From the Forum – Idea for Reducing Parking Congestion

Photo by PoPville flickr user JamesCalder

Idea for Reducing Parking Congestion:

“I’ve been living in DC for the past two years, but didn’t have a car until the past few weeks after my commute changed. (I’m currently in Columbia Heights.) I’m not familiar with what DOT has tried to reduce parking congestion (other than discouraging vehicle ownership), but I thought residential areas could benefit from this idea that I haven’t seen discussed here.

Most of the time, when I’m looking for a spot, I’ll notice that cars are poorly spaced. Often, enough so that one could fit 2-3 additional cars on a block if the cars were properly spaced.

I’d propose that DC paint lines or even short markers (~ft long) from the sidewalk out to mark parking spots sized appropriately for a normal length vehicle like this:


Most people will try to fit somewhat in the lines, which would help to reduce the likelihood that one or two poorly spaced cars eliminate spots.

Anyone have any thoughts or criticisms of the idea?”

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65 Comment

  • laduvet

    you also get the reverse – 2 jerks leaving you 2 inches in front and behind you – so you have no choice but to bump bumpers to escape.

  • This idea could potentially lead to even less parking capacity. You’d have to create spots that fit to the larger size vehicles or risk excluding them…like Navigators and Suburbans, etc. Meanwhile, you can 2 Mini Coopers, Smart Cars and other compacts in the same size space. But if one car per space is what is allowed, then you wind up with a lot of wasted capacity.

    • Yeah, that’s exactly why cities don’t do this.

      • Also, the “poorly spaced” parking is a result of cars of all different sizes coming and going during the day. If a Ford F-150 pulls out a spot and a Hyundai Accent pulls in, the difference in size means you’re going to have a lot of extra space leftover, but not enough to park another vehicle.

        • I used to live in Columbia Heights and that is an issue, but street cleaning also messes up parking capacity for a few days. After street cleaning is over people park all over the block, wherever is most convenient for them, and that doesn’t usually leave an even number of “spots” down the block. I used to watch the parking situation evolve from Tuesday through the end of the week and see the cars get closer to each other later in the week.

          • This could be easily (okay, not easily) solved by a public-service campaign to teach folks how to park most optimally. Okay, who am I kidding, that’d be a next-to-impossible task.

        • Yes! I hear people complain about spacing a lot, and there are plenty of people who don’t know how to leave an appropriate distance between cars, but the vast majority of this just occurs naturally as cars of various sizes come and go.

    • Exactly. In my neighborhood people already cozy up to other cars, even when parking in a big gap, and set line markings would lead to many fewer spaces.

    • With a little bit of math I would imagine it would be possible to calculate an optimum size for spaces so that you could fit n motorcycles and m smart cars into a space that would fit 1 large car.

    • You could mark off a spaces to fit two average size vehicles. This would get around most of the efficiency issues folks have brought up while still allowing oversized vehicles to park.

  • The challenge with that is the many different sizes of cars. I’ve seen three of those little smart cars fit in a space that a Ford Excursion just pulled out of. So which one do you paint the lines for? A smart car or a hulking SUV? Because either the SUV won’t fit or the smart car will be all alone in a space big enough for two of its friends!

  • Especially as the owner of a compact vehicle, I appreciate the unmarked status quo. While the gaps you describe can be frustrating, I tend to think “natural” parking is usually more efficient. If the owner of say, a Fiat or a Corolla (and a lot of residents drive smaller cars like this) are forced to park in a lined spot sized to fit a full-size SUV, several valuable feet of curb space go entirely to waste.

  • Given how many streets there are in D.C. where parking is allowed, my guess is that the costs of this policy would FAR outweigh the benefits. Like you, I don’t deal well with the frustrations of parking in the District. So I choose not to drive.

  • Obviously it is a bad idea to demarcate spaces of a “standard car length” for reasons described above: 200″ for a Sienna? or 180″ for a Corolla? Think carefully before you stripe a 200′ block segment!

    What about striping 1′ increments? So that a driver pulling up to a space knows exactly how long the space is, and whether it will fit or whether s/he needs to keep looking. That would be a lot of paint for not a lot of benefit.

  • They need to create more parking garages and drive through coffee shops… It creates a burden on neighborhoods when out of the area ppl park on residential streets just to get food or a cup of coffee, and all the buildings they’re creating without underground parking put stress on neighborhood street parking once those people get settled and decide to buy cars. A lot of people harp about saving the planet and how great their bicycle is until they start making the income to buy a car and when they have children, then they become “the burden” just like everyone else. The city has to be more practical about transportation and parking in this area or it will turn into double parking central here. They also need to better enforce double parking rules.

    Also, the Park Mobile app is a great mobile app that saves me from having to look for quarters or worry about broken meters. It’s one of the only good things DC has instituted parking-wise since meters were invented. I only wish it was everywhere in Maryland and VA too.

    • way to throw in a little jab at bikers.

    • DC has too much garage space, not too little. The garage at U and 14th, never fills up. The garage at DCUSA, never fills up. There’s no shortage of parking, there’s just people who are too lazy to walk or too cheap to pay a few bucks.

      • or don’t know about it.

      • Exactly. When people say there’s not enough parking, they mean there’s not enough FREE parking.

        • clevelanddave

          I don’t think free parking but reasonably priced parking. Right now meters are what about $2 for an hour? Most parking garages after the first 30 minutes are $10-20. That is not reasonably priced parking for lunch or a quick meeting or some shopping.

          • I preferred it when meter prices in D.C. were lower, but $2/hour is hardly outrageous. If you’re parking somewhere for lunch and you stay for an hour and a half, that’s $3.50 — not all that much in the general scheme of things.

          • Oops — that should be $3. Apparently I need caffeine.

      • “There is no shortage of parking”

        -The guy who doesn’t drive.


        • I can point to empty spots during peak periods as a sign there’s ample parking. What evidence do you have that there’s too little?

          • clevelanddave

            This is ridiculous- you must not own a car. There isn’t enough parking when most of the spaces are filled, which is much if not most of the time in and around the West End, Foggy Bottom, within four or five blocks of M St, on and near the Atlas District, during most evenings in Penn Quarter or the Atlas District… shall I go on?

      • It’s like George Costanza said: “Parking at a garage is like going to a prostitute. Why pay for it when you can apply yourself, and then may be you can get it for free.”

      • The problem with the DCUSA parking garage is

        1. Takes 10+ min. to get in or out because of poor traffic planning & constant congestion on Irving St. & Park Rd.
        2. No one knows where the entrances are because the only signs are the size of a Post-it note.

        Also, do they rent spaces monthly or weekly with 24 hr. access? I’ve never been able to find out.

        • They do rent monthly spaces, though I don’t know for sure if that includes 24/7 access (I -think- that it does).

      • When DCUSA was taken over by U Street Parking, they arbitrarily raised their monthly parking rates. I can do so many more fun things with $145/month than pay to leave my car, which I use 1-2 times/month. [And before you jump on me about getting rid of my car, I did a cost analysis of what renting a car would cost when I need to go out of town to see family (no public transportation options are available) and it came out to be far too expensive when I could just keep my beater car.] Personally, I live in one of the busiest parts of CoHi, and I’m rarely parked more than a block away from my place. I think that is a solid win.

  • Or maybe instead of charging $35/year for a zone RPP sticker and a guest pass the city could take advantage of this amazing concept known as supply and demand and instead charge market rates to park on public roadways? That way there won’t be way more demand than there is available supply and you won’t run into situations where you have to circle around for a spot? Crazy!

    There are a lot of people with garages or parking pads who instead use those spaces for personal storage for things other than their personal motor vehicles. My guess is because while a 10×10 storage locker will probably set you back a couple hundred bucks a month, the city only charges $35 per year to store your personal vehicle on the street. Also, there is a lot of unused capacity in personal vehicles sitting idle because the storage costs ($35/year) are negligible so people who rarely use their personal vehicles keep them parked on the public roadway.

    There are really much more efficient ways of dealing with this other than painting lines on the street.

    • “charge market rates to park on public roadways.”
      The single mother of three with a $13 an hour job and a car that she needs probably wouldn’t be able to afford this.

      • being poor is a sin.

      • The single mother of three making $13 an hour almost certainly isn’t living in a place with high demand for street parking.

        • Actually, from what I read on this website, I’d say she does and it’s called Columbia Heights.

          • If she lives in Columbia Heights, her transit commute to almost anywhere in the metro area is 45 minutes or less.

          • So? I was just pointing out that your previous statement was (probably) false. Whatever your argument is here, you need to tighten it up.

        • Right, because there are no rent controlled apartments in high density areas, and none of the new developments include a certain percentage of below market affordable units.

        • how are you so sure?

          • Because the fact that she needs a car to get to her job, tells us that she doesn’t live in a centrally-located, high demand area.

          • Yeah, it couldn’t be the reverse: she lives in a centrally-located high demand area but works in an area that is difficult to reach by public transit. Nope, not possible.

        • Actually there is still plenty of low-income people in the district: recipients of housing vouchers, homeowners, … Come out of that elitist bubble!

        • The basis for all your arguments on this thread are that you can commute to almost all employment in the metro area in 45 minutes is factually incorrect. There is a significant percentage of employment far, far from metro/bus routes, and much more that is technically near the bus if you’re OK with a 2+ hour commute of bus to metro to bus connection (mainly because there are virtually no east/west bus routes that don’t go through the middle of the city).

      • Maybe charge market rates, but give a subsidy/discount to those below a certain income level? (obviously, there are ways to abuse this).

      • So because your hypothetical single mother of 3 might not be able to afford paying market prices to park her privately owned vehicle on the public roadway that means EVERYONE should also pay next to nothing? You fail to point out that currently that poor mother of 3 likely can’t find a spot near where she lives so has to waste time and gas driving around looking for a spot. Or that in areas with high demand of parking her situation is likely highly unusual. yes, I’m sure there are working poor in DC who must own cars but I suspect they are the exception rather than the rule.

        • +1 “What about the poor single mother of 3” sounds a lot like camouflage for “I like my less than $3/month parking – don’t mess with it.”

    • clevelanddave

      This is also ridiculous in practice. Would you exclude poor people from owning a car? Besides, the city controls supply through its rules and where it allows people to park, as well as insane zoning exceptions that allow builders to build without parking. .

  • The solution is really simple, but unpopular:

    Charge more for parking passes.

    That’s all we need to do.

    • Charge more for parking passes and stop letting out of state tourists come and park on every street within a mile of the zoo for hours and hours on end on weekends, etc. How about instead of ticketing locals who are one foot too close to a fire hydrant, start ticketing tourists who violate the time limits on RPP streets, and the MD/VA crowd who likes to come in and see a movie, leisure shop, while parking in neighborhoods and abusing the stated time limits.

  • the only thing the city can really do to alleviate parking issues is encourage growth, infrastructure and business that make driving less needed.

    • Unfortunately we don’t have any control over VA and MD’s growth or their refusal to channel it in ways that make driving less needed. We can’t even charge a commuter tax.
      IMO D.C. should ensure that transit so plentiful, fast, and reliable in the District that D.C. residents will prefer it over driving in virtually all circumstances. Fast track streetcars and create as many dedicated lanes as practical for bikes, streetcars, and buses. Then there’s no need to accommodate suburban drivers or feel any guilt about raking in the speed camera revenue.

  • Not sure if this idea will work but it would be extremely easy to test it for a few weeks to see if it could increase average parking capacity.

  • Freakonomics did an interesting report on this –

    Generally speaking, I think you make parking more expensive and expand your transit options. You don’t put lines on the road – how effective are people at parallel parking BEFORE they have lines to fit into? Not very. People can barely follow lines in the first place.

  • Or do what many southern Europeans do – keep your car in neutral and use your bumper to “push” the other cars so all gaps are eliminated.

  • clevelanddave

    Better idea is angle parking where space allows. Another excellent idea, which is illustrated in the post (I think): have the city build some parking garages. Works wonders in places like Bethesda and Arlington. It would free up lots of street parking for residents, bring revenue into the city, and make it easier for out of towners to shop/dine/visit the city. Put in meters. The city would generate at current rates around 30-40 bucks per space per day in high demand areas ($2/hr x 16 hrs/day= 32 x 350= 11,200/yr per space). So lets say 10,000 a year per space x 250 spaces = $2.5 million a year.

    • angled parking is horrible for bikers.

    • I think your being a little generous on how much the city would actually earn. Most parking lots wouldn’t be full 16 hours a day. Downtown, most lots are only at capacity from 9-5, and I’m willing to bet that after that time you can assume capacity somewhere south of 30% on average. Using this assumption, your total revenue down below $2 million a year. Let’s also assume that your structure is above ground and building it costs $10,000,000. Assuming there are no operating costs, it will take more than 5 years see a return on your investment. Add in the operating costs (some around to maintain the building, power and any other utilities, and other repairs), and you are looking at a longer time period. This is all assuming that the city already owns the land, but if the city has to buy it, that could run into the tens of millions for a desirable area. If that is the case, the city would only break even half way through the structure’s 30-40 year life span at best.

      It would make much more economic sense for the city to sell the land (if it owns it) and allow a developer to build a lot that it could run (most likely more efficiently than the city), while collecting tax revenue on the land.

      Even better would be to build offices and housing with ground floor retail – that way you collect taxes from the property, individuals, and businesses.

    • Accountering

      Ooohh, awesome, you are putting some numbers behind it! Parking garages would have been built by private developers if the numbers made sense, but they aren’t, because they don’t.
      To build a parking garage of say 1,000 spaces, costs $50,000/spot for construction costs – so $50,000,000 in construction costs. To purchase this land is easily another 10,000,000, so a total cost of $60,000,000. At a pretty standard 6% cost of financing, you are looking at 3.6 million/year in interest costs alone. Further, you are looking at foregoing an incredible amount of revenue (a 120 unit condo building at the same site, where the developer built a small lot underground would conservatively throw off 1,200,000/year in property and income taxes from residents.) So this thing needs to cover 4.8 million in costs just to not lose money over the alternative (120 unit condo building)
      You want this built in Adams Morgan, which means best case you are looking at monthly parkers, with revenue of ~$200/months/spot. Even if you can lease all 1,000 spots, you generate $2,400,000 in yearly revenue. That means this thing loses 2,400,000/year over the better alternative. Thanks… but no thanks.

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