The private parking garage at Bethesda’s Air Rights Center costs $6.00 per hour. The public lot across Woodmont Avenue charges only 50 cents per hour.

Why is Bethesda undercutting its own private garages? If the Air Rights Center can charge $6 per hour even while being across the street from a much cheaper public lot, then there’s clear market demand for $6 per hour parking. If Bethesda feels the need to build new parking, there’s no rationale for charging any less. If a developer wants to build a private garage under a new building, fine. But we shouldn’t be encouraging more driving (as opposed to transit riding) to Bethesda by further adding subsidized parking.

Yet that’s just what the Montgomery County Executive wants to do. The County plans to develop the big parking lot at the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont (right across from the Barnes and Noble). That makes sense—there’s a big empty plot of land right at one of Bethesda’s main intersections. But the County Executive wants to spend $88,819,000 to replace the 278 existing spaces and add 800 new spaces, at a cost of about $75,000 per space.

The Transportation & Environment committee asks some good questions:

  • What are the public benefits to be derived, given the large public cost?
  • Given its location within a block of a new Metro entrance and the Purple Line terminus, is more parking being provided than is necessary or desirable?
  • Given that no added road capacity is being provided, how will the local streets operate with the traffic generated by the additional development?

Good questions, and based on this line of questioning there’s hope that the County Council will cut the parking subsidy for this project. More cheap parking costs the public money while increasing traffic and pollution. Bethesda is on the Metro and the planned Purple Line. The County’s public policy should focus on enhancing non-driving options of getting to Bethesda. If they charge market rates for parking and avoid building too much, that revenue can do just that, instead of wasting $88 million.

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David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.