Cake Loves Parking

GGW’s links thread brought my attention to U Street high-end cupcake retailer CakeLove’s foray into the world of urban planning.  CakeLove founder Warren Brown originally wrote about the issue in a blog post back in 2006:

Tear down the Reeves Center, please. Give the Mid-City Business District community what it wants and needs: PARKING.

Not having enough parking interferes with my business. Parking is the major restraint on the growth of my business. Everyday people from Virginia, Maryland, and DC don’t come to CakeLove or Love Café because they’re certain there parking won’t be available. Most of the parking around CakeLove and Love Café is off-street and it fills up fairly quickly. The solution is to eliminate the perception that there is inadequate parking. Only then will people change their attitude that access to retail, nightlife, dining and services in this neighborhood is real.

How do we get there? Build a parking garage. Tear down the Reeves center at 14th & U St. NW and build a new anchor – a municipal parking structure that’ll hold 1,500 cars. Give this community what it wants and needs: PARKING. The Reeves center fulfilled its mission as an anchor for re-development on the U Street corridor. It signaled the direction for change and now we’ve turned a new corner. Development is fully on track and the needs for that space and the community are different. What the current and future businesses and residents need more than a partially occupied municipal center with closed and redundant storefronts is a lot of parking spaces. The Reeves center is obsolete.

Granted, this is an old thought, but thanks to the magic of the internet tubes, it’s suddenly back in the forefront.  CakeLove’s driving directions encourage folks to double park when visiting.  Warren had a new post on the issue recently:

Hey – thanks for the comments in about parking – although people are arguing for less parking and less drivers. But I don’t think that the Metro system is one of the best in the world. It closes early, it’s slow, it’s not the safest in the world, and it doesn’t get you everywhere. I have to go to National Harbor today. Metro doesn’t go there and if I did a combo of walk, train, and bus, it’ll take three to four times as long in one direction. And hardly anyone takes metro there anyway.
I understand the argument for less drivers, it would be great to have less pollution from drivers, but driving is a fact of life of course and putting the cars someplace is something urban planners have to contend with if they want to support local business. No storefront that I know of in any community can survive without driving customers.

I appreciate Warren’s enthusiasm, but like many small business owners, I’m afraid his policy recommendations are misplaced.  Let’s amalgamate them and go one by one:

  • The Reeves Center is obsolete – The Reeves Center certainly wasn’t the cause of U Street’s revival, but it’s also not obsolete.  It does provide a nice office component to an area that doesn’t have much of that land use.  Areas like Dupont Circle are so vibrant because of their healthy mix of retail, residential, and office uses.  U Street doesn’t have that, and a little office in the area isn’t a bad thing.  It’s not the DC Goverment employees’ fault that they’re not going to eat gourmet cupcakes for lunch everyday.

    Also, from purely a functionality standpoint, the Reeves Center isn’t an architectural masterpiece, but it is a perfectly functional building.  Tearing it down would be a mistake.

  • And he wants to replace it with a parking lot? – First things first – No, U Street does not need a municipal parking structure.  Second, does Warren realize exactly what he’s asking for?  A 1,500 space garage is HUGE.  take a look at the WMATA garage at Glenmont.  The entirety of WMATA’s Glenmont parking supply is just over 1,700 spaces, most of which are in this garage.  You’re not going to fit that on the Reeves Center site.  Nor would you want to – I’ll take an active, occupied building over a parking garage any day of the week – even if it’s poorly designed – and especially if it’s sitting on one of DC’s most prominent intersections.
  • Asking for “more parking” is useless unless you talk price – One of the key points of Shoup’s parking manifesto is that you can’t address supply while ignoring demand and price.  All too often, store owners in retail environments push for lots of cheap parking, trying to compete with malls and suburban areas at their own game.  Instead (since urban areas can’t beat malls in terms of parking supply), the spaces you do have are underpriced and thus overused.  That’s the real issue.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of anecdotal cases of main streets providing lots of free on street parking with the idea that it will spur shoppers to visit, only to find out that those spaces are hogged by people with long term parking needs who are seeking cheap spaces to park – and that many of those parkers are actually employees of the stores that demanded the cheap, underpriced parking to begin with.
  • Disparaging Metro isn’t going to help, either – The comparative advantage that U Street does have, however, is two-fold – U Street is a uniquely urban area, and it’s very well served by transit.  It’s got a great surrounding residential neighborhood, and is also a draw for folks from all around via transit.  If those conditions don’t support gourmet baked goods, so be it.  That isn’t to say that parking policies are perfect – far from it – but they also aren’t the core of the issue, either.

    As an aside – Warren’s complaints about Metro’s lack of service to National Harbor are an idictment of that development, not the transit system.  One of those things substantially predates the other.  As far as hours of service go, I’m not sure what bearing that has on retail viability on U Street, since Metro is in operating for several hours before CakeLove opens and remains in operation well after it closes.

Anyway, I don’t mean to pile on, but this is a great example of how we could use true performance parking along many of these retail corridors.  Following Dr. Shoup’s model, variable pricing of spaces that ensures an 85% occupancy rate would keep parking at the cheapest possible price while also ensuring that no matter what, a potential patron arriving by car will be able to easily find a parking space.

It’s vital that we address Warren’s concerns, as creative retailers like him are a great asset for the city.  However, it’s equally important that those concerns are addressed with sound theory.  Following Warren’s suggestions literally (tearing down the Reeves Center and replacing it with a municipal parking garage) would induce more traffic, congestion, and pollution in the city; would severly harm the urban form of the area; would reduce the density of people using the 14th and U space at a time when that area has that ‘critical mass’ of people; and as we’ve seen with the grossly underutilized DC USA parking complex, the parking is probably not even be needed.

There are no one size fits all solutions in urban areas.  More parking is not the answer here.


2 Responses to “Cake Loves Parking”

  1. More Cake Parking « city block Says:

    […] owner of Cake Love is on the record wanting more parking for businesses on U Street.  Many folks commenting on his blog (myself included) are trying to […]

  2. Mopixie Says:

    Great game! thank you for sharing

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