District of Columbia planning officials are considering a change to Washington's 1958 zoning code that may potentially squeeze the available supply of parking spaces in some neighborhoods. Residents and commuters will still be able to find a way around, according to a real estate expert.
Chris Leinberger, a George Washington University professor and advocate of new urbanism, says D.C. planners' proposal to eliminate mandatory parking space minimums at new development in transit-rich corridors or downtown D.C. is consistent with the district's goal of reducing car dependency.
"We don't want to be in a position where we are still making buggy whips when in fact the market has moved on," Leinberger says.
Transit still possible with parking pinch
Some motorists have expressed frustration with the possibility that it may be more difficult to park in certain neighborhoods. As new development — residential, retail, and office — attracts more residents, shoppers and workers, some motorists believe parking spaces may be tough to find if developers opt not to build underground garages beneath their buildings.
One reason by D.C. planners believe new parking structures will not be needed is the growth of car sharing services like Car2Go, which make car ownership unnecessary.
Car2Go, which charges users $.38 per minute, is marking its first anniversary in Washington this month. The company says it has 19,000 registered customers in Washington who have taken 350,000 collective trips in the past year.
Leinberger says car sharing services reflect D.C. transition to a walkable urban environment that provides options like bike sharing, too.
"If you were to say, certainly ten years ago, but even five years ago that we would have in this city and 50 percent of folks go to work without a car and that 40 percent of the households do not have a car, they would have had you committed," Leinberger says.
Motorists not paying their way
Less emphasis on parking spaces also makes fiscal sense, Leinberger says. What motorists pay to park, either on the street with a residential pass
or inside an underground garage, doesn't come close to the expense of
constructing and maintaining the parking spaces.
"We are massively subsidizing the car, massively," Leinberger says. "All these parking spaces... here in downtown D.C., every one of these parking spaces is worth between $50,000 and $70,000. And we are charging as if they're worth $10,000."
In his view, motorists will adjust to whatever zoning changes are approved, no matter how unreasonable they may now seem. Alternatives to driving and parking — Metro rail and bus, car sharing, bicycling — are gaining steam.
"If the car drivers are saying, give me everything that I want before you peel my fingers off of the steering wheel, you are not going to get it. You couldn't build the interstate highway system in a year. It's going to take time," Leinberger says.