Testimony Regarding Residential On-Street Parking Management Issues Before the Committee on the Environment, Public Works, and Transportation

Before the Committee on the Environment, Public Works, and Transportation,
Councilmember Mary M. Cheh, Chairperson

by Cheryl Cort, Policy Director
June 27, 2012

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. My organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington, D.C., region accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.

With more effective management of the District’s on-street vehicle parking space we can foster quality neighborhoods, reduce congestion and air pollution, and enhance housing affordability. As a participant in the 2003 Mayor Williams’ Parking Task Force, I continue to support many of the reforms that were proposed in Task Force Report, including the recommendation “that parking is market priced for all users.” We still need to move forward in this direction – price parking so that supply equals demand. Where supply is ample, prices will be low. Where demand is high, price should reflect that scarcity.

Recently, there’s been a plethora of bills tweaking some aspect of the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) program. Rather than create a patchwork of rules and exceptions, we should create as simple a system as we can to address as many needs as we can. We have come to expect RPP to do many things it was not designed to do, so it is a good time to revise it. We need to this in a way that supports broader goals for our neighborhoods of reducing traffic and air pollution caused by drivers hunting for cheap parking spaces. RRP policy should also reinforce the city’s competitive advantage of affordable transportation choices – transit, walking, bicycling, carsharing, and taxi cabs. Street parking management is also important because it affects housing affordability through misguided policies and pressure to build more costly off-parking than needed.

While parking is often perceived as something that is free, any developer will tell you that building a parking space has a very real cost – anywhere for $20,000 to $50,000 for a parking space in an underground garage. Thus in neighborhoods with high demand, street parking should be managed to prioritize users, use market pricing to give consumers information about the trade off of paying for off-street parking, searching for on-street parking, or arriving by another mode.

Visitor Passes

RPP’s main intent is to reserve street parking for residents near transit-served areas at a nominal fee. The visitor pass policy is awkward, with residents going to the police station to get 2 week passes. DDOT has experimented with some other approaches to visitor passes, and also with on-street management that reserves one side of the street for RPP holders only, with no 2 hour free time. Both these approaches fail to recognize that not valuing parking through pricing will perpetuate perceptions that for some people parking should be free, even in high demand areas. Furthermore, residents complain that they’d like more flexibility for visitor parking by obtaining several visitor passes for a gathering of a number of people. A simple visitor passbook or passes printed from a website can address all these needs – provide residents with access to multiple visitor passes for a modest daily rate, perhaps $5 a day, or the cost of a typical round trip on transit. Arlington does something along these lines: http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/EnvironmentalServices/dot/traffic/parking/EnvironmentalServicesZone.aspx.

Visitor passes can be used by residents for anything – contractors, plumbers, babysitter, house cleaners, mothers-in-law. This approach eliminates the need to give special passes to contractors as proposed in Bill 19-607.

Visitor passes for public workers in residential neighborhoods

In the case of public service employees who work in our neighborhoods, such as firefighters, police officers and school teachers, we suggest that they be given access to daily or monthly visitor passes for the same rate — $5 a day or the cost of a round trip on transit. Revenues from this program could be used to discount transit passes for other public workers who opt to take transit to work. What’s important is to not give parking for free. If we do, we strongly discourage commuters from considering transit. Giving parking privileges for free is also unfair to the worker who does not have car to drive and must arrive by transit – paying the fare both ways. Since a transit rider pays every time he or she rides, we think a similar approach should be used for parking with daily passes. That way a worker may drive one day and ride transit the next, saving money.

Daytime vs. evening competition for on-street parking

In most cases, daytime parking demand is lower than evening parking demand in residential neighborhoods. Thus providing a more flexible approach to non-resident users is appropriate, and in most cases will not impinge on the availability of street parking for residents. Thus allowing city workers to buy passes is sensible. Shrinking RPP zones or creating true transit zones to disallow intra-ward commuting to Metro stations would be one reform that will relieve parking demand during the day in neighborhoods close to Metro stations.

Evening demand for street parking is primarily caused by visitors who are parking in neighborhoods to visit restaurants or entertainment. Managing evening parking demand can be done by pricing all the curbspace for non-residents using multi-space meters or pay by phone. It’s not enough to extend RPP hours, it’s better to use pricing to manage turnover and shift the incentive to paying for off-street parking, arrival by transit or taxi rather than hunting for a free on-street space. This approach – that all visitors pay — should simplify enforcement.

Eliminating parking requirements in transit zones

One of the most important revisions to our city’s 1958 zoning code that we hope to adopt in the next six months is eliminating parking requirements in transit zones. We’ve already had numerous workgroup meetings and two rounds of hearings on the policy issues over the last four years. We know that building too much parking is a common occurrence, either due to the zoning code, or due to negotiations with neighbors who want to reduce competition for their virtually free parking on-street, and force new residents, who could be low income, to pay for costly-off street parking – whether or not the new resident wants to have a parking space. Forcing in too much parking not only makes housing more expensive, it also encourages car ownership, and with it more traffic, and less reliance on transit.

In the future, RPP needs to move to a more demand-based approach using pricing. In high demand neighborhoods, RPP privileges should cost more – enough to match demand with supply. A great way to use additional revenue can be to provide transit discounts to low income residents or school children in the neighborhood.

Thank you for your consideration.