Opinion | D.C. can’t grow population without addressing parking

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The recent declaration from D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) that she wants to boost the number of people who live in D.C. is certainly a worthy goal, but the District’s policy of allowing residents to store cars on city streets at very little cost drives opposition to new housing. Without addressing this regressive policy, little new housing will be built in places where people most want to live.

D.C. courts and the Office of Planning have delayed construction of several housing complexes in dense Northwest D.C. neighborhoods, driven by the efforts of locals who want to protect on-street parking — and don’t want more people with cars living near them. Though those opposing these developments insist their opposition is rooted in concern about affordable housing or that they want to protect historic neighborhoods, limiting competition for residential parking is among their primary motivations.

These groups spend enormous time and effort talking to government officials about the need to protect parking, and they expend considerable resources defending each and every on-street parking space. As a result, the plethora of on-street parking contributes enormously to road congestion and slows buses.

But the efforts to conserve on-street parking are ultimately futile, because the absurdly low cost of parking in places such as Dupont or Adams Morgan (where parking permits cost just $50 a year while off-street parking costs $2,000 a year or more) means there are many more cars registered to park in these neighborhoods than available spaces. The city’s effective subsidy for car owners — which dwarfs the value of the proposed subsidy for bus riders and electric bicycles — has resulted in numerous people using vehicles as storage containers. Some cars parked in Adams Morgan have not been driven in years.

Rather than subsidize bus riders or e-bikes, D.C. should end its subsidy for car owners and charge a market price for residential car storage on city streets and prohibit parking in any space where it impedes buses or creates a safety hazard. A fair price for on-street parking would also reduce opposition to new housing, because more residents would not mean more cars being stored on the street.

The D.C. Council has competing interests, of course, but for the past decade it has effectively decided — intentionally or not — that in this global city of nearly 700,000 residents in a metropolitan area of more than 6 million people, preserving as many on-street parking spots as possible is its highest priority. And for this folly, we pay a price in increased congestion, slower mass transit, more dangerous streets and a near-paralysis in housing construction.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Jack Kemp Foundation.

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