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When Parking Spaces Are More Important Than Homes

By Sarah Goodyear

Parking. It takes up a lot of space in the discussion of transportation and planning. No surprise, since one of the main problems with cars is how much space they take up even when they're not in use.

The Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, is no exception. In a post today from Greater Greater Washington, Topher Mathews uses the example of a recent advisory neighborhood commission meeting in which a resident's request to construct a basement exit in her building -- which would theoretically make it possible to create a separate rental unit -- became, inevitably, a discussion about parking. What if another resident moved in? It would mean less parking for the people who are already there.

Mathews points out that 20 percent of Georgetown residents don't own cars. He also notes that 23 percent of households own more than one car, and asks why the interests of the multi-car-owning residents should trump other concerns:

Several issues arise from this disconnect between the perception and the reality of cars in Georgetown. When the [advisory neighborhood commission] or other entities put parking paramount to all other issues, they are disregarding the interests of one in five Georgetown residents. How does the focus on parking affect non-drivers? When we don't let that basement get turned into a separate apartment because we're worried about another car hitting the street, we're keeping another set of eyes off the street too. We're also keeping a customer out of neighborhood stores like Scheele's. Or a potential babysitter out of our Rolodexes. Or justanother neighbor to know. All because there's a sixty-six percent chance they may bring a car.

Moreover, these numbers show that the parking problem has less to do with the number of households and more to do with a small minority that chooses to have more than one car. So instead of browbeating a resident about the square footage of her butler's pantry, the ANC ought to be asking each applicant that comes before it "how many cars do you have and could you live with just one?"

As usual at Greater Greater Washington, the comments thread is pretty lively. One of the interesting questions raised there: why do people get so outraged by the idea that policies (such as parking permits) might limit the number of cars in a neighborhood -- but not when policies limit the number of people? As BeyondDC puts it:

For goodness sake, one person's desire to own and conveniently park a car is not more important than another person's desire to have a home.
Related posts in the Worldchanging archive: Free Parking Isn't Free Parking Day and the Bigger Picture of Small Spaces
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