Attention Republicans and others deeply concerned with the cost and size of the federal government!
Want a big, splashy issue that you can use to rail against “those fat cats in Washington” giving freebies to a pampered overclass? Specifically, an issue that won’t cost the taxpayers a dime? One that will net hundreds of millions of dollars for the US government and which we can… I don’t know? Turn it into tax breaks or something?
Here it is: get rid of all the free parking around the Capitol and build more city.
Now, I could argue this in namby-pamby liberal language. I could say that well over 5,000 cars a day drive to the Capitol, adding congestion and making a mockery of the Architect of the Capitol's sustainability efforts. I could say that increased use of mass transit, bicycles, and walking will encourage staffers (because, let's not kid ourselves, Members will still drive) to have first-hand knowledge of the challenges these modes face in an auto-centric world. I could even say that removing parking would send a powerful message that the United States is committed to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Boooorrring. No one cares. Let's try a different take.
Getting rid of parking isn’t a new or a particularly innovative idea. Frankly, it's something that the government has been lagging behind the private sector for some time. Just look around downtown Washington, DC or the many other American cities undergoing a resurgence. The land is just too valuable to have dozens of cars parked on it when it can have hundreds of people living, working, and playing in the same space. The invisible hand of the free market has determined value: leaving your car for free on someone else's land isn't it. This should surprise no conservatives.
We’re not talking a small chunk of change here. Four years ago, Washington City Paper’s Lydia DePillis did a back-of-the-envelope calculation concluding that the unimproved value of the Capitol complex’s parking lots was in the neighborhood of $350 million dollars. Since then, we've seen continued development to the south of the complex around the Navy Yard and Nationals Park. To the north is Union Station, center of quite a bit of development already and poised for a dramatic expansion. Even a straight-up auction of the land would easily net the US Government over a third of a billion dollars. It would also dramatically increase the tax revenue for the District of Columbia. I am in favor of a more deliberate transfer and would push for a mix of housing, retail, and office space that integrates with the neighborhood and Capitol complex, but would welcome any plan to get the ball rolling.
If the District of Columbia approaches the federal government without ideological blinders, there's any number of such problems that can be solved across party lines. As an independent, I can push for pragmatic solutions instead of carrying the water of national parties that don't remember us when we need them. We won't get there hewing to the party line.
Let's try something different.