The Georgetown Post Office and Performance Parking

Photo by Wayan Vota.

Last week, GM briefly mentioned that he thought the ideal solution for the Georgetown Post Office garage situation would incorporate performance parking. GM thinks that deserves a bit more explanation. That’s because the Georgetown Post Office is a perfect example for why we need to bring performance parking to Georgetown.

The Dominant Parking Theory

The theory that dominates most parking planning is the same one that came about in the mid-twentieth century. It calls for all new developments to provide at least a certain amount of off-street parking spaces. More often than not, these spaces are offered for free.

It’s not hard to understand the thinking behind this theory. If a building is plopped down in the middle of a neighborhood, without enough off-street parking, the users of this new building will quickly use up all the street parking, thus hurting all the users of the existing buildings.

How That Theory Is Playing Out in Georgetown

As described last week, Eastbanc is proposing to build a new office building behind the historic Georgetown Post Office on 31st St. Eastbanc proposes to build 18 underground parking spaces. This parking would be accessed from the existing south driveway of the Post Office.

The urge to insist on more parking, as some Commissioners expressed, is consistent with the dominant parking theory. Commissioner Skelsey stated “this is an office building. There’s no Metro, people are going to drive.” Eastbanc defended the amount of spaces, estimating that there would be a space for every 750 or so square feet of office space (downtown buildings have a typical ratio of more than a thousand square feet for every parking spot). Thus, Eastbanc was assuring the neighborhood that the old users would be protected from the new users.

If the conversation went on even longer, the question of whether to charge the employees to use the parking may have come up. The natural response based upon the dominant theory would be of course not to charge the employees. If you charge them then they may simply park in the neighborhood.

Given the fact that so much (essentially) free parking is so close to the Post Office–they only need to move their cars every two hours, annoying but not unheard of–pursuing the current strategy simply makes sense.

Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

Performance parking (championed by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup) stems from the simple observation that street parking is too cheap. Garages in Georgetown charge anywhere between $4.00 to $12.00 an hour. Street parking is either free (in the two hour zones) or $2.00/hr at meter spaces. Since street parking is so cheap compared to what the market rate is for commercial parking, it is quickly used up. Performance parking merely suggests raising the cost of street parking just to the point that some spaces are always available.

GM has laid out his plan for performance parking for Georgetown. It would call for most streets near Wisconsin Ave. and M St. to become metered. Residents would be exempt from the meters (there are a host of reasons why that is the right choice but the main two are that the neighborhood wouldn’t accept the opposite and if residents aren’t exempt it would create an additional incentive to drive to work, which isn’t a worthy goal). All non-residents would be required to pay to park on the side streets just like on the main streets. The rate would ideally be set at whatever rate it took to discourage enough drivers from parking on the street such that at least 10 to 15 % of street parking spots are open at any given time.

How It Would Affect The Georgetown Post Office Project

Around the Post Office there is a mixture of metered spaces and two-hour zoned spaces. If the new building were built with zero parking, it is likely that some portion of the employees of the new building would in fact park on the street. They would have to move their cars every two hours. But it’s not that easy to enforce two hour zones and at least some workers would figure that they can be less diligent and simply pay the occasional $50 parking ticket. That’s acceptable compared with the monthly parking rates in Georgetown, which vary from $210 to $300 per month.

Those with Zone Two stickers can simply leave their cars parked all day.

With performance parking, those options would be gone. Metered parking would cost more per day than simply getting a monthly garage space. And meters are a lot easier to enforce than 2 hour zones; it doesn’t take multiple observations by a meter maid. Also, those with Zone Two stickers would not qualify as residents (unless, of course, they are Georgetown residents).

There are seven garages or parking lots within two blocks of the Georgetown Post Office. There is no need to create a new one. Particularly since the driveway can only accommodate one lane. That block of 31st St. is already frequently backed up. There is simply not enough room for cars to maneuver around each other, as would be necessary with the current plans.

Eastbanc has been quick to say they’ll be happy to build whatever parking the neighborhood demands. It’s a shame and it’s not in line with Anthony Lanier’s views on pedestrianism and city planning. While some are working behind the scenes to bring performance parking to Georgetown, it probably won’t be here until it’s too late for this project.

As a result, we’ll end up encouraging more driving and creating more congestion all because we’re stuck in an outdated theory.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “The Georgetown Post Office and Performance Parking

  1. Richard

    Part of the argument is based on flawed information. Street parking is not free so long as you move your car every two hours. Zone time restrictions are for the entire zone, not the individual spot. So, in essence parking for two hours then moving your car a block and parking again is just a continuation of your time in the zone, so you are eligible for ticketing. Some parking enforcement folks are better at doing this than others…since they all use hand held computerized devices, it is easy to keep track of individual vehicles constantly moving in a small area of the zone.

    My partner used to work at a business located off Dumbarton St. in Georgetown, where we live, and her co-workers used to get tickets for zone violations even though they would move their vehicles. The issue is enforcement, which can be spotty at times and draconian at others.

    While we are talking parking, I find it very frustrating that as a 20 year resident, I can no longer invite people to my home on a Saturday afternoon for a dinner in my home without them risking getting a ticket. I would like to see the zone restrictions returned to M-F only. If the idea is to keep businesses from taking up spots, that should take care of it. The current restrictions only serve to punish people for living here and deter consumers from visiting out shopping and dinning options on weekends.

    RNM

  2. Gerard

    Thanks, GM, for putting the work into sorting out innovative ideas for parking. I’m in favor of schemes that use pricing to incentivize the outcomes we all want (including the ability to find the occasional available space when arriving in the neighborhood!). But surely Eastbanc and others creating some additional off-street spaces can only help, as part of the overall mix?

  3. GM

    Thanks for the correction Richard. I doubt many people realize this, and as you said, it still depends on diligent enforcement and repeated observation. Dupont and Logan residents are still exempt all day, though.

    Also, I believe that without the zone restrictions on Saturday, your guests would have more difficulty finding a spot in the first place. That said, with effective performance parking regulations, your guests could stay longer, it just would cost $10 or so (also, the city would probably institute an expanded guest parking pass system, which would help you in that situation).

    I don’t think the restrictions frustrate people. It’s the difficulty in finding parking that does. Performance parking means easier parking. It accomplishes this by encouraging more turnover and pushing more cars into the garages.

    Gerard:
    I don’t think a new lot would help. For one, it would not likely be public. It would be restricted to the tenants and their employees. Second, I have been informed that there is plenty of parking capacity in the commercial lots. We don’t need any more, particularly when it comes at the expense of increased congestion on 31st St.

  4. RobRob

    Interesting also that the concerns of the Commissioners are rooted in the assumption that employees will drive to this office (at rates higher than typical downtown office buildings), as if there is no viable alternative.

  5. Ben

    Very good post. Of course, performance parking works best when people have alternatives to driving , including better bus service, bikeshare, and (hopefully) a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar. As you note, there is plenty of parking already available. The challenge is managing the existing supply of parking , through pricing and providing alternatives to driving.

    Here are two articles by Donald Shoup that more fully explain performance parking and the problems with underpriced curbside parking.

    “People, Parking, and Cities”
    http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/People,Parking,Cities.pdf

    “Cruising for Parking”
    http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/People,Parking,Cities.pdf

  6. Ben

    Here’s the second link, for the “Cruising for Parking” article.

    http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/Cruising.pdf

  7. Carol Joynt

    GM, I adore you, but the idea of an employee leaving his/her desk every two hours to feed the meter is unrealistic. Besides, I believe DC parking enforcement technically forbids using a space for more than two hours. It may have changed, but not so long ago a Meter Manic told me that was the rule.

  8. GM

    Carol, things have changed. With performance parking, you wouldn’t have to feed the meter. You’d pay for whatever time you wanted at the beginning (using a credit card meter, which are popping up around town).

    But the idea is to make paying for 8 hours so expensive that few would actually do so. They would simply use a garage. People don’t use garages right now because we give them such cheap on street parking. Change that and you change their decisions. But yes, if someone really wanted to park on the street all day, they could simply swipe their card and forget about it.

  9. Richard

    GM,

    I lived here for many years when there were no restrictions on Saturday parking…and it worked just fine. What we have now, has effectively made Georgetown a less desirable place to live. What is the joy of living here if you can’t effectively entertain except in specific hours. With the extension of enforcement until 10pm, I can’t safely ask a guest to come to my home before 8pm on a Friday or Saturday night…speaking of a time it is harder to find parking. That seems to be a direct punishment to those of us who live here. Not to mention the underlying negative impact on the businesses that exist in Georgetown. Frankly, we all knew we were moving into the city. We all knew we were living in a great destination for dinning and shopping. We knew the limitations on parking…to try and craft even more draconian and confusing rules to punitively punish both the residents and visitors makes me think that people want to live in quiet suburbs.

    This is not to say that there have not been some great improvements on parking in Georgetown over the years…finding a place now is ridiculously easy compared to 15-20 years ago. I typically parked 3-4 blocks from my home in those days, now it is rare I am more than a block away. The two most successful moves were the creation of hundreds of new spots in the Georgetown area by better marking and use of the streets. For example making the 3300 block of N Street dual side of street parking, though it does create a tight fit for cars and trucks. Additionally, the removal of the RPP extended to students (in full disclosure I benefited from as an undergrad many years ago) also limited the number of out of state vehicles parked on the streets. Frankly, if you are a resident of DC, then you pay your taxes and you deserve to be able to park on the streets.

    Ultimately, my main issue is related but disconnected from yours, as yours seems far more targeted at worker parking…just not as much of an issue on weekends. And if it is such an issue, why exempt Sunday? The inconsistency of the policy points at the ludicrous nature of it. The argument that “street parking is too cheap” is also of questionable nature. Isn’t DC known far and wide for its harsh parking enforcement…that ticket isn’t cheap. Beyond that, last I checked my taxes (both to DC and Federal) were used to pay for those streets, so in essence I am paying every year for countless spaces I never use. I already know plenty of people who will not come into the city…because of the policies…I don’t see how making Georgetown a less enjoyable destination would benefit the area.

    Georgetown will always be limited by it density and design, but that does not mean one has to resort to systems that basically create more of a barrier to access of this area. Why not just put up a guard shack and wall to keep the people out? The current system is already too punitive and disruptive…I can’t see making it worse. We live in a city…parking is going to be rough…get used to it. Next people are going to try and get rid of rats…oh, that is right they are doing that too…trying to eradicate a problem that is as old as humankind by littering the streets with city trash cans that never get taken in…but that is another story.

    RNM

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