This is a pretty great place for some housing and retail, but it's going to be a parking garage instead. Image by Jonathan Neeley used with permission.

Plans to build a four-story parking garage next to the Brookland Metro station are moving forward. While many neighbors oppose the project because they say it will make traffic congestion worse, it’s not exactly the kind of thing urbanists would support either— they’d likely say that housing and retail would be a far better use of the land. 

The garage, located at 818 Michigan Avenue NE, is set to be four stories tall with 1,441 parking spaces. The Children’s National Medical Center will lease most of the spots for its workers, who will then take shuttle buses back and forth from the hospital. DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) issued Douglas Development a permit to start construction in August.

Children’s National is one of the largest employers in the region and perhaps the largest destination in DC not served by a Metro station; the closest one is Brookland. While the hospital runs shuttle bus service from the Brookland station to the campus, the shuttles only run on weekdays from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.

The lot will primarily serve Children’s National visitors and employees driving into the city for work, not residents or visitors to the neighborhood. The new garage will allow Children’s National to consolidate five out of six of its current off-site parking locations, which are currently connected to the hospital by free shuttles. The hospital has off-site lots in Columbia Heights and Brookland, near Union Station, at 17th Street and Florida Avenue NW, on South Dakota, and in Hyattsville near the University Town Center.

The traffic study that Gorove/Slade Associates compiled for the project explains that there are no plans for after-hours parking for the public or non-CMNC users, though businesses may be able to use the garage on weekends for limited valet parking.

A rendering of the proposed garage. Image by Douglas Development. used with permission.

Neighbors aren’t thrilled about the lot

Nearby residents have protested the development because they are worried it will mean more traffic and more congestion in the area. In 2015, ANC 5B, which includes the lot, issued a resolution in opposition to the development.

“ANC 5B is seriously concerned that Douglas Development’s 818 Michigan Avenue Parking Garage project is not in the best interest of the public,” it reads, urging DCRA to deny building permits. The resolution goes on to say that traffic in the area has increased steadily over the last five years, that the trend will continue, and that the garage will only make matters worse.

All of this is happening in an area that features an eight-way thoroughfare, presenting a particular challenge. At this intersection, Michigan Avenue NE, Charles Drew Bridge, Bunker Hill Road NE, and 10th Street NE converge to create what the resolution describes as “significant traffic at both morning and evening rush hours, with traffic at a stand still during morning and evening commutes.”

The intersection of Michigan Avenue NE, Bunker Hill Road NE, and 10th Street NE. The garage will be straight ahead and to the right.  Image by Google Maps

Based on these conditions, the residents conclude that Douglas Development’s 1,400+ space parking garage “is not in the best interest of the public” and urge DC government to deny building permits.

Building a parking garage on this site feels like a missed opportunity

Resident opposition to development projects based on fears of increased traffic is nothing new. What's interesting here is that many who follow smart growth principles also oppose this development, just not for the same reasons.

From a smart growth perspective, traffic congestion isn't the problem. The problem is misusing valuable space in a neighborhood that could benefit from more housing or retail.

DC’s Small Area Plan for the neighborhood recommends future development focus on creating a “new mixed-use transit-oriented civic core for Brookland.” The District Department of Transportation has also emphasized the need for infrastructure making it possible for people to bike, walk, and use public transit to get between Brookland and other parts of the city.

Investing in infrastructure that better connects Children’s National and the surrounding Brookland area to the rest of the city would also give hospital visitors and employees better options for getting to the campus.

Even the 5B neighbors are pointing out the disconnect between the Douglas parking garage and recommendations for the future of Brookland.

“A 1,492 space car garage is out of character with the recommendations made for the site in the District of Columbia Office of Planning Brookland/CUA Metro Station Small Area Plan,” the resolution reads.

This doesn’t necessarily mean neighbors would be thrilled to see a mixed-use apartment building go up on the site. The fact that this lot is right around two blocks away from 901 Monroe Street NE, where resident opposition recently prevented a mixed-use development like the one recommended by the Small Area Plan.

Just across the Metro bus bay from the proposed parking garage, neighbors have fought to keep this empty lot... empty. Image by Google Maps.

But their opposition to the proposed parking garage does show us there are at least a few things we can agree on: We need development that builds and serves communities, and development that encourages walking, biking, and public transit use—not development that serves only to shuttle people in and out of the District.