T H E   N I H   C A T A L Y S T     S E P T E M B E R  –  O C T O B E R  2003



Michael Gottesman

In response to the threatened loss of 1,700 parking spaces at NIH because of various construction projects, I have had the privilege of chairing a Parking Committee consisting of a cross-section of talented NIH staff. Committee members share the abiding belief that life at NIH is impossible without parking. All of you have been the recipients of my sanguine—yet realistic—all-hands bulletins about the state of parking on our Bethesda campus.

Now, thanks to the hard work of the committee and the Offices of Research Facilities and Research Services, we have been able to delay some loss of parking spaces and replace others on campus. The bottom line is that the shortage of spaces has been reduced from 1,700 to about 400, and we need only embrace alternative transportation plans for the drivers of these 400 cars by December 2003 for a period of about one year.

To solve the remaining problem, we are appealing to a sense of community, to the desire for clean air and healthy exercise, and to a willingness to make some life- and workstyle changes that will be to our advantage in the long run.

Rather than reiterate the content of my recent e-mails to the NIH community, I am taking this opportunity to reveal some of the reasoning that has gone into the current plan.

Finding Middle Ground (and Not Paving It Permanently). As you may surmise, there is a range of opinion at NIH, running along a continuum from the utmost value of ready parking on one end to the utmost value of trees on the other. A few NIHers favor removal of all parking (and some buildings) from the campus in favor of grass and trees; some others maintain that so long as there is a single tree standing at NIH, looking for a parking space would be an intolerable burden. But we found middle ground: Starting in late September and early October, we will be covering some of our grassy spaces with temporary gravel and stacking the parking in all suitable asphalt lots.

During the next 12 months, construction of two new multilevel parking garages will be completed, replacing all the spaces lost to the construction of these garages, Building 33, an underground storm-water management facility, and a commercial vehicle security checkpoint. So by the end of 2004, we will be back to our usual blissful parking state (which, I am proud to say, includes the lowest percentage of single-occupancy vehicles of any major federal or private suburban facility).

Self-interested Selflessness. During a portion of the next year, there will be a shortfall of up to 400 spaces (5 percent of our total) on the NIH campus. The Parking Committee considered a variety of approaches to reduce the demand for parking, including excluding some of our staff from on-campus parking or restricting parking for some individuals for one or more days a week or month.

But, in keeping with the evidence that NIHers will gladly make sacrifices for the common good, we decided to develop a series of transportation alternatives that, for many people, would be more attractive than gridlock on campus when hundreds of drivers look for nonexistent parking spaces.

We now have 400 parking spaces at Mid-Pike Plaza, with an improved shuttle schedule, and 200 new spaces at Twinbrook for those who wish to use TranShare. With the new security entrances, it will be easier to drop people off and turn around, and carpools, as always, will be encouraged by guaranteed spaces on campus. For those who live nearby, safe bicycling and walking are strongly encouraged.

To put the sacrifice we are requesting in perspective, if all current NIH parkers use an alternative to driving to campus one day in 20 (or one working day in 4 weeks), we will not have a problem.

Who says Life Isn’t Fair? Much discussion at the Parking Committee has been devoted to issues of fairness and other matters associated with the change in our parking situation. We have been assured that adequate handicapped parking will be available near all buildings, and the ratio of red parking spaces to general parking spaces will not change (as an aside, it should be noted that the ratio of red permits to red parking spaces is the same as the ratio of general permits to general parking spots).

Some administrative fixes that would change work schedules are under consideration, but much thought needs to go into this approach to ensure that the productivity of our workforce is not compromised.

Going Bananas. There is also considerable concern about the effect of increased pedestrian traffic during rush hours on campus, since most replacement parking will be farther from buildings than current spaces, especially in the northeast corner of the campus near Building 31. Although pedestrians have the right-of-way at properly marked crosswalks, if they cross one-by-one, traffic backs up all over campus. Thus, we are now asking pedestrians to "go bananas"–to cross in bunches of 4 to 6, leaving time between for cars to move. An alternative for some would be to use the new express shuttle to Buildings 31 and 10 from lot 41. More bicycles on campus also mean that drivers must be alert and bicyclists must follow the rules of the road.

The Parking Committee will closely monitor the situation as spaces are lost and alternative parking comes on line. If the situation deteriorates despite voluntary efforts, then we will consider implementing alternative plans that involve scheduled exclusion of some of our staff from parking on campus. We hope this approach will not be necessary and we will all work together as outlined above to solve our parking problems. As always, please send your comments and suggestions.


Michael Gottesman
Deputy Director for Intramural Research

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