The Staples Mill Station: An Opportunity Gone Begging

Google Maps view of the Staples Mill station.

Google Maps view of the Staples Mill station. (Click for larger image.)

by James A. Bacon

Here’s the good news about the Amtrak Station at Staples Mill in Henrico County: The number of passengers increased 8% last year to 345,000, making it the busiest rail station in the South.

Here’s the bad news: The suburban station’s 288-space parking lot is totally swamped. On any given day, as many as 50 vehicles park on curbs, driving lanes, grassy areas and other non-parking spaces, according to Peter Bacque’s article this morning in the Times-Dispatch. Passengers have encroached upon the lots of nearby businesses, who have resorted to erecting signs threatening to tow.

So, what’s the solution emanating from the Department of Rail and Public Transit (DRPT)? Enlarge the parking lot!

Yes, the first instinct of the department in charge of encouraging rail and public transit in Virginia is to make it easier to access the station by car. Thelma Drake, DRPT director, told Bacque that the department would like to acquire enough land near the station to double the parking. “We hope there are property owners in the general area interested in selling. We will not use eminent domain,” she said.

Somewhat more encouragingly, the state also is working with an outside vendor to provide a shuttle service between the Staples Mill station and a nearby park-and-ride lot. But it’s discouraging that DRPT’s first instinct is to spend more money and dedicate more land to parking.

The parking predicament at the Staples Mill Station creates an opportunity to think differently about things. A couple of ideas…

Charge more for parking! The state charges only $5 per day for parking at present. Has anyone at DRPT heard of the law of supply and demand? When demand exceeds supply, the price needs to rise! This is not a difficult concept, people!! I know that’s not the ideal solution for train lovers, who worry that a higher parking price will discourage train ridership. But doubling the charge to $10 per day still would make it cheaper than airport parking. Moreover, when the financial return on parking rises, parking supply tends to materialize. Perhaps it would become profitable for a private vendor to run a shuttle. Maybe some of the neighboring businesses would lease out some spaces, which, judging from Google maps, aren’t exactly filled to the brim with cars.

Rezone the area around the Staples Mill station. The land around the station is clearly under-utilized with nothing but low-density commercial right now. Among other consequences, Henrico County is not generating nearly the tax revenue that it could from the presence of an extraordinary asset, the most heavily used inter-city rail station in the South.

DRPT should initiate a conversation with Henrico County along these lines: “Dudes, would you like to increase your tax base without incurring a lot of additional infrastructure costs? Why don’t you try rezoning the land around the station?”

The Staples Mill Station represents a tremendous opportunity for both DRPT and Henrico County. Instead of having a station surrounded by the likes of Miles Auto Services, Gundlach Plumbing, Heritage Antiques and Anthony George Steak House, why isn’t it encompassed by walkable, transit-oriented development including mid-rise offices and apartment buildings? Professionals who travel frequently to Washington, Philadelphia or New York might place a premium on convenient access to the station. Not only would higher-density development stimulate a built-in market for the Amtrak service, it would support the construction of structured parking that potentially could solve the station’s parking problem.

Staples Mill is an under-utilized six-lane boulevard that could easily handle  additional traffic generated by higher-density development. Such a project would be no-pain, all-gain for Henrico. Why aren’t Henrico supervisors pursuing re-development around the train station to bolster the county tax base instead of pushing for a meals tax that nobody wants? Because they are stuck in a rut of out-of-date thinking, that’s why. As a citizen of Henrico and Virginia, I’m not willing to tolerate such mental lethargy anymore.

38 Responses to The Staples Mill Station: An Opportunity Gone Begging

  1. Another excellent article.

    This one shows how far we have to go educating ourselves. Here, as so often the case everywhere, a great generator of opportunity sits in the midst of a community that is too blind to see what sits in front of its nose.

    We have same problem in DC. Zillions are spent on a subway but no one will allow parking around the subway entrances so no one can get to them. Thus potential users drive all the way into downtown for lack of space farther out. And mass transit costing billions starves for lost revenues

    Take Tenleytown in NW DC. It’s closed one of its two subway entrances. Why? Because its subway entrance is a crime hazard for lack of use. All this crime on the sidewalk intersection of one of DC “Grand Avenues”. So why the lack of use? Because no one will allow density beyond single family around the subway entrance without a huge fight. Nor will anyone allow parking in the neighborhood so nobody can drive to get to the entrance.

    This madness goes on amidst “One of the most affluent and highly educated communities in the USA.” This in turn speaks volumes about the current quality of education in this country, and the vision and practical good sense of the most educated citizens our system of education has lately produced.

    Now lets take a quick look at parking, generally. Yes indeed, our on and off street parking, and that underground too, is mismanaged today. It’s just another one of our many great mismanaged assets today. Like all great assets of our society its needs to be properly managed. Here again we need to use the market of supply and demand to maximize efficiency, best create wealth for all, and generate maximum benefit for the entire community.

    The problem is most folks now don’t understand any of this. Nobody taught them in school, I guess. Because they want to use these principles as a disguise by which to abuse then murder another Golden Goose, another one of our assets that, if properly managed, can bring great benefit to our communities, such as fill to the brim our mass transit systems.

    Consider parking and then consider the North South Connector, and then one begins to wonder where our collective senses have gone.

    And then one begins to wonder when are we going to return to earth and reinsert ourselves back into the real world of practical solutions? And then too take advantage of all the immense opportunity that surrounds us.

  2. Good piece overall. Getting to Staples Mill is a real drag and its placement as a rail station was done without a lot of thought.

    I did turn sour when I read this:

    “Instead of having a station surrounded by the likes of Miles Auto Services, Gundlach Plumbing, Heritage Antiques and Anthony George Steak House, …”

    A little snobbish, don’t you think? If we get “mixed use” instead, we’ll have the likes of Starbucks, serving greatly overpriced coffee drinks in greatly crowded conditions.

  3. Not snobbish at all. Those are low value-added businesses located in inexpensive real estate that generates far less in tax revenues than it could. There’s nothing wrong with the business — they provide needed services and support needed jobs. But they would do just as well in dozens of other locations.

  4. Greetings from Exurbia!

    The Fredericksburg Area is chock-a-block with parking for commuter parking lots and VRE commuter rail.

    We are told that if we charge for parking that it will encourage more people to drive their cars – all the way to work – rather than just to the commuter parking lot.

    As far as I know all of VDOT’s commuter parking lots are “free”.

    Are we advocating that VDOT turn these lots over to the private sector and to charge for parking?

    I’m personally of two minds on the issue. In one way, as Jim Bacon has been saying consistently , people who choose to commute should be paying their fair share of the costs and at about 12K per parking spot, commuter parking lots are not cheap.

    think about how long it would take a commuter at $5 a day to pay for that spot – about 10 years.

    right now – this money is coming out of the gas tax – which paradoxically, the user of the parking spot is not paying for since they are not driving the commute!

  5. So which train has the most daily riders? Where are they going? 950 people a day are going someplace on trains with inconvenient schedules from a station out in nowhere..

  6. we took a SHORT trip from Fredericksburg to Woodbridge on Saturday.

    we became concerned on the way north when we saw southbound I-95 basically a parking lot.

    we went on and did our two stops/errands and headed back.

    I-95 was still a parking lot so we took Route 1 South – and it was a parking lot also.

    it took the better part of an hour to get from Woodbridge to Stafford CH at which point, we took a burger break and then with the help of a map and a GPS exited Route 1 onto rural roads- all the rest of the way to Fredericksburg and then to Spotsylvania.

    This was just one day after I-95 south had been closed due to a tractor trailer/hazmat wreck.

    Amtrak would not have helped us in part because transit in Woodbridge basically shuts down on weekends. We passed the transit parking lot which was chock full of parked buses and not a one was on the roads.

    I would have gladly paid $5 or even $10 to get home two hours earlier!

    I wonder, in 18-24 months when we actually will have that option – how many people will pay the money and how many will choose to remain sitting in traffic.

    • Two years ago at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, I left by car for a meeting in Woodbridge Virginia. I got there five hours later. I-95 interstate was gridlocked for no apparent reason other than the absurdity of how we build and connect our neighborhoods in Northern Virginia.

      Last year I’d often drive to Quantico, Virginia. To beat the morning traffic I’d get to the front gates at 6:15 in the morning. That way, after nearly 7 hours work, I could leave at 1 pm to beat the afternoon traffic.

      These rules also apply to weekends. Otherwise I’d play Russian Roulette with my time. I am lucky. The absurdity of how we build and connect our neighborhoods in Northern Virginia force those who can’t control their time to waste much of it daily. It’s one of the great tragedies of our age.

      • The interstates including the beltways were intended originally to be a national US version of the autobahn – roads that would connect cities.

        and we thought we had learned from prior US national roads that by making them limited access – we would protect them from being co-opted to become local main streets.

        we succeeded at that but beltways and interstates have become regional main streets – not just for the Wash/DC/Md/Va region but every single urbanized area in the US that has a beltway.

        but go back to before the belts – like for NoVa and look at the US ‘signed” roads that were originally intended to provide connectivity between Virginia places – US 1, 29, 50, 7, etc. and look at what has happened to them.

        this is why I believe that primary roads should be tolled – to protect and preserve them for their primary role – transportation . mobility, connectivity.

        this is why I believe the localities should be responsible for local roads – so they bear the responsibility for the consequences of their land-use decisions on the transportation network – the part they are responsible for.

        we have set up a system that encourages localities to make irresponsible decisions with regard to land-use. they maximize the land-use potential at direct cost to transportation function.

        The towns, cities and counties of Va that do bear direct responsibility – do, in my view, a better job with land-use decisions – as a result of them also owning the transportation responsibility.

        that’s not the total answer because 46 other states have similar problems with the interstates and beltways.

  7. Let’s see – small government advocates have left the Richmond area with no subway, no trolley system and one of the worst metropolitan bus systems in America. However, you do have a burgeoning Amtrak station that is highly utilized. So highly utilized, in fact, that the parking lots are overflowing.

    What do you do when you have a product so popular that the parking lots are overflowing with customers?

    DRPT: Build a bigger parking lot.

    Jim Bacon: Raise prices and/or rezone the area.

    C’mon Bacon! If a supermarket gets too busy for the cashiers on duty you add more cashiers. You don’t charge a toll to enter the store. The main product is the rail service. Raising prices on parking stifles the growth of the main product.

    Rezoning kind of sort of makes sense – although I am stumped as to how this will solve the parking problem. The first thing to do is to make the actual train station a “destination” in and of itself. Maybe it already is – I don’t know. If not, add stores, coffee shops, restaurants.

    As for what to do with full parking lots: Bacon meet Occam, Occam meet Bacon.

    • Building a bigger parking lot is fine as a short-term solution to the problem. It’s in everyone’s interest to continue building traffic at the station, and that means not ticking off travelers by making the station inaccessible.

      But how do you finance the acquisition of the extra parking space? It’s not free. And Inter-city rail is already heavily subsidized by the state. (Yes, I do agree with Larry that your thinking sounds a lot like Obama’s… except when you’re talking about Obama.) One way to raise the funds is to…. charge market-rate pricing for the parking. What a wild and crazy idea!

      Here’s the connection between rezoning and parking. Rezoning would allow the developer to build structured parking that serves both the people who live and work in the newly developed area as well as the Amtrak station itself.

      As for Richmond not having a subway system…. How many metro areas of 1 million people in the United States have subway systems. Zero. I don’t think it has anything to do with a small-government mentality.

      • You have 345,000 passengers per year. That’s 945 per day – assuming an even distribution across all 365 days. In actuality, there is probably substantial peaking of demand on certain days. You have a 288 space parking lot. Let’s say heavy days see 1,500 passengers. If one – half of the passengers need a place to park you are almost 500 spaces short.

        The math here isn’t hard.

        You talk about market-rate pricing. Great theory. Demand is observably greater than supply. What is the market answer? Allow greater competition and increase supply? In other words, build more parking lots. What a wild and crazy idea! How will the parking lots be funded? Borrow money, build the lots and then pay the money back from the proceeds? What a wild and crazy idea! And if the cheapest way to provide these parking lots is to build open air single level lots? Well, that’s the market. Too bad if the people of Henrico don’t like the look of acres and acres of open parking lots.

        You have no basis whatsoever to assume that the present price for parking requires the parking operation to operate at a loss. Instead, you feel that the obvious demand for parking in excess of supply at the existing price justifies a price hike. Great textbook theory. By that same theory Apple should sell its next release of iPhone, iPads, etc for $2,000 or more each. After all, people line up in front of the store – right? No reason to sell for list price. Just keep hiking the price until the lines go away.

        Fortunately for Apple’s shareholders you are not the CEO of the company. Poisoning your brand by fleecing customers during a temporary supply imbalance is a good way to lose your customer base. Instead, Apple makes the prudent decision to keep the prices (sort of) reasonable until it can correct the demand – supply imbalance. It sounds to me like your transit authority is doing the same thing.

        You and LarryG never got past the early economics lessons I guess. You remember the supply, demand and price lesson but forget the “frictionless environment” assumption. Trading stocks or commodity futures might be close to a frictionless environment. Pricing the minor sub-product (parking) required to facilitate the much more economically significant product of rail transit is hardly frictionless. I wonder why Wal-Mart doesn’t charge for parking at their stores? They must be idiots. They should at least demand high prices for the most convenient parking spaces, right? After all, every component of every business can be decomposed into atomic parts and individually priced, right?

        The question of rail subsidies is totally and completely irrelevant to this discussion of parking in Richmond. The equivalent would be to ask your grocery store to charge a lot for parking in order to discourage the purchase of bread because wheat farming is subsidized. The store’s only goal is to legally maximize its profits. The fact that wheat farming is subsidized is exogenous to the supermarket.

        Seriously, guys – Coursera has a lot of options regarding lessons on basic business.

        • How’s that different (other than the argumentative hyperbole of your argument) from what I just wrote?

          But how do you finance the acquisition of the extra parking space? … One way to raise the funds is to charge market-rate pricing for the parking.

          • You wrote a lot of things. However, several leaps of illogic stand out -

            1. Parking at the rail station is a separate and distinct product from rail transit. It is not separate and distinct. They are coupled just like parking at a retail store is part of the overall retail product.

            2. The best way to maximize the profits for the entire product is to maximize the profits for the sub-components – regardless of relative size. If raising the price of parking by $5 discourages people from buying $100 train tickets you haven’t done much to maximize revenue. Again – why doesn’t Wall-Mart charge for parking? Why doesn’t Wal-Mart finance new stores in Virginia by charging customers in Virginia higher prices at the existing stores? Because they would lose customers.

            3. The setting of prices occurs in a “frictionless environment” where pricing decisions can be made with total accuracy in real time. You want to double the price of parking. What happens if the lot ends up half full? Lower the price? But it was half full on a Sunday. Oh, alter the pricing by day of the week. But the lot was full when the Redskins played the Eagles up in DC (on a Sunday). Oh, build a data warehouse and statistically study the demand for parking while seeking correlating factors such as professional football games? Why do you think that you (or anyone else) has a perfect sense of supply, demand and pricing for a fixed quantity product like parking spaces? Why would you risk the demand for a high value product like rail tickets by fiddling with a low value sub-product like parking?

            4. Rail subsidies are the province of the DRPT. They are not. They are the province of elected politicians. If you don’t like rail subsidies – call your elected officials, don’t ask DRPT to do a lousy job so fewer people will use rail.

            You keep talking about the free market and then demanding decisions that don’t actually happen in the free market.

            You’d tell Apple to triple the price of their newly released products until the lines in front of the stores go away.

            You’d tell Wal-Mart to charge for parking at their stores.

            You’d tell McDonald’s to finance the capital costs of building a new restaurant by raising prices at their existing restaurants.

  8. Oh I understand Bacon pretty well on this (I think).

    If the product is one provided by the private sector that makes enough profit on the venture to warrant expanding capacity then fine.

    but if the product is already a money loser – why thrown more money at an operation that is already costing taxpayers money.. ????

    But I must say that I find DJ position of opposing the progressive Obama while at the same time opposing the low-tax Neanderthal types in Richmond… in need of some further “explaining”.

    At times DJ sounds like a progressive and at times he sounds like he’s …well… anti-progressive… I won’t call him a right-winger…or no tax Neanderthal cuz he’s clearly not.

    Now.. I’m often called a progressive here but I seem to be the only one who favors toll roads… which is interesting in some ways because many no-tax Neanderthals are almost violently opposed to toll roads – almost as much as they are opposed to gas taxes!

    ;-)

    • “but if the product is already a money loser – why thrown more money at an operation that is already costing taxpayers money.. ????”.

      Do you support deporting illegal aliens (or undocumented workers) if they lose their jobs?

      Do you support the elimination of wheat based products in school lunches because what farming is subsidized?

      If you don’t think rail transit should be subsidized – call your Congressman. But don’t ask the people employed to make the present system work to legislate behind the scenes by making the product unattractive. That violates the management philosophy of holding people accountable to what they can control rather than thing they can’t control.

      In addition, more parking would probably mean fuller trains which should reduce the amount of subsidy. Or didn’t you and Bacon think about that?

      • Don, this thread is getting frustrating. You said, “More parking would probably mean fuller trains which should reduce the amount of subsidy.”

        Er, yes, I did think of that. That’s why I wrote the post! Let me spell it out the Bacon plan for you, filling in any links in logic that I did not make explicit previously:

        (1) Charge market rates for parking, collect more money and use that money to buy more parking spaces — without dunning the taxpayers. That’s the short-term solution.

        (2) Zone for appropriate density around the station. That’s the long-term solution. Once the land is rezoned for higher density, it makes no sense to leave the parking lot as a parking lot. Convert it to structured parking. Again, the key point is, there’s no need to dun the taxpayers.

        Under the Bacon plan, you’ll end up with (a) more parking for train riders, (b) a bigger tax base for Henrico, (c) a new source of ridership in adjacent offices and apartments for AMTRAK, and (d) no need to hit up Virginia taxpayers.

        • Please answer this question:

          Why doesn’t Wal-Mart charge for parking?

          You are risking the high value product (rail tickets) by fooling around with a marginal value product (parking). The upside of being right is minimal. The downside of being wrong is substantial.

          You don’t know the market price for parking at the rail station. Period. You act like that price can be found by Googling “perfect price for parking at Henrico rail station”.

          You have no sense of customer loyalty. You think that a temporary demand-supply imbalance is a perfect time to fleece the customers for all they are worth.

          Whether you know it or not you believe that you know more about the elasticity of demand for the total rail product than the people who manage the rail operation. You believe that you can raise the price of a component of that product without affecting demand (or, at least, you will lose less money through decreased demand than you make from increased revenues caused by higher prices).

          When did you become an expert in the price elasticity of rail products?

          Since you are such an expert in price elasticity in the rail transit market – what is the exact price for parking that should be charged to maximize the revenue of the total rail product?

          This is the most infuriating thing about so-called free market conservatives. They take the sterile and theoretical lessons they learned in Econ 101 and try to ram them into every business they run across.

          Again –

          Why doesn’t Wal-Mart charge for parking at their stores?
          Why doesn’t Apple raise the prices on their newly released products until there are no more lines in front of the stores?

          You may be right about raising the price of parking and you may be wrong. I don’t know and neither do you. If you think you know then tell me the exact price that should be charged.

        • Also:

          1. Why would you argue against financing the new parking lots immediately by raising money in the debt market? Why do you insist on saving up the additional proceeds of the parking hike until you have enough money to build a new lot?

          2. What is the area around the train station zoned today? What would you like to see it zoned?

          3. Why do you think the demand for additional traveler parking at the train station constitutes evidence of demand for additional residential and commercial space near the train station? This is an AMTRAK station, not a subway station. How many people use AMTRAK for daily commuting? How many people feel the need to live close to the train station they use once every two months to go to DC?

          • Hundreds, if not thousands, of Richmonders travel to D.C. every day to do business. In some respects, we are a satellite of the metro Washington economy. Everyone hates driving on I-95. A lot of people already take the train to D.C., or to points beyond in Philly and New York. I think some people would pay a premium for the convenience of living or working near the Staples Mill Station. Rail stations in other cities support higher densities and real estate values — why not in Richmond?

  9. “Why doesn’t Wal-Mart charge for parking at their stores?”

    Wal-Mart doesn’t charge for parking because the parking lots are never full. Wal-Mart doesn’t have shoppers parking in the fire lanes, on the median strips, in the handicapped spaces, and in the lanes between the spaces. If that were the case, I would humbly suggest to the muckety-mucks at Wal-Mart that charging for parking might be a good idea.

    • Then they should build smaller parking lots until they are full and can become a revenue generating product!

      They don’t charge for parking because:

      They build oversized parking lots so customers will almost never be turned away. That’s because the real money is made inside the store as people buy product.

      Discouraging customers by charging for parking would be a money losing proposition.

      The real question you should be asking is how the hell DRPT only built a 288 space parking lot given the demand for parking. Then you should be asking why the hell they haven’t already built another parking lot.

      What would a regional manager say to the store manager at a Wal-Mart where you could observe people struggling to find parking (and knowing that some people are not coming back because it is too hard to park)?

      1. Start charging for parking?
      2. Charge for parking and save up enough money to eventually build another lot?
      3. Find some adjacent land and build another parking lot, pronto?

      You know the answer just like I do.

      The same answer that should be on the lips of the DRPT. They are losing train tickets worth hundreds of dollars because people can’t find a place to park. The solution isn’t to charge more for parking, it’s to find more spaces for people to park, pronto! In fact, it’s worse than at Wal-Mart. The last seat to fill on a train is the most marginally profitable seat. They aren’t just losing revenue with their hapless approach to parking theya re losing real profits.

      • Wal-Mart builds the number of parking lots that it does because it is required to do so by county zoning codes, not because it has calculated the optimum number of parking spots for a store. Visit any Wal-Mart store anywhere. The vast majority of the time, it is 2/3 empty. There may be a couple weeks during the Christmas season when it’s close to full.

  10. Jim Bacon looks at this problem and sees the potential to charge another $5 per parking space. At 288 spaces, that’s $1,440 per day. I look at this problem and see maybe 100 train tickets per day not being sold because travelers don’t have the confidence to know there will be a parking space available. AMTRAK tickets average about $90 apiece. That’s $180 round trip. 100 lost passengers * $180 per lost passenger = $`18,000 per day.

    My advice – borrow the money and build another lot NOW. Losing $18,000 per day is $6.7M on an annual basis.

    The $5 vs $10 parking charge is almost irrelevant compared to the lost passenger revenue.

  11. WalMart charges for parking. it’s embedded in the price you pay for your purchases.

    but I think DJ has a point. WalMart COULD choose to NOT charge you for parking as part of the price you pay for kumquats but they have deduced that they’d sell my kumquats with the parking price embedded in the price rather than breaking it out as a separate cost but make no mistake – we pay for the parking in their lot – and it likely costs on the order of about 10K per spot if it costs what other parking in commuter lots costs (somewhat dependent on the price of local land).

    DJ is also correct that the doctor or the schools or the libraries could also charge for parking… but they do not so why would Bacon advocate for charging for parking for one thing and not another?

    why is that Jim Bacon?

    • Sure, free parking is a convenience to the shopper. But it also has a cost. The retailer does not buy the land for free. He doesn’t pave it for free. Handling storm water drainage is not free. Building more lane-miles of road to serve the retailer than would be necessary otherwise is not free. The reason retailers build so much parking is that zoning laws require them to. Undoubtedly, they would build some parking, if it they exercised free choice, but they would build less. Of course, that doesn’t count the cost to the public of providing an infrastructure smeared over a larger area.

      I would advocate a free market for parking, in which people were free to offer free parking, others were free to charge for it, and the government did not subsidize the infrastructure cost associated with parking lot-induced sprawl.

  12. What to charge for parking is really a business decision best left to AMTRAK and/or the DRPT. I agree that it would be a bad idea to charge parking fees so high that they resulted in lost ticket sales. I don’t know how elastic the demand is for tickets at the Staples Mill station, so I wouldn’t want to pre-judge the answer.

    DRPT is probably justified in buying a neighboring property to expand the parking — as a short-term solution. It would be nice if DRPT could charge enough to cover its costs, without costing the taxpayer any more, but I agree that any approach would have to consider the prospect of lost ticket sales.

    I’m willing to concede on the parking-price issue because it’s the least important of the two alternatives I raised. Henrico County should give serious consideration to up-zoning the land around the station. Offices and condos at that location would be a significant asset for lawyers, IT people and other professionals who travel to the Washington area by train on a regular basis — and there are quite a few of them. I’m all for making AMTRAK service profitable. That’s the only way to make it sustainable in the long run.

    The thing that I really recoil against is the supposition that the only way to improve rail service between Richmond and D.C. is by throwing taxpayer money at it. Maybe raising prices on parking isn’t the ideal solution — but it *should* at least be looked at, even if it’s ruled out later. Neither Virginia nor the Richmond region has enough money to upgrade its inter-city rail service on a Business As Usual basis. We have to think differently.

  13. It’s sort of an odd thing. Walmart does not charge but Reagan and most airports do and it’s not cheap.

    VRE actually insists that parking be free – new lots have to be paid for by the locality and cannot charge for parking.

    VDOT does not charge for commuter lots – even though private for-profit buses and vans operate there.

    the MCV does not charge for it’s parking garage (as far as I know) nor does UVA Medical….(you get a “free park” ticket from the medical check-in).

    I’m not sure Bacon’s claim that local zoning forces the amount of parking …
    any more although it may has used to in the past.

  14. A very important and enlightening conversation has been going on here.

    It highlights the critical roll that parking plays in urban and suburban neighborhoods, and how issues related to parking can greatly affect a project’s ability to maximize its benefits, or insure its failure. And it also highlight how complex these issues can be, depending on circumstances.

    Some of the hardest decisions a developer can face have to do with parking. I recall for example whether to build expensive underground parking above what the ordinance required on an office site very near a Metro.

    These were thorny questions Should we build more spaces than the ordinance required? Would those extra spaces give us a leasing advantage over our competitors? Did that advantage offset the substantial increased cost it imposed on us versus our competition’s lower cost? How best could we recoup that cost? Should we build it into the rent and give free parking, or break the parking out of the rent, and how much might the nearby metro stop dilute our risk, allowing us to park Metro users, and how might we best go about trying to access that dilution? Should we right off the bat mix our tenant parking with metro riders parking, and add in hourly parking for shoppers, etc, etc. The complexities of the risks and opportunities, and all the variables that might impact them for good or ill on a spec. office building were difficult to resolve and the cause for a good deal of anxiety.

    Its important to highlight this here and now because of the huge damage that folks trying to fix congestion by doing away with urban parking can reek on an entire city. Any such rigid and uninformed policies handed down broad madate is like playing with fire in a gas tank, or trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by sucking all the oxygen out of its water.

    It’s been mentioned recently on this website that all of the smart growth that people wanted to happen in Portland has not happened. If so then perhaps as a result a lot of folks now are worried about a host of problems. Things like being saddled with exploding municipal costs without the growth in downtown population and business revenue to support those costs. If indeed its happening on Portland I’d be almost sure that the lack of available parking is a major issue driving this result that is choking off Portland’s ability to support itself and realize its dream.

    And if these policies spread elsewhere, we will have yet another massive self induced problem one our hands – our latest iteration of dysfunctional cities.

  15. Reed – it sounds like you have some personal knowledge about the economics of parking.

    In your opinion, can parking be a stand-alone, for-profit, venture – like any other business or is it a dicey niche proposition or something else entirely?

    it appears to me that Arlington has a lot of parking structures , no? yes?

    both METRO and VRE charge for parking in NoVa, right?

    • Extremely complex question, Larry. My personal experience was just enough to teach me how little I knew then, and how today it’s likely far less.

      A broad general answer, however, with exceptions and caveats, depending on many complex circumstances, is that urban and suburban parking is typically a lost leader even when standing alone – although there is now going on the rapid emergence of new technologies that sliver up time, use, and prices into tranches, that are finding ways to ameliorate that rule.

      But let me tell you, that building mentioned above with all its extra-parking above what was required was leased before it was built. At the same time its two nearest competitors, both built by the region’s biggest players, took far longer to lease, one took 20 months to lease after completion, the other took 36 months (yes, 3 full years) after its competition to get fully occupied.

      But even that does not fully answer the question. One can never be sure how much of our success was the result of doing what almost no one else ever-did back then and likely too what few do now too – I don’t know the answer because with parking like so many other things there are so many variables involved, variables that often you never realize even after the fact. All you can do is try to find as many advantages over the competition as you can find and then sell those advantages like hell into what is hopefully flexible vibrant “time is right” marketplace to hopefully avoid going broke.

      But one thing is sure. The old Arlington model of smart growth worked. And its lessons teach us why a lot of this newer smart growth with its rigid government activist mandated stuff will surely fall far below its potential, and will most likely fail, leading us into yet more man made disasters. Cities build by the heavy hoofs of the Thundering Herd never fail to fail.

      Cities are far to complex, delicate, and inexplicable, to be built by the thundering herd. Cities done right can only be built by millions of small decisions, each one just right for its unique time and place because it is freely made by those individuals who have to live in that time and place.

      In short, successful cities are as close to complex as the Chesapeake Bay. Best we can do is try to set up conditions so they best build themselves.

  16. Amtrak costs 33 bucks to DC from Richmond.

    • I took their revenue from last year and divided it by their number of passengers. That gave me $89. Since I assumed that a passenger was a person who sat in a seat (rather than individual people) I doubled the $89 for the return trip and rounded up from $178 to $180. The average ticket price in Henrico might be lower although not everybody is headed to DC – I imagine New York gets a lot of traffic from Richmond. The real SWAG was the 100 passengers per day who bypass AMTRAK because they aren’t confident of getting a place to park. When Union Station in DC couldn’t handle the parking I avoided AMTRAK like the plague. I would fly to NY because I knew I could park at National. Once they expanded the parking at the AMTRAK station I used AMTRAK quite a lot. Just one person but I know the feeling of needing to make a train but not being able to find parking. Ugh!

  17. so what DJ is sort of saying is starving Amtrak of funds is a lot like Walmart saying they cannot afford to build enough or “free” parking?

    Of course some (many?) Amtrak stations located in city centers where parking is not really affordable anyhow – even to retailers like WalMart.

    also, when DJ goes to the airport – he DOES PAY for parking, right?

  18. The best way to use the station is to get someone to drop you off and pick you up. Even that can be a problem for the driver trying to find a way into the station or out of it. The driving lanes are bottlenecks, especially when you’re trying to exit. It would help a lot to have a traffic light or at least prohibit left turns onto Staples Mill when exiting. It would help to have two exits, one for people having to pay and another for those that don’t have to pay because they are there for a short time (30 minutes or an hour, I forget which). If people could get out of the lot without having to wait so long in the exit line, it would be easier for the people trying to find a parking spot to get to them. The driving lanes in the lot are clogged with people trying to get out.

    The cost from Richmond to Alexandria can be as low as $20 (if you buy two weeks or more in advance). It certainly beats driving on I95. The Metro station is right next to the Amtrak station there, making it convenient for me to get to my daughter’s house in Arlington.

  19. I know folks who take Amtrak to BWI to catch a flight….

    but I do wonder in terms of parking – why we go to airports and pay to park but consider that unacceptable for trains….

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