Photo by jgrimm on Flickr.

Surface parking lots are the scourge of urbanism. They take up valuable land that could be used for activity-generating buildings, and they spread development out so that walking and transit use are more difficult.

They’re more harmful to cities than empty lots, because they encourage more driving, which in turn encourages more parking lots. Washington, DC is lucky not to have very many of them.

We do have some, however, and their locations can tell us something about our city.

Where are DC’s surface parking lots? Where is there a lot of underused land? What property owners are doing harm to the city? Where can future development be most easily accommodated? With these questions in mind, I mapped the surface parking lots of downtown Washington:

Click to enlarge.

Red indicates typical parking lots that could presumably be used for other purposes, purple indicates parking lots that appear to be owned by the government or other institutions and are unlikely to be developed, and orange

indicates the locations for CityCenter DC and the future downtown Walmart.

A few points jump out.

  1. Downtown is almost completely devoid of surface parking lots, an accolade that very few other American cities claim.
  2. Government and institutional uses are major offenders.
  3. NoMA and the Mount Vernon Triangle (outlined in yellow on the map) still have a lot of development potential left.
  4. 7th Street near the new convention center is begging for attention.

All I did to create this map was to simply color on top of aerial imagery, so it’s possible some of the details are wrong, or that I missed a few lots. If you see something that should be corrected, let me know in the comments. Regardless, it’s an interesting study.

Does anything else jump out to you?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Brian McEntee is this month’s sponsor for posts about Parking. Learn more »

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado and lives in Trinidad, DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post. Dan blogs to express personal views, and does not take part in GGWash's political endorsement decisions.