Housing Complex

How Much Parking Is There at the Capitol?

That's a lot of concrete. (Lydia DePillis)

The public isn't allowed to know.

Seriously: After taking note of the many expanses of concrete available for Hill staffers across the Capitol complex, I asked the Committee on House Administration how many parking spaces it oversees, and how many permits it hands out (each office gets a certain number to divvy up). Apparently, that information would imperil the security of...I'm not sure what exactly. But something.

My suspicion is that it's a big number. Along with infamous Capitol South metro lot, the U.S. of A. also owns parking lots west and south of the Spirit of Justice park, under the Rayburn building, and below Massachusetts Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets NE. Some of that would be difficult to build on because of existing rail infrastructure. Most of it, of course, is a massive waste of good land served by some of the most robust transit links in the city.

UPDATE, Monday July 11: I have found the answer! Partly. Via this Congress for the New Urbanism award for a Wallace Roberts & Todd design from a couple years ago, the House side Capitol Complex has 5,772 parking spaces, 2,180 of which are underneath the Rayburn Building. The Senate has its own parking. More on the subject in this week's column.

If anything terrible happens as a result of the dissemination of this information, I accept full responsibility.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    I don't buy Mr Grass's argument about building on top of the rail tunnels at Capitol South. Every argument he quotes is about hazardous materials and the potential for the same kind of tunnel fire that happened in Baltimore. Except there's one problem with his argument - that 1st Street rail tunnel isn't used for freight. At all.

    That doesn't mean there wouldn't be a boatload of security theater and posturing about it, but let's at least try to overreact to accurate descriptions of threats.

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    Posted to say the same thing about the rail tunnel, but I see Alex beat me to it. I'm sure such a thing would involve some governmental organizations talking to each other and – gasp! – perhaps changing a rule or two, but a competent land owner would easily be able to do it. It's of course more expensive than building it on solid land, but that extra cost must be dwarfed by the market value of a building in such a prime downtown DC location.

    And by the way, Alex, is it possible that the hazardous thing is at all related to that PTC hazmat issue that the FRA just corrected? If it is, then the regulatory barriers may be reduced soon.

  • Will

    You might try an inquiry into the Architect of the Capitol. And be sure to include a discussion of the massive amount of surface parking on Pennsylvania Ave and Maryland Ave within the AOC's jurisdiction (east of 3rd st).

    That is why the Penn Ave lanes stop at 3rd, DDOT's jurisdiction ends, and AOC didn't see any value in the project... I guess using "America's Main Street" to park the cars of entitled hill staffers is more important.

  • http://greatergreaterwashington.org/ericfidler/ Eric F.

    The tunnel argument is obviously a canard. I wonder what excuse they will fabricate for the massive Capitol parking lots between the Senate Office Buildings and Union Station. The street grid creates bad Feng Shui?

  • DE

    A good rule of thumb is that each standard parking space is 9 x 19 ft., but ends up consuming about 300 sq. ft. total once you add in the driveway and aisle space needed to serve it. So, to get a ballpark figure for the number of spaces, you could just take the area of the parking lot and divide by 300.

  • rock_n_rent

    Or, at least for the ones that are open to the sky, one can simply go to Google Maps and count the spaces on the satellite image. For the Capital South lot, I count 302 spaces.

    Looking at the one north of the Senate buildings, though, reveals that this is not your typical parking lot, but rather has very long slots in which about 4 or 5 cars might fit, with the interior ones then completely blocked in. Is there a technical term for this kind of a parking lot layout?

  • neb

    Lydia, this would make a great story in the CP. I've seen pictures of some of that land in the past being used for baseball fields. It would be really interesting to learn about this land evolved into what today is one of the biggest subsidies, considering land value and the like, to government employees.

  • Sam

    rock_n_rent, that looks to be a carpool lot, where the cars closer to the front would have an earlier arrival/departure time.

  • hillman

    These surface lots are an amazingly poor use of government resources. It would make great fiscal sense to develop these lots, with underground parking and office space above. GSA now spends hundreds of millions a year renting office space throughout the region. It would be far cheaper to build nice new buildings on these prime lots. Ideally there would be some integration into the neighborhood, with first floor retail.

    It's penny wise and pound foolish to just sit on these lots for decades.

  • Chris in Eckington

    Mr Grass's argument about building on top of the rail tunnels at Capitol South is a specious one given that much of that lot was occupied by a multi-story office building (five or six floors) until quite recently. The lots in front of Union Station contained "temporary" housing and offices built during World War I that weren't raized till after World War II.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    The speciousness of the 1st Street tunnel "security problem" only becomes clearer upon realizing that pretty much anything that could be built along that alignment already has been: the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the existing office buildings. If it's not possible to dig, it would certainly still be possible to build at the lower, D Street level of that site -- and to replace any existing parking with a garage under one of the fountain parks. Surely cost is not a consideration when it comes to digging around the Capitol; after all, the Capitol Visitor's Center went almost three times over its original budget. Heck, if the GOP really loves public private partnerships that much, they should be anxious to sell off some of the peripheral lots to office developers.

    That said, I always find the Senate parking lots (sitting right in front of Union Station) to be even more galling than the House ones.

    Somewhere out there, I've seen a plan commissioned by the Architect of the Capitol which showed the various House-side parking lots -- and even I-395 -- covered with something nicer. Forgot who did that plan, though.