Our View: For parking, like medicine, the first rule is ‘do no harm’

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The Parking Standards for New Development Projects Task Force decided that there is too much parking available in the City of Alexandria. (File Photo)
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Residents should pay attention as city council prepares to vote later this year to reduce the amount of parking required for new development within Alexandria.

A reduction in required parking will affect the city’s livability, particularly in Del Ray.

Several aspects of this endeavor strike us as flawed and illogical, such as:

– City staff and task force members cite the fact that Alexandria’s parking requirements haven’t changed since 1963 as a reason to reduce them dramatically. An almost 55-year gap in parking adjustments proves – what, exactly? That everything old needs to be tossed for the sake of change?
Strikingly, there were almost four times as many registered vehicles in Virginia in 2010 as there were in 1963: 6,148,794 in 2010 compared with 1,646,088 in 1963, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Transportation. That would seem to argue for a significant increase in required parking, not a decrease.

– The fact that all requested parking waivers have been granted for the past few years has also been cited as justification out-of-hand for an overall reduction in required parking. It can be just as easily argued that the city’s existing requirements should not have been bypassed and individual waivers should not have been granted.

– It is now part of the accepted wisdom of city staff and on council that there is “too much parking” in Alexandria. This viewpoint is bandied about as fact, when groupthink is closer to the truth. Because cars are deemed as bad and the objective is to reduce their numbers while simultaneously increasing the city’s housing density, an unrealistic methodological threshold of 85 percent is being used to determine utilization.

This means, for instance, if just one of the six parking spaces at Fireflies is empty, their lot is underutilized by this methodology. If two of the 13 spaces in the lot at Junction Bakery & Bistro or two of the 12 spaces at Del Ray Café are empty, then their lots are considered underutilized. Most people would not agree that a lot with 11 out of 13 spaces filled is underutilized.

– Perhaps most offensive, if these recommendations pass, the city will begin setting maximum, as well as minimum parking requirements.

This means city council, members of which are not necessarily entrepreneurs, is going to start setting parking limits for business owners.

This notion that our local government knows parking needs better than business owners themselves is astonishing for its hubris.

It will also punish thriving restaurants or retail establishments for doing well by saddling them with the same parking restrictions as less successful establishments.

It’s extraordinarily illogical to say that capping the amount of parking a business owner can provide is “pro business” – yet that’s one of the talking points for this campaign.

Less parking will make Alexandria less livable because fewer provided commercial parking spaces means more cars will be vying with residents for spaces in neighborhoods. It will also drive people to spend their retail and restaurant dollars in other locations, where parking is easier to find.

What a shame it would be to wait 55 years to change our parking standards, and then make them worse.

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