay for parking rather than getting it included automatically.

For some districts like Columbia Pike, Arlington is proposing “in-lieu fees.” These fees allow a developer to build less than the required amount of parking if they contribute to a public parking fund. Arlington will use this fund to partner with local private garages and ensure that private garages are available to the public. Arlington should ensure that these fees are related to the costs of building additional parking spaces, so that developers face a real choice. Very expensive spaces should not be built (because it’s unlikely people will pay enough to use them), but this fee should not allow developers to pay very little to get out of such a requirement.

For off-street parking, although Arlington will continue to have “free or subsidized parking” around retail businesses, there won’t be an effort to entirely satisfy that demand, shifting resources “to more efficient and beneficial public amenities”. The county is going to take into account available transit, transportation demand management (TDM) strategies and other factors in reducing required parking.

The county will continue to require “by-right” buildings to include the minimum parking spaces required by the Zoning Ordinance. However, based on site conditions, the County may allow reductions below this minimum. Any developer building more than the minimum site needs may be allowed to donate excess parking to other nearby sites to count toward their requirement.

The draft element promotes on-street parking in residential neighborhoods and commercial streets as a traffic calming measure. For single-family homes, residents should be able to park “within a block” of their home, and high-rise apartments should expect guests and service vehicles to have to park “a few blocks away” at peak times.

The resident parking permit program, the first in the nation, will continue much as it exists today. One change recommends implementing a process where residents can have their zone reviewed to reduce its size and eliminate cross-commuting.

Arlington is proposing an official policy discouraging off-street surface parking. “Nowhere in the County should pedestrians have to walk through a parking in order to access a structure,” it reads. Parking lots should be underground, structured, or at worst, screened behind or to the side of a building. Buildings, not parking lots, should face the arterial streets.

There’s a lot in this plan to like. Arlington’s policies are slowly moving away from the old-style “minimum requirements and low-priced curb parking” used in most of the US, and toward parking policies that reflect demand, the cost of supplying parking, and available alternatives. It doesn’t eliminate parking minimums or time limits or attempt to push retail parking prices up to the cost of comparable off-street parking, but this is the policy that can pass politically. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the most important policy (getting on-street pricing correct) is in the draft element.

The Arlington County Board wants to hear your comments.  Comments should go to Ritch Viola at