Parking Spaces: The Ungreen

Catching up on my local development news blog, I read that they’re going to replace the terrible strip mall around H and 8th Northeast with approximately 400 rental apartments over retail with a facade that will fit the surrounding area:

Below-grade parking will add 340 residential spaces and 65 retail spaces, with garage entrances off 8th and 10th Streets. According to ANC 6A Commissioner, Dr. Drew Ronneberg, “the city has a strong interest in having the site host 100 additional city-owned parking spaces that would serve retail establishments outside the building.”Among other concessions, the developers agreed to a laundry list of community benefits to mitigate traffic congestion and encourage “green” living. The project will have to meet LEED silver requirements, though does not have to seek actual certification. There will be bicycle spaces aplenty in the parking garage, and lockers and showers for retail employees who bike to work. The developers agreed to provide one $20 SmartTrip Card to all initial and future residents up to $15,000, to fund up to $45,000 for a bike share station on undefined public property (quite a bit less than the Union Station bike hub cost), provide car sharing spaces, and pay for a one-time, one-year car sharing membership for initial occupants to max out at $19,000. We can see the marketing materials already.

Those concessions to mitigate traffic and encourage green living sound nice, but if Dr Ronneberg is serious about achieving those goals he should rethink his desire to further increase the quantity of parking spaces in the area. After all, the whole point of building parking spaces would be to encourage more people to drive to H Street. Indeed, the best traffic-mitigation strategy the community could possibly pursue would be to get the developer to reduce the number of residential parking spaces associated with the new building. To a small extent that would push new residents into competition with existing users of the area’s on-street parking, but to a much larger extent it would simply discourage people who are committed to car ownership from moving into the building.

Many DC households do not own cars, and if you build an apartment building with many fewer parking spaces than units, you’ll attract those households and similar ones. That will not only minimize the extra traffic burden in the area, but it will create additional customers for businesses that are close enough to access on foot. That, in turn, will spur the creation of neighborhood retail establishments and decrease the amount of time that even car-owning households in the area spend driving from place to place, further reducing traffic.


Now, living with a car in a dense urban area is still considerably greener than living with a car in a far-flung exurb (at a minimum, you’re driving to closer destinations) so I have no problem with developers building below-grade garages beneath new apartment buildings if that’s what they want. But insofar as community activists want to push things in a greener direction, they certainly shouldn’t be encouraging additional parking.