Washington-area shoppers say it will take better, cheaper parking and less traffic congestion to lure them to a revitalized downtown retail area--a desire that runs counter to the District's emphasis on subway use and pedestrian traffic in the area, according to results of a Washington Post poll.
D.C. officials, asked to respond to the poll results, said they are working on ways to reduce the cost of parking for shoppers with special rates and better management, although the city will never be able to provide the "total ease of parking" available at suburban shopping malls.
Area residents are enthusiastic about the future of a renewed downtown that includes new hotels, restaurants, specialty shops, theaters and other entertainment and large numbers of people on the street, the poll found.
But most of those interviewed, including nearly half of the District residents polled, also expressed a well-established preference for suburban shopping.
This preference, due in part to concerns about crime, traffic and parking, could hamper the city's plans to attract new activity to the area, according to the poll results.
The old downtown area--centered on F Street NW from Garfinckel's department store to Woodward & Lothrop's downtown store, with Pennsylvania Avenue to the south and the new Convention Center to the north--has become run-down in recent years and is virtually abandoned at night.
The city has targeted the section for redevelopment as part of its long-term comprehensive land-use plan, emphasizing new office buildings and a revitalized retail core.
But 69 percent of the 607 area residents polled said their preference for shopping in the suburbs could keep them away from the new downtown.
Even District residents were about evenly split, with 49 percent expressing a preference for suburban shopping.
The shopping preference is the strongest element working against the redevelopment efforts in the new downtown, the poll found.
Two-thirds of those polled had concerns about parking, noting they could park free elsewhere, and more than half were afraid there would be too much traffic congestion.
"The city's downtown plan talks about discouraging auto traffic, and it is somewhat vague on parking facilities. In this regard, tension seems to exist between the city's plans and the poll's findings on what the public wants," an analysis of the poll stated.
But the analysis also noted the public "wants it both ways." While 90 percent wanted parking available as an attraction to the area, 76 percent said frequent Metro service to the area at night would be an important lure.
John McKoy, D.C. director of planning, said the city believes enough parking spaces exist but they are poorly managed and too expensive.
While the city wants to encourage Metro use, it realizes it must do something to lower parking prices for shoppers that prefer to drive, he said.
A management group proposed to run the new downtown may set a special parking rate for shoppers, but it would have to negotiate this with parking lot owners, McKoy said. The city does not know whether it might have to subsidize the rates, he said.
Most people surveyed, 54 percent, said they thought the retail core area is unsafe at night, and 89 percent said putting police on the streets would help attract people to the new downtown.
But McKoy said the city's strategy to deal with the perception of crime is to get more people out on the streets in the area.
"You create life and activity on the street . . . and you can seriously impact on the perception of crime and, in fact, on the incidence of crime," he said. Putting more police on the street can be counterproductive if there are not large numbers of people because this can give the impression that the area is unsafe and in need of unusual police protection, he said.
The poll also found 19 percent of the respondents had not been downtown in the past year and 23 percent of the households surveyed included someone who worked downtown.
The poll analysis stressed the findings about a renewed downtown were "very positive" throughout, but it noted the questions assumed that redevelopment efforts went well.