Montgomery County is planning to spend $88 million to quadruple the size of the downtown parking lot in Bethesda. Does Bethesda need so much parking? Turns out that there’s plenty of parking, even at peak times. Montgomery County’s analysis simply assumed that nobody would park a few blocks away, where there’s plenty of parking.

Instead, argues Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Bethesda could install electronic signs to direct drivers to one of the nearby lots that has room when the others are full. For $30,000 $80,000 per space, they could even pay for many other solutions. Is the other parking just a little far? How about a free shuttle? That’d be cheaper.

Bethesda should learn from Pasadena and Boulder, areas with similar walkable downtowns amid lower-density suburbs. In those towns, performance parking prices the more convenient spaces closer to the center at a slightly higher rate, enough to ensure they are 85% full but not too full; more distant lots with or without shuttles let people park cheaper if they value money over time.

Plus, the added revenue from no longer subsidizing parking could improve Bethesda. Fix up some blocks that need work. Or, better yet, fund more bus service, so instead of cutting Ride-On as Montgomery County is doing, they can expand options for people to get to shopping and jobs in Bethesda without driving.

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.