Housing Complex

Why Performance Parking Will Underperform

MarcParc's garages downtown.

Yesterday, TBD bemoaned the fact that parking downtown will get more expensive under D.C.'s new performance parking regime, illustrating the high occupancy rate of on-street spaces with samples taken by the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District. The thing is, those samples by no means represent the totality of parking available downtown, because they don't take into account a huge chunk of the supply: Parking garages.

Most office buildings have a large number of spaces set aside for their office tenants, and some have even more available for retail and general public use. According to the BID, the Washington Parking Association counted 45,721 spaces downtown and in the Golden Triangle in 2006—compared to an estimated 17,000 public metered spaces across the city—and the numbers can only have increased since then. Here's the problem: Parking management companies are very secretive about how much parking they've got—as Colonial told me when I asked about a garage in Georgetown, it's "strategy." The Downtown BID has so far been unable to collect enough information on private parking garages to put together any sort of market pricing system, and unlike San Francisco, D.C. doesn't have many of its own.

So what's to prevent performance parking on city-owned spaces from turning into a windfall for garage owners? Higher prices for curbside spots may cause drivers to keep their cars at home, or it may just send them into the nearest private parking lot. Unless the city's willing and able to mandate disclosure of parking capacity, which would lead to a far more efficient system—imagine an iPhone app that told you how many spaces were available where, and what they cost—then its attempt to create a parking market will just get at a small part of the problem.

UPDATE, May 9 - Commenter TM points out, rightly, that it's not a bad thing to force cars into parking garages—much better than having them circle endlessly around downtown blocks. And though I'd be very happy about performance parking if I were a private garage owner, the city also takes a cut of that revenue with an 18 percent parking tax. Overall, though, it's silly to say there's no parking downtown. There's plenty, and a perfect system would take it into account.

  • TM

    Insisting on more transparency for whatthe actual parking supply is would be a great idea. But, the whole point of performance parking is to push people into using garages if they plan on parking for a longer time. Yes, this would benefit the garages, but it's nonetheless a good idea. The value of parking a car is much higher than the tiny amount the city charges at meters. That's the exact reason people troll for a spot! Raise the rates the city charges (particularly for longer term parking) and people will just park in garages, which is a good thing. It will lessen traffic since cars will just go directly to garages rather than circling the block. And, I may be mistaken, but the city takes a hefty chunk of that private parking fee (18%) in taxes.

    So, yes let's have transparency for rates and availability of private parking downtown so to encourage market competition, but let's not let the fact that garages will benefit from performace parking deter us from supporting a progressive initiative.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @TM - Good point. I definitely don't think this is a reason to abandon the plan. Just a handicap.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    This is why we need a parking and curbside management element of the Transportation Plan, and it has to call for an integrated parking management and wayfinding system in the central business district.

    Of course, the Downtown BID wants such a thing, but the individual stakeholders can't work together to pay for it on their own.

    (And another example of how "parking" performance districts are too narrowly defined, they need to be "transportation management districts" and deal with all modes.)

    The thing about your thesis is that it is somewhat incorrect.

    Not because your idea is wrong, but because most of the parking in buildings is already allocated to tenants.

    Of course you're right that the amount of parking inventory isn't disclosed and that we don't know how much is available to non-tenants.

    But clearly it isn't all that much inventory that is available or it would be significantly marketed as available, and it isn't. Therefore there is a likelihood that the inventory isn't that significant.

    Then you get to the other issue, that the management firms who handle parking are forward thinking and acting and conversant with national best practices.

    I don't think they are. I am not sure, but none of the firms big in DC are very active nationally, which is an indirect indicator of their prowess and scale.

    - parking wayfinding systems, http://www.tcsintl.com/solutions/way-finding/

    Anyway, the basic point is that they can't act fast enough, at least right now, to implement variable pricing and market it.

  • The Prophet


    There are thousands of spots available in the evenings. Reserved spots are full in the early evening because many work late, but most people are gone by 7:00, when restaurant and theater parking would pick-up.

    While I'm a firm believer in markets, I do believe that "the Market" sometimes overlooks opportunities, particularly when rapid changes occur (i.e. growth of DC nightlife and associated demand). I've yet to understand why, in a reinvigorated downtown, so many parking garages close at 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening. It's strange.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    Hm, TBD may have yanked the article -- can't find it via a search on their site.

    As TM points out, the entire point of performance parking, when it was first introduced in Boulder and Pasadena, was to get people to quit circling downtown streets looking for street parking and to use the expensive/under-used garages that both cities had built. (Strangely, many drivers would rather pay for cheaper parking by wasting time rather than paying more money for a quicker parking space.) Once people were in a garage, the thinking goes, they're more likely to stay a while and spend more money. Plus, the cost accounting for garages is a lot easier than for street parking, and DC still collects a 12% excise tax on paid parking so it's still earning something.

    FWIW, Colliers publishes a survey with some generic info on parking rates and availability in cities worldwide. Turns out that a reserved space averages $475/month (which makes many residential garages look cheap), and that spaces are generally available.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.


    The article is still there:


    TBD's URLs use a double-dash between 'd-c' and '15281' and that easily gets autocorrected into a single emdash. I know City Paper has had this issue before with dead TBD links.

  • http://sfpark.info SFpark Ripoff

    Before Washington wastes any more taxpayer money this bad idea they should research why the City of San Francisco pulled the plug on their SFpark pilot.

    Resident across San Francisco are saying that SFpark is an Epic Failure because it uses the ENRON model for pricing. If the system is rigged by those who control the market then the taxpayer will lose. Artificially inflating parking rates will cause tectonic shifts in the way that people move about the city. In San Francisco, these shifts are destroying businesses. Go to sfpark.info