A group of elected officials this week asked the NIH “to be an even better neighbor” by reducing the amount of parking spaces on its 310-acre Bethesda campus.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Councilmember Roger Berliner, District 16 State Sen. Susan Lee and District 16 Delegates Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman said they were disappointed the federal agency chose in its master plan to retain its 2-to-1 employee to parking space ratio for existing on-campus spots.
The master plan will also allow for 3,000 more employees and 1,000 additional parking spots over the next 20 years.
“We believe that the Selected Alternative, which will add 1,000 parking spaces to the site through the life of the plan, poses a significant challenge to the already overtaxed transportation system in Bethesda,” the elected officials wrote.
Across traffic-clogged Rockville Pike, Naval Support Activity-Bethesda (home to Walter Reed) has adopted a 3-to-1 employee to parking space ratio. The 3-to-1 standard is meant to encourage employees to take public transportation or carpool and is recommended by the National Capital Planning Commission, the planning authority for federal land in the D.C. area.
“[Naval Support Activity-Bethesda] is proving that a 3:1 ratio can work. NIH can and should follow its lead,” wrote the elected officials. “If NIH were to adopt such a policy, instead of adding 1,000 spaces as proposed, NIH would actually be in a position to remove 2,300 spaces — a net benefit of 3,300 spaces. Removing 3,300 cars from our clogged roads would be a ‘good neighbor policy,’ one we urge you to adopt.”
Through its master plan process, NIH has maintained that it needs the spaces because many of its employees don’t live close to public transportation services.
NIH on-campus parking facilities were 95 percent full, with 9,744 vehicles parked on the campus in the peak hour between 10 and 11 a.m., according to a 2012 study in the agency’s draft environmental impact statement.
That means nearly 10,000 vehicles entered and exited the NIH campus each day.
In October 2012, NIH presented its master plan (without the studies in the environmental impact statement) to the Montgomery County Planning Board.
The Board has no binding legal authority over the planned development and parking accommodations, but that didn’t stop some Board commissioners from criticizing NIH’s unwillingness to seek the preferred parking ratio.
“There’s no rational reason that I’m aware of that you shouldn’t have a 3-to-1 ratio by this point,” then-Commissioner Casey Anderson told an NIH representative. “With due respect, maybe people shouldn’t live in West Virginia and work in Bethesda.”
In their letter, elected officials cited similar views from the county’s BRAC coordinator, and neighbors in the adjacent Bethesda Crest and Locust Hill communities.
The stretch of Rockville Pike from Jones Bridge Road to Cedar Lane has become one of the most notorious daily afternoon traffic jams in the region.
The intersection at Cedar Lane earned the title of most congested in Montgomery County in recent traffic studies.
“You do not need to be regaled with stories of traffic on MD 355. You live it every day as well,” the elected officials wrote. “Traffic congestion is more than a simple matter of driver inconvenience, it is actually a serious quality of life issue, an environmental issue, and an economic competitiveness issue. For example, some businesses have told us they are often unable to attract new businesses to Bethesda because of traffic concerns.”
PDF: NIH Parking Letter