School Choice & Charters Opinion

Why Does D.C. Require High Schools to Have Student Parking Spaces?

By Sara Mead — February 27, 2012 1 min read

Tonight I learned that District of Columbia off-street parking regulations require D.C. high schools to have a certain amount of off-street parking: Not just for their staff and teachers, which seems reasonable, given that many teachers drive to work, but for their students. The “schedule of requirements for parking spaces” posted here calls for high schools to have:

2 for each 3 teachers and other employees, plus either 1 for each 20 classroom seats or 1 for each 10 seats in the largest auditorium, gymnasium or area usable for public assembly, whichever is greater

Elementary, junior high, and preschool schools must have only 2 spots for each 3 teachers. The requirement applies to both charter and DCPS schools.

Now, keep in mind, very few D.C. high school students drive to school. Most students cannot get a drivers license until they are at least 17 (and many never do). With more than two-thirds of D.C. public school students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, very few can afford their own cars to drive to school. I learned about these requirements from school leaders who were having difficulty obtaining a certificate of occupancy for their school (an important requirement) due in large part to a lack of off-street student parking at the school site. I asked the school leaders if they had ever had a student who drove to school, and they replied “no.” This school has existed for over a decade. An architect who works with charter schools told me that there was a push to eliminate student parking requirements for D.C. high schools (presumably because they’re ridiculous), but it was rejected.

D.C.'s parking requirements are routinely criticized by urbanists who see them as an obstacle to development and increasing the supply of affordable housing. Zoning requirements have been used in a number of cities and states to create barriers to the creation and growth of charter schools. But I never expected to see these two things come together in the form of student parking requirements for D.C. high schools.

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