Photo by Michael Kappel on Flickr.
Some are pushing for a municipal parking garage on S Street, NW near 14th Street. To break even, such a garage would need to charge $3.51 to $4.33 per hour. What if it didn’t have to break even? Should taxpayers subsidize a parking garage here?
Many cities do subsidize parking, often heavily. They often believe, rightly or wrongly, that unless public money contributes to making it easy for people in cars to drive and park in the area cheaply, then businesses won’t thrive.
But a publicly-subsdized parking facility is not the answer for the 14th and U corridors. Here are the top 6 reasons this is not the right solution to Logan Circle’s and U Street parking.
1. The area is doing great without it.
A presentation touting the garage proposal says that “Cultural and retail uses have led to the vibrant, walkable neighborhood we enjoy. However they also rely on a significant number of visitors to succeed.” Does this argument really hold water for the Logan Circle and U Street area?
In his column supporting the concept, Roger Lewis writes that “the neighborhood around 14th and P hums with activity around the clock.” In fact, restaurants on 14th Street are mostly full night after night, and the most popular ones have an hours-long wait or a weeks-long line for reservations.
It certainly seems like there is no shortage of people going to the businesses on the 14th and U Street corridors. That’s not to say that some people couldn’t benefit from adding even more subsidized parking beyond the existing free spaces on residential streets, but it probably wouldn’t affect businesses’ health or tax revenue for the neighborhood.
Some, like people with disabilities, have a particular claim to need help getting to an area, which is why DC has rightly proposed dedicating some meters for disability parking. For a lot of other folks, it seems this would just be a subsidy to make it cheaper to get to an area that doesn’t really need it, and which they can still drive to, for a cost.
2. It won’t solve residential parking frustration.
As we discussed in the last part, people will often bypass a pay garage to park on the street when street parking is free. Today, people can park for free on one side of every residential street near 14th and U during evenings and weekends.
So long as that is true, people are going to circle for neighborhood parking. Besides, for almost all destinations along 14th and U, nearby residential blocks are much closer than this garage would be. The bottom line is that adding supply is not going to make local streets clear and easy to park on. The moment they are easy to park on, people will park on them for free!
3. It might not even fill up.
In Columbia Heights, the large DC USA garage continues to go largely empty, even though it costs just $1.50 an hour. Parking remains scarce on many nearby blocks, for exactly the reason above: the street parking is far easier to find and more convenient.
DC would run a serious risk of building an expensive garage and then finding it largely unused.
4. It will have significant downsides to the neighborhood.
A garage would draw a lot more traffic to the area. That traffic would be particularly bad on S Street, but also bad in the rest of the neighborhood. If people didn’t park on neighborhood streets, then a lot of traffic from people circling would go away, but there’s every reason to believe that this garage wouldn’t stop on-street parking.
5. There are much better ways to deal with parking.
It would be technically simple to require that anyone from outside the neighborhood parking here use the pay-by-phone system (or an alternative for those who can’t use it) to pay a rate for parking that equalizes supply and demand.
Plus, on-street parking has another advantage: you can park a block or two from your destination, instead of always having to park at 13th and S.
Lewis mentions a shuttle from the parking garage, but there already is a Circulator from the Metro at McPherson Square and from the corner of 14th and U, a block from the U Street station. For those who can’t walk from the Metro, the garage might be a little closer, but it would save only at most 2 blocks.
Karina Ricks, of Nelson\\Nygaard, said that another approach some cities like Asheville have taken is to set up shared valet parking systems. People can drop their cars off at one or more fixed locations, and valets will park the cars. This would save restaurants from all having to staff their own valets.
Where would the cars go? Perhaps to some of the buildings that have garages but only open them up during the day. The valet provider could reach a deal with these buildings to use the garage at night. And if only valets are parking there, it wouldn’t be necessary to staff each garage.
6. There are better uses of land here.
Any proposal to have the city provide cheap land always needs to be weighed against what else could go on the land. Housing would actively bring in tax revenue, as opposed to a parking garage which would burn through money. With public land, the District’s policy has been to seek affordable housing, which could help more people of lower incomes live in this booming area.
Plus, existing residents probably would much rather live near residences than a large parking garage. Even if the garage were underground, it would generate a lot of traffic and diminish the value of whatever could go on top, or cut down on the amount of affordable housing that DC could get in a bidding process for the land.
But if someone wants to pay for some land, build a garage which isn’t an eyesore or a source of unnecessary noise, or build some parking underneath a new building to sell to the public, that could be okay. But this isn’t happening, which is why some nearby businesses are hoping the government will subsidize parking. That’s not a good investment.