The Administration and many members of the Council believe that the TIF needs to finance a public parking garage in the Crescent Neighborhood so that people will “park once” in Downtown Columbia. They believe that we need a publicly owned garage because all of the parking in Downtown is controlled by GPP and Howard Hughes. While the theory of park once might be a sound one, the planned execution will be a failure. “If you build it, they will park” is not necessarily a sound public policy.
To encourage people to park once and walk there must be something to walk to and parking elsewhere must be difficult, costly or time consuming. The new 2450 space parking garage fails on all metrics. First, the location is not central to anything. The garage is at the far southeast corner of the Crescent Neighborhood. It is bounded on the east by open space, the river, and Route 29. On the South, it is bounded generally by open space and the Route 29 exit flyover. To the west will be the new Crescent buildings, many with their own garages. To the north is Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Show me all the people who will park in the far corner of the Crescent to have dinner, then walk to the AMC movie theater in the Mall, and then pick up a few things at Whole Foods and then walk back to their car. Even with a Downtown Circulator this will be unlikely. So long as there is free and available parking at the Mall or the Lakefront, people will move their cars to each location.
The Council discussed at its prior hearing the desire to “solve the Merriweather parking problem.” People wore their supportive “Park Merriweather” T-shirts. While the spaces will be helpful for people attending MPP events, clearing the garage after a concert with a congested ramp and only two exits, especially until the new Route 29 interchange from Symphony Drive is constructed could be quite a lengthy process.
While the garage might go a long way to solving the MPP event problem, most of the other 330 days or so a year, this will be one empty parking garage. Moreover, if 6000 people tried to park once and use the retail, restaurants, and the library, the neighborhood amenities would probably be filled well beyond capacity.
If park once is to be successful, the garage must be centrally located. In the Crescent, this would be at Merriweather Drive and Hickory Ridge Road. People could then walk north to the development parallel to Broken Land Parkway, east to MPP, and southeast to the central Crescent development.
Yet, where do those planning for events in Symphony Woods expect people to park? Because it is closer, they will park at the Mall and neighboring garages. So rather than the Crescent, the Howard County Garage should be constructed in the Symphony Overlook Neighborhood so that it could serve commuters at the new transit center during the day, shoppers in the evening, events at the Chrysalis and other events in Symphony Woods and still be available for MPP events.
Only then might “park once” be viable. Otherwise, if you build it, they will skateboard might be the result most days.