Too Much Parking

[Matt]

DC USA is a big urban mall type thingy that brought a Target, a Marshall's, a Best Buy, a Circuit City, and some other retailers to DC's gentrifying Columbia Heights neighborhood. It's located in a walkable community where most people don't own cars, across the street from a Metro station and within two blocks of four or five bus lines and right on the city's main north-south bike thoroughfare. Naturally, there was demand to build a huge quantity of parking for the facility much of which is now sitting empty.

This kind of overbuilding of parking is a substantial problem. There are only so many Metro stations and hence only so much space that's close to a Metro station. That space is a precious, precious commodity since building out a line to incorporate a new station is hugely expensive. It's fine for some of that valuable "right by a Metro station" space to be used as parking, but it ought to be economically competitive with other possible uses as housing, retail, or office space. Meanwhile, when parking is scarce and more people ride the Metro or the bus or walk or even just find themselves parking a few blocks away then the surrounding neighborhood is able to attract more benefit from the presence of customers heading to the big new complex. What you'd like to see in Columbia Heights is the new chain stores having a spillover effect that helps drive customers to the strip of local restaurants retail a few blocks away on 11th street (where right now a lot of the storefronts are vacant) but that doesn't happen if move move directly from car to garage to store to garage to car without ever setting foot in the neighborhood.

It's somewhat hard to see the damage done by this kind of overparking when it comes to such a large project as DC USA, but something like this smaller example illustrates the point clearly and then when you scale it up to a much larger facility things only get worse.