2016 | News

In Reversal, National Institutes of Health Decides to Cap Number of Parking Spots on Bethesda Campus

After outcry from local elected officials, federal agency says it won't add more parking spots despite addition of up to 3,000 employees

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The Bethesda campus of the National Institutes of Health

Aaron Kraut

After initially claiming their growing Bethesda campus needed 1,000 more parking spots to accommodate high-ranking scientists, National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials have reversed course and say they now won’t add any parking spaces.

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), a board that advises local federal agencies on land use decisions, rejected NIH’s master plan last April because of the parking controversy.

Local elected officials including Rep. Chris Van Hollen and County Council member Roger Berliner asked NIH to cut down on its parking spaces, despite the prospect of adding 3,000 more employees over the next 20 years, so employees would use mass transit and already bad traffic congestion wouldn’t grow worse around the agency’s 310-acre Bethesda campus.

At an April 2015 hearing in front of the commission, NIH Division of Facilities Planning Director Ricardo Herring said NIH would stick with the plan for 1,000 more parking spaces in three new parking garages because the agency’s employees are “a bunch of high-ranking scientists” and “not your regular people.”

That didn’t go over well with the NCPC, which disapproved the master plan because it didn’t comply with federal guidelines for a ratio of one parking space to three employees used for all agencies in the Washington, D.C., region.

But last Thursday, as first reported by Greater Greater Washington, NIH returned to the NCPC with a revised master plan that limits the amount of parking spaces on the Bethesda campus to its current 9,045 despite the projected 3,000 additional employees.

The NCPC approved of the change and the master plan.

“They have seen the light and are doing well by my community,” Berliner told Bethesda Beat Thursday. “It will be that many fewer cars on the road in our most congested stretch, so it’s a very positive development and I’m very grateful that we were able to turn them around in this way.”

The NCPC’s rejection of the NIH parking plan was advisory only, and members of the commission said during their meeting last week they were pleased NIH had reversed course.

According to a NCPC staff summary of the changes, capping the amount of parking spaces at 9,045 despite the addition of 3,000 employees would change NIH’s parking ratio from one spot for every 2.3 employees to one spot for every 2.6 employees.

NIH has also agreed to examine additional ways to either continue capping the amount of parking spaces or reducing the amount of parking spaces in its next master plan set for 2018.