Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

No spaces! The parking agony of downtown Washington D.C.

May 7, 2012 - 09:29 AM
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(Photo: flickr/pasa47)

Downtown D.C. has a parking problem — there's never any available spaces.

Last week the D.C. Council pushed forward plans to add performance parking to parts of the city beyond the pilot zones of Columbia Heights, the Ball Park, and H Street NE and emphasized downtown D.C.'s need for better parking management. Performance parking charges drivers based on the parking demand and time of day and is reputed to free up many spaces throughout the day (because who wants to pay even higher prices for parking, right?). When the District Department of Transportation considered how performance parking worked in Columbia Heights after two years, the city noted that only a little less than half the pilot blocks were 85% full or more, meaning there was typically still some available parking. The average rate, according to DDOT, fell below 85%. Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, says that performance parking prices should aim to create a space occupancy rate of about 85%.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: Downtown BID)

So now D.C. is saying that downtown needs this pricier, demand-based performance parking, too. Let's examine why these central District blocks might benefit by turning to a study the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District conducted in partnership with the Golden Triangle BID in 2011. Above are the Downtown D.C. BID's results, which in two sample areas of about 3,300 parking spaces total show parking space occupancy rates at all over 91% for all spaces whether they're equipped with standard meters, multi-space meters, IPS meters, or happen to be unmetered. Over 91% ... how's that sound, motorists?

And to compare, take a look at a 2008-2009 pilot parking program conducted in New York City's Greenwich Village, in which parking occupancy rates changed from 77% to 71% on a weekday and from 75% to 69% on Friday afternoon thanks to a tweak in parking meter rates. But forget the method and just realize that initial Greenwich Village occupancy rates, before the program, were still below 80%. Then take another look at our downtown sample above.

"Congestion is an ongoing challenge to Downtown’s economic and environmental sustainability, and on-street parking is one of its underpinnings," the Downtown BID wrote in its recent report on 2011.

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