Urban Planning with Neighbors, Not Developers, in Mind

Since the start of my campaign, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Ward 6 residents talk about the issues that concern them the most. It has been a true privilege to get to know people from across our Ward, and learn about their lives. Though the specifics vary from person to person, one issue has been mentioned with overwhelmingly consistency: parking.

It’s not interesting to talk about, nor the making of a revolutionary campaign promise. It also doesn’t carry the same urgency as the need to improve DC’s public schools, solve our affordable housing crisis, or expand access to quality healthcare. But this city’s parking shortages affect just about everyone, and only harm DC residents. These problems can seem mundane, like the daily hassle of driving around the block a few extra times in search of a spot, or the need to shell out an ever-rising rent to get a spot near your apartment. But I’m also compelled to think of our elderly neighbors, who have told me about their joint pain when walking increased distances between their cars and homes. Bringing home groceries just shouldn’t be that hard.

At its core, parking shortages come from new construction developments throughout the city–especially in our ward. Each square foot of shiny, expensive new buildings and closed-off courtyards occupies space where a resident could park. To prevent this, every new development in the city is supposed to follow a set of zoning rules, including those that require a certain amount of parking spaces depending on the size and type of the building. Given the volume of complaints I’m hearing from residents in every corner of Ward 6, it’s clear that these guidelines are either not being followed or adequately enforced.

One of the worst problem areas is in Southwest. Throughout the construction of Nationals Stadium, The Wharf, and every apartment and condo building in between, a common thread seems to have been little, or no, urban planning. The area has become increasingly congested, traffic and daily disruptions for our residents are getting out of hand, crosswalks have become dangerous for elderly and limited mobility residents, and free street parking has become increasingly scarce. We should not be squeezing longtime residents in order to accommodate developer-driven growth.

Moving forward, we need to enforce zoning regulations that deal with parking, or update them to reflect the current needs of residents, because not doing so is harming our elderly and low-income neighbors. Further, when traffic studies and urban planning experts go before the Zoning Commission, we must make sure they reflect a truly unbiased, evidence-based stance and are not backed by developers with an agenda to keep building with reckless abandon. Big developers should not be allowed to take away public parking spaces then charge exorbitant prices for their private garages, no matter how much money they donate to our DC Councilmembers. Whether it’s pushing rents beyond affordability or shirking the responsibility of creating parking spaces, they have passed through too many loopholes at the expense of our community members. The decisions that affect the very shape of our neighborhoods–from the number of parking spaces to the width of the sidewalks–should be made solely for the benefit of the people who call them home.