Monday, February 05, 2007

C is for Cars (Parked or Moving)

As the Growler pointed out in the last posting ("A is for Arlington"), when it comes to road capacity the Braddock Road Metro area just doesn't compare to Ballston and Clarendon. We're in a cul de sac with our backs to the railroad yards and have only two-lane streets to handle all the new cars that will be hitting the neighborhood.

But what some residents may fail to realize is that the measures the City will be forced to take to improve traffic once dense development goes in will further exacerbate our parking problems.

The draft Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan acknowledges what we already all know: that there's a growing parking problem in the historic Parker-Gray neighborhood. It doesn't take a lot of analysis to understand why: perhaps a third to half of the single-family homes have no off-street parking and therefore homeowners have no choice but to park on the street.

In the old days, cars were an expensive investment so most people walked or rode public transit. Now, we have many affluent households with couples who both work. These couples may own not just one car but two, since both may commute to jobs in different locations.

During the Queen Street condo controversy, a neighbor performed an interesting analysis of parking based on these trends. It was a substantial departure from the usual "stand at the corner and count available spaces all day" approach employed by developers' traffic engineers.

This resident counted the number of off-street parking spots in driveways and alleys and assigned a theoretical number of two vehicles per household (not an outrageous assumption these days). She also calculated the number of on-street parking spaces given the dimensions outlined by zoning ordinance.

Not surprisingly, our neighbor discovered we already have a parking deficit.

It's a gap that's only going to widen. You can do the math: the Prescott, Monarch, Madison, and Payne Street condos will add a total of 671 new residences to the neighborhood. Assume that half of these units are occupied by one person, the other half by two and additionally assume (not unreasonably) that each person has a car. That yields 1007 residents and 1007 cars.

If local Metro ridership is 18% (the figure thrown out at the last City Council work session), only about 200 of those residents will take the train to work. That puts more than 800 cars on our streets in the next 8 to 36 months.

As traffic comes to a standstill, the City will be pressed by residents of these new developments to add more traffic capacity to streets such as N. Fayette Street. While Fayette is broader than some streets due to the fact that the railroad once ran down its length, it is currently only 40' across and can't or won't be physically widened any further.

So the City's only alternative will be to make N. Fayette Street four lanes (two in each direction north and south) and sacrifice on-street parking to make this possible.

That's going to hurt someone. Yesterday morning, the Growler took a little tour of N. Fayette Street and found 32 cars parked in the 800/900 block and 16 in the 700 block, while Yates Auto Care attendants were washing and drying cars on both sides of the 1000 block. There's no churches nearby so there's little Sunday parking demand being generated by worship services.

Where will those cars go? The answer is that they will displace others neighbors' cars in on-street parking spaces and will push parking demand in a ripple right across the neighborhood.

It isn't only N. Fayette Street that may be sacrified. West Street may be next. And one of the proposals in the draft small area plan is to reduce parking along Patrick or Henry to accommodate light rail or rapid transit buses. The inventory of street parking will be reduced dramatically again and competition will become ferocious.

To cap it all, Parker-Gray and the Braddock Road neighborhood have no supplies of nearby long-term public parking to fall back on as an off-street parking alternative (albeit an expensive one).

So even when developers provide underground parking for residents of new condos or townhouses, they put pressure on the stock of available parking which may be confiscated to accommodate traffic.

Coming up next: how the City is unprepared to manage the parking permit system.


A is for Arlington

As the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan is being debated, there's a lot of free-floating comparisons to the highly-developed communities of Ballston and Clarendon.

But what do these Arlington County neighborhoods have that we don't have here? Wider roads and better traffic circulation in and out of the area.

And that should come as no surprise: unlike our own neighborhood, both Ballston and Clarendon have been commercial corridors for generations.

The Growler took a little refresher tour around the Arlington County locales yesterday and made note of the road widths. Wilson Boulevard and Fairfax Drive (pictured here at Stuart Street) are at minimum four lanes everywhere. Both streets expand to six in key locations to accommodate turn lanes. Other blocks feature on-street parking as well as the ever-present four lanes for traffic. Some blocks also include a bike lane as well as parking or turn lanes. Near the Ballston shopping center, a planted divider separates the four traffic lanes of Wilson Boulevard (probably to prevent U-turns).

The whole area is criss-crossed with major circulatory roads, including Pershing Street, Glebe Road, and Washington Boulevard. Even the side streets such as Stuart and Randolph are quite broad, with ample room for two lanes of traffic and parking on both sides. The overall impression is one of spaciousness despite the dense construction.

But you don't need to venture as far as Ballston or Clarendon to see examples of dense development served by broad roads.

At nearby Crystal City, the principal road is Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1), which is also six to eight lanes across with turn lanes and ramps. Like Ballston and Clarendon, the local parallel side streets like Crystal Drive and S. Eads St, are also four lanes wide in both directions, with on-street parking and bike lanes. That's significant because those streets have more residential buildings. At the same time, this traffic is isolated from the single family homes in Addison Heights and Aurora Hills.

Now turn to the Braddock Road Area. All of our streets except Patrick and Henry are currently two lane roads. Only N. Fayette is wide enough at 40 feet to accommodate four lanes of traffic, but parking would have to be sacrificed to make that happen. West is briefly three lanes wide to accommodate turns at Wythe and Pendleton, but narrows again to two lanes with parking.

Plus there's also a proposal in the draft Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan to reserve one lane each on Patrick and Henry for rapid transit. That reduces their carrying capacity as well.

We have a further problem, which is physical. Because the neighborhood backs up to the CSX and Metro railroad lines, there are no east-west cross roads between Wythe/Braddock Road and Monroe Street, which is currently employed as the sharp turn that carries Route 1 out of our neighborhood and into Del Ray. The straightening of Route 1 doesn't demolish that substantial barrier. Can you say "cul de sac"?

So how can our little roads successfully handle the millions of square feet of development and the resulting traffic that is proposed in the Braddock Road Metro plan?