Photo by Melork on Flickr.

The District of Columbia is taking its rightful place as a leader in progressive parking policy. The Zoning Commission last night approved

agreed with most of the Office of Planning’s recommendations to reduce minimum off-street parking requirements, implement targeted maximums, provide car-sharing spaces in large garages, and require bicycle parking and shower facilities.

Last night’s meeting was the follow-up to the July 31st hearing where GGW readers and allies outnumbered anti-change opponents by a four to one margin. After digesting the voluminous public comment, four of the five commissioners—DC representatives Chairman Anthony Hood and Curtis Jeffries, Peter May of the National Park Service, and Michael Turnbull of the Architect of the Capitol—sat down to give the Office of Planning their feedback, which OP will turn into revised and more detailed draft zoning regulations. Clarification: This wasn’t an official binding vote, but rather their general guidance, which will shape OP’s direction as they take the next step to turn recommendations into specific zoning language.

Some observers familiar with the Commission had predicted Jeffries and May would favor reform, while Hood (who lives in a low-density area) and Turnbull (whose office designs the Capitol’s acres of surface parking) might be skeptical. Jeffries did vote for concur with OP’s positions and Hood took a more conservative stance on minimums, but the federal appointees switched: Turnbull generally concurred with Jeffries, while May represented the main voice of caution, supporting most of the recommendations but holding back on a few.

The most debated topic, as at the hearing, was parking minimums. Commissioners agreed with reducing or removing most minimums, but wanted to address “spillover”. May worried that higher density buildings near low-density housing would impact street parking availability. Travis Parker of the Office of Planning pointed out that even with minimum parking today, spillover still happens: residents in buildings that offer parking for sale will often choose to save their money and park on the street when that option is available. The only solution (other than building so much parking that our city looks like Rockville Pike) is better on-street management; Chris Ziemann of DDOT briefed the Commission on DDOT’s ongoing pilot programs in this area.

Ultimately, the Commission decided to ask OP to develop a modified alternative that includes some parking requirements for high-density buildings in low-density zones. At a later meeting, they will then decide between the original OP plan and this new alternative.

The Commission voted spoke unanimously for the creation of maximums in theory; the OP draft didn’t specify what the maximums will be or where they will apply, which will be the subject of a future fight.

May also held back support for OP’s recommendation that maximums minimums be automatically waived when a building can’t access its parking from an alley and DDOT doesn’t allow a curb cut (as they plan). Instead, the Commission agreed to make parking relief, from this and other requirements, easier, by changing it to a “special exception” rather than a “variance.” A special exception is quicker to get and poses less of a burden on the developer. Since many developers simply build more parking than they think their building needs, rather than spend the time and money to get a variance, a special exception should allow more projects to get relief when appropriate.

Commissioners approved supported the recommendation that garages over 50 spaces provide car sharing space, available for free to a car sharing service that wants to take advantage. They also approved concurred with the shared parking proposal, which would allow two uses (like an office that works during the day and a restaurant open only evenings, or a school open weekdays and a church open Sundays) to share their required parking subject to an agreement and a parking study.

Finally, the Commission unanimously supported raised no objections to OP’s recommendations to require Class A (indoor) and Class B (outdoor) bike parking in new buildings, and for commercial buildings above a certain size to provide shower facilities for employees to change clothes and freshen up after biking to work. May wondered if LEED would already push buildings to do this; Parker said many would, but not all. I’d add that recent experience in New York City and elsewhere shows that many buildings absolutely wouldn’t provide bike parking or shower facilities voluntarily, and it’s great that DC will start requiring it for newly constructed buildings.

While the Commission didn’t approve agree with everything OP suggested, this is a big win for parking reform. I always expected the Commission to split the difference somewhat with opponents’ concerns, whether warranted or not; they nibbled around the edges, but agreed with the fundamental goals of the recommendations.

This fight isn’t over. OP has to design an alternative that addresses spillover, and we need to ensure it doesn’t overcompensate and simply require parking everywhere, as the 400-foot buffer rule did. There will be more public comment and more hearings on the specific recommendations, where opponents will try to further limit the scope of this reform; we need to turn out equally robust numbers to those future hearings. But everyone from GGW and elsewhere who testified or sent written testimony: congratulations, you persuaded the Zoning Commission and won one for a more walkable city.

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.