October 08, 2009

Can There Be Too Much Parking?


There’s an article in the Post about the DC USA parking garage in Columbia Heights. DC USA, as you probably know, is the urban mall at 14th and Irving Streets NW and contains Best Buy; Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Staples; and Radio Shack among other stores. The city helped bring the project to fruition by shelling out $40 million for a 1,000-space garage beneath the building.  Underground parking is much more expensive to build than parking lots due to the excavation and increased construction costs.

Despite the fact that the mall is located at a metro station and is within walking distance of some of densest neighborhoods in the region, traffic studies at the planning stage predicted much more car traffic than has actually materialized.

We have read elsewhere that those predictions further cemented support for the garage from neighbors who feared that customers would clog Columbia Heights in search of scarce parking.  Furthermore, as the article implies (but doesn’t state directly), part of the city’s motivation to finance the garage was due to Target’s fear that customers will not shop at a store with few parking spaces.  While this fear is certainly justified in, say, Rockville, it is ill-suited to a dense neighborhood like Columbia Heights, which is well-served by numerous bus and metro lines.

Despite the fact that parking in the garage is a bargain ($1/hour), few customers find it necessary to drive to DC USA, let alone park there.  In fact the garage has never exceeded 47% capacity, causing the District to lose $100,000 a month for parking spaces that should never have been built.

Similarly, we have learned before in private discussions with apartment developers in College Park that developers have had to go to considerable expense to build parking garages and lots for student housing adjacent the University of Maryland campus simply because the P.G. County planning department couldn’t conceive that anybody would walk anywhere from an apartment building.  At a cost of $22,000 – $50,000 per space for structured parking, the costs are passed onto renters whether they needed the parking or not.

When new developments are proposed, especially near the Shaw Metro station, the city and residents should be careful not to demand too much underground parking as this may deter development and needlessly raise costs that are eventually passed onto shoppers and tenants.

Categories: Development Projects, Transportation
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