The Metro staff officially reopened one of the area's most volatile subjects yesterday by proposing that about 23,000 parking spaces be added to those already planned or built at Metro subway stations.
"There will be controversy on every one of these," Metro General Manager. Theodore C. Lutz told the Metro board, "but we feel we have to discuss this issue."
Lutz gave the board a preliminary staff report that proposed adding parking spaces in such previously unacceptable places at Takoma, Ballston (in Arlington County) and West Falls Church. Only the Takoma station is in operation.
Various studies have shown that parking near Metro stations is far short of potential demand. Metro's own analysis, in 1974, projected a need for 100,000 spaces at 85 stations on the planned 100-mile system. Only 30,000 spaces are in the plans.
Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., the consultant that has been studying Metro ridership projections and operating costs for a regional task force, has projected that 50,000 riders a day would be lost to the subway because of inadequate parking if those plans are not changed.
Neighborhood groups across the area have opposed the traffic and congestion that goes with parking lots. The problem around some new Metro stations, however, is that there is traffic and congestion even if there is no parking.
Where there is parking, it is used. The D.C. Stadium parking lot, an inconvenient half-block walk from the closet entrance to the Stadium-Armory station, is now accommodating about 1,000 cars a day.
At Pentagon City, where a temporary, mud-and-gravel lot has been constructed on an open field, 565 cars a day are being parked for $1 each. Additionally, all available parking spaces on surrounding streets are being used. When that lot, on Metro's Blue Line, opened, it attracted only 30 cars the first day.
Montgomery County has made 350 spaces available in a county garage near the Silver Spring station and downtown Silver Spring is being inundater with drivers seeking to park close to Metro. Another 1,200 spaces in that garage will be made available to all-day parkers late this year.
Metro's own lots - at Rhode Island Avenue and Fort Totten - are both full every day. Each has 300 spaces. The Red Line to Silver Spring has "the most critical parking shortage in the system," according to the staff paper.
One of the reasons is that the District of Columbia reduced the number of spaces it would permit at its Red Line stations. Spaces at Rhode Island Avenue were cut from 500 to 300: at Brookland, from 500 to zero; at Fort Totten, from 1,000 to 300, and at Takoma, from 450 to 100. Those 100 spaces at Takoma, however, can be used only after 10 a.m., and are not available to rush-hour commuters.
The Metro staff paper suggests a total increase of 3,100 parking spaces at those four stations.
D.C. City Councilman Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large), a Metro board member, fired the first round in the next debate:
"For some time in the District of Columbia," he said, "we have been talking about how to get people out of their autos and into mass transit.On ther other hand we provide inducements (parking) for people to get into automobiles . . . Someone is going to have to prove to me the consistency of this argument . . ."
Moore suggested Metro was getting away from its original concept of using feeder buses to ferry people from their homes and offices to the subway. He also conceded that he had participated in cutting back some buses because of the costs of operating them.
Fairfax County Supervisor John Shacochis (R-Dranesville), another Metro board member, said, "There's a lot of truth to what Rev. Moore says. Since I've been on the board we take whatever chance we can to cut the bus.
"However, there is a different sutuation in D.C. and the suburbs. In my jurisdiction, there is sprawl. In the suburbs, we have to plan on fringe parking and it has to be adequate."
Frances Francois of the Prince George's County Council noted that "one way of unloading the Metrobus operating deficit is to provide parking-lot demand in these outlying station."
Francois also proposed beefing up shuttle bus service between outlying lots and existing Metro station. The board's discussion yesterday fell along predictable, and not necessarily contradictory, lines.
Close-in jurisdictions - the District of Columbia, Arlington and Alexandria - have common bond in their interest in not being overrun by commuter autos and becoming parking places for Metro's riders. Montgomery, Prince George's and Fairfax counties all have plans for large parking facilities at the ends of the long Metro lines in hopes of clearing some traffic from freeways.
The addition of parking spaces is an expensive proposition. A local commercial parking expert estimated yesterday that a surface space could cost $1,750 to construct and that spaces in high-rise garages or excavations could cost $4,500 to $6,500 each.
The staff report was forwarded to area governments for comment in the next four weeks.