Image by Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons.

On Tuesday, the DC Council voted to approve a large public funding package for Union Market, $36 million of which will fund 600 additional parking spaces.

The council turned down a proposed amendment from Elissa Silverman and David Grosso which would have diverted that money to a better Metro station and affordable housing instead.

Union Market is adding lots of retail and homes, so some pushed for more parking

Union Market is already a major destination in the city and a ten-minute walk from the NoMa Metro station. Redevelopment plans are underway to bring even more retail and restaurants to the space, as well as thousands of new homes (though many of those are currently held up in court).

The current plans for the site already include over 1,000 parking spaces, paid for currently by the private developers who are redeveloping the area. The DC Council approved a deal, negotiated by city economic development officials, to dedicate future tax revenue from Union Market for infrastructure upgrades, including 600 more parking spaces at a cost of $36 million (much of the parking will need to be underground or in parking structures).

Two at-large councilmembers, David Grosso and Elissa Silverman, proposed an amendment: use that $36 million to fund a new entrance to the NoMa Metro station (nearly halving the walking distance to Union Market) and to support additional affordable housing in the area.

Councilmembers closest to Union Market vote for more parking

Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5, which includes Union Market) and Charles Allen (Ward 6, which includes NoMa Metro), did not support the amendment, and instead supported paying for the increased parking.

After some debate, the amendment failed and the bill as proposed was approved. It will need to pass a second vote in a few months.

If you build more parking, more cars will come

Union Market should have some parking, but the question is how much and who should pay for it. These kinds of votes show that some councilmembers really don’t understand what it takes to make a walkable place. As a famous quote (among planners, anyway) from Project for Public Spaces' Fred Kent says, “If you design for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.”

All councilmembers, including Allen, McDuffie, and finance committee chairman Jack Evans, regularly say they appreciate the walkable urbanism of DC and their own wards, value transit, and want affordable housing. But this vote ignores the fact that these qualities don't exist in a vacuum; if public spending favors driving and shortchanges transit accessibility and affordable housing, the end result will match.

City agencies don't think more parking is needed

In 2015 reports evaluating the development proposals for Union Market, the District Department of Transportation, DC Office of Planning, and District Department of the Environment all suggest massive amounts of parking is neither necessary nor advisable. From the DDOT report:

DDOT has concerns with the overall high level of parking provision to be provided within the Market area. … Over 800 spaces in excess of the required number of parking spaces are proposed. … High levels of parking provision, however, serve to induce additional vehicle trips whereas constrained and properly managed parking can encourage a more balanced mix of travel options that include transit, walking, biking, and driving. Providing parking in excess is likely to result in high automobile mode splits for the Market, potentially leading to congestion within and adjacent to the Market. High vehicle volumes can detract from the vision for high transit, bike, and pedestrian activity as laid out in various District policies and documents.

The Office of Planning said in its report:

Given that the Market is conveniently located 1/3 of a mile from Metro, along several bus lines, and will be accessible via a new bike route, the focus should not be on providing additional parking, but on accommodating visitors by several modes of travel.

And the District Department of the Environment wrote, “DDOE recommends limiting parking provisions for the site and reinvesting this significant construction cost in energy efficiency and other sustainable building strategies.”

Image by Jaymantri licensed under Creative Commons.

GGWash contributors weighed in with their feelings about yesterday's vote.

Chad Hughes:

I hope Allen and others come to regret this vote. It's a $36 million subsidy for congestion and pollution. How do progressives defend that vote? There's already way too much car infrastructure in this area. It's honestly embarrassing that we can't get this right. All this talk about Vision Zero and Paris and we still subsidize parking near transit. Urban Progressives in 2017: Subsidize parking, not affordable housing and transit!

Gordon Chaffin:

Subsidy of parking, to the exclusion of other modes and design needs, reflects the assumption that people reach a destination with a car. When you assume and design for parking, you perpetuate the use of cars. Our automobile glut and road disease is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In sports terms, you pass to where the player will be, not where he's at right this second.

Canaan Merchant, referring to the publicly-funded, expensive, and still mostly empty DC USA garage in Columbia Heights:

We never learn.

Payton Chung:

Many developers and bankers are worried that the parking garages they're building today will be obsolete before the mortgages come due. Cynically, I can see how someone would want to offload that cost onto the municipality.