Housing Complex

Parking Under the Mall: Not an April Fool’s Joke, But It Should Be

This weekend, The Washington Post ran an editorial in support of what it called "a pretty sensible idea": building a giant parking garage under the National Mall. The concept comes from the "energetic and civic-minded nonprofit" National Coalition to Save the Mall and envisions a facility stretching from 9th Street to 12th Street NW and containing a garage, bathrooms, and rainwater collection.

Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt tells my energetic and civic-minded colleague Will Sommer that this is not an April Fools joke, so I'll take it seriously. Or as seriously as it merits.

There's nothing inherently awful about the idea, except that it's a solution in search of a problem. When I have visitors in town on the weekend and we drive down to the Mall to visit the museums, I've never had the slightest trouble finding parking within a block or two of my destination. During the week, we certainly don't want to encourage more downtown workers to drive to their jobs—not when traffic in the area is awful as it is and four of the five Metro lines stop within a block of the Mall.

Rainwater collection and extra bathrooms are all well and good, but can they possibly justify an expense of hundreds of millions of dollars and years of construction on the Mall, which is already constantly phased out of use for upkeep? That's not to mention the likely concerns of the National Park Service, which prevented a Metro entrance on the Mall and probably wouldn't be wild about a parking garage under it.

Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro apparently told the Post that the plan would help solve the city's tour-bus parking problem and was "intriguing and worth further exploration." I couldn't immediately get a hold of Ribeiro, but the idea of building a giant underground parking lot under the National Mall in order to stash a few tour buses seems like overkill, to say the least. Let's hope city officials won't spend too much money or time exploring it.

That is, if Hiatt and company aren't just pulling our collective leg.

Renderings from savethemall.org

  • hillandriverfront

    "When I have visitors in town on the weekend and we drive down to the Mall to visit the museums, I've never had the slightest trouble finding parking within a block or two of my destination."

    Really? What Mall are you visiting - Landmark?

    I don't know if this idea is a good one or a bad one, but dismissing it out of hand because of your apparent experience, which I really find hard to believe based upon my experience and simply a quick glance on the streets around the Mall even during a non-peak weekend, is a bit of a joke.

  • C. Miller

    Well they already added cisterns last summer to the area of the Mall near the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, so this didn't exactly come from thin air. They are already planning on adding more cisterns to prevent future floods so why not make the space more usable. I thought it was genius that Boston put a parking garage under Boston Commons. My sister said it was because they already had to dig it up, but who knows if that's correct.
    True, promoting driving downtown isn't ideal, but with weekend metro work scheduled forever, it could be considered a good use of space.

  • DC Guy

    So this is to make sure more cars are accessing downtown and the Mall. Seems like a bad idea when we are trying to remove vehicular congestion from the streets. Why not take the same money and run streetcar lines from South Capitol Street, north and East West along F Street?

  • Hillman

    Every time I've tried to use athletic facilities on the Mall its been very hard to find parking. So much so that we quit scheduling events there because weekend Metro schedules were slow or unreliable and parking was terrible.

    If the Feds want to do this I say more power to them.

    Like it or not some in this country don't demonize cars wit every waking breath, and realize that a mid of transit that includes cars is not the end of civilization as we know it.

  • anons

    Oh, give me a break.

    This reads like something the yahoos over at GGW would complain about.

    I don't know when you go down to the Mall, but finding street parking is nearly impossible. You end up endlessly circling and then happen to find a spot a half a mile away, which you then have to run back to every 2 hours for fear of getting towed.

    And you are clearly unplaying the tour bus issue which has been illustrated time and time again.

    GMU and the NPS collectively did a study a couple years ago which showed that the Mall proper deals with almost 1,200 tour buses per day during normal tourist season. 25 million people a year visit the Mall and 1/3rd of them ~ 8 million come by bus. They clog the streets as they circle because there is no parking except when they go to the Southwest Water front to line up and idle which the residents down there just "love".

    Charge people market rates for the parking, they don't care, they just want a place to unload/load and park.

  • dirteng

    A lot of the mall area is in a flood plain (or damn close to it) - that's why they are building (it never ends) those flood protection walls at 17th street.

    I'd hate to see what happens when this thing fills up with water and all the cars (and rats) are drowned within it. Just like what happened in lower Manhattan when Sandy hit.

    Plus - people want cheap parking, and this will have to charge market rates... so people will still be circling the mall looking for the precious few free/cheap on-street spots. Though it may solve the bus problem if we mandate that they park there.

  • Hillman

    Dirteng:

    I assume the vehicles could be removed well in advance of such a major weather event. Like other underground parking already is.

  • er

    i'm all for it. and when it is underutilized, then we use the space for roller derby, model car racing, a skateboard ramp, and street hockey.

  • D

    Except this isn't a solution in search of a problem. It's a potential solution to a real problem. There is a lot to be desired about the state of our National Mall, but one of the biggest offenders is the many (not "few") tour buses that constantly circle and idle around it. This would remove them, and resolve serious drainage issues. Count this biker and transit rider in favor of at least exploring the idea further.

  • Java Master

    This may not be the most eloquent solution to Mall parking problems but it is one option worth conisdering.

  • old man

    because a reporter's anecdotal evidence is a good reason for him to offer a published opinion...shenanigans.

    Some empirical data about tourism, its portion of the D.C. economy, along with information culled from recent Transportation Management Plans for projects within a couple of miles of the National Mall might have led to an informative post, even if I didn't agree with the final judgement.

    I expect more from this terrific publication.

  • Stephen

    You used to be able to park under the museums.

  • http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/magazine/features/2008/dc-1791-to-today/story.html Bob
  • AWalkerInTheCity

    1. My sense is that its usually not hard to park near the mall on Sundays, except maybe on peak tourist weekends. We dont want more vehicles entering the district on weekdays. So at least as far as parking, this is to address a Saturday and peak tourist Sunday problem.

    2. The key is cleary the water issue. If the parking fees pay for the garage, PLUS contribute toward the solution to the water problem (so that the incremental cost of solving the water problem is less than without the garage) it sounds like a good idea. If the parking has to be subsidized, maybe not.

  • Ko

    I'm sure all of you advocating for this will be thrilled when it's paid for by raising your taxes. Seems like a great chance to impose a commuter tax.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    If the parking fees pay for the garage, PLUS contribute toward the solution to the water problem...

    Which is a very dubious assumption.

  • can’t knock the hustle

    No, no, no. We don't want to encourage tourist driving. They get in the damn way.

    They can take Metro and the buses.

  • Guest

    A good example of how to do it right might be the new garage at the National Cathedral. You hardly even know it's there.

  • Alf

    "D" is correct. The biggest public benefit will be to find a place to park tour buses so they don't cicle and idle. The National Cathedral did this, obviously on a much smaller scale, several years ago. I know that the myopic GGW crowd will say that tourists should all take Metro, Zip Car or bike share, but the reality is that many come by bus (better than cars) and, yes, many families do use cars. Finding a place for them to park underground and not idle, with the additional benefit of adding rest rooms and flood control measures is a good thing (and, to entice the GGWers out there, a very European urban idea).

  • Cherisse

    "When I have visitors in town on the weekend and we drive down to the Mall to visit the museums, I've never had the slightest trouble finding parking within a block or two of my destination"
    -What??? Whenever I visit the Mall, tons of people are parking for blocks. What's left are either permitted spots or time limited. I know parking under the mall will never happend, but something with more parking needs to come into existence.

  • 202_cyclist

    I mostly take metro or bike when going to the Mall but there always seems to be sufficient parking, especially when you get more than two or three blocks south of Independence Avenue on the weekends. I know, this requires tourists to walk two or three blocks and it is the most basic human right to have parking that is free at all times immediately in front of your destination.

    Additionally, once the Southwest Waterfront and the redevelopment of L'Enfant are completed and there are new office buildings in L'Enfant, there will be significantly more opportunities for shared parking for tourists that will be available on the weekends.

    Third, how will this be paid for? Should DC taxpayers pay several hundred million dollars or a billion dollars to make it easier for tourists to drive (creating more traffic on DC streets?). For as much as the parking would cost, we could likely build the 37-mile streetcar network and make a significant investment to modernizing Union Station for high speed rail. This is a much better investment than encouraging even more cars to come into the District, creating more traffic and more pollution.

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  • AWalkerInTheCity

    "If the parking fees pay for the garage, PLUS contribute toward the solution to the water problem...

    Which is a very dubious assumption."

    Its a condition, not an assumption. Frankly I have no idea what the costs would look like, or what the parking fees would be. I wouldn't object to someone looking at it though. I'm also not sure how, from a CBA POV, to handle the bus parking issue.

  • Ron

    My experience with finding parking around the Mall on the weekend has been the exact opposite of the author's. I usually spend 20-30 minutes circling, after which I've either been lucky enough to find a spot, or have given up on it.

  • Wuxy

    "When I have visitors in town on the weekend and we drive down to the Mall to visit the museums, I've never had the slightest trouble finding parking within a block or two of my destination."

    This statement unfortunately does not lend credibility to the rest of the piece. Parking on the mall can be a huge issue on the weekends, and my family is willing to walk A LOT. We sometimes drive and other times use public transportation. Perhaps this is not a good idea because it would induce additional car travel and jam all the streets leading up to the garage entrances and exits, and maybe it is a good idea - I haven't thought it through. Nonetheless, there definitely is a parking problem on the National Mall.

  • Bob See

    "No, no, no. We don't want to encourage tourist driving. They get in the damn way."
    Like pedestrians do, huh?

  • egk

    Actually the greatest advantage of underground parking would be that we could get the dang cars off the surface of he mall. We have lovely historical vistas that are quite literally filled with parked cars. Get the cars off the mall.

  • http://www.cadnw.com/ Peggy Bear

    We could really save some space with the idea but people's safety is also at risk especially when the place will be struck by earthquakes or other natural disasters. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    And which uncongested streets would lead to and from the parking garages? The roads along and across the Mall are already overburdened traffic sewers as it is. Underground bus garages aren't done for very good cost reasons: they require very strong structures (witness the spiraling cost of the Silver Spring garage) and very high ventilation loads, particularly when underground.

    Instead, let's examine ways of better using nearby parking garages that are closed on weekends: there are 50,000+ parking garage spaces downtown. Valet parking? Wayfinding signage? Shuttle buses, like, oh, a Mall Circulator?

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