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Planning Board Commissioner Blasts NIH Parking Plan

Bethesda campus, which employs 20,000, may see the addition of 3,000 workers over the next 20 years -- and planners want fewer employees driving to work.

A Planning Board Commissioner on Thursday said NIH officials haven’t made enough efforts to reduce the number of parking spots at the Bethesda campus. Planners hope eliminating parking will force more workers to carpool or take metro and take more cars off the roads.

which employs more than 20,000 people in Bethesda, went before the Montgomery County Planning Board Thursday for an advisory review of the facility’s master plan. The long-term vision for the site calls for the addition of about 3,000 workers from satellite locations over the next 20 years, according to a planning staff report.

Park and Planning, which has no approval authority over the federal facility’s growth plans, voted yesterday to transmit its comments to the National Capital Planning Commission. In 2003, NCPC approved a growth plan for NIH on the condition that the federal facility reduce its parking spaces to one spot for every three employees, according to a Washington Post report.

However, NIH still has about one space for every two employees – more than 10,000 spaces, according to the Post. Planners wrote in their report that they were “discouraged by the lack of success” in reducing on-campus parking, according to the report.

At Thursday's hearing, one commissioner turned up the heat on the issue.

 “There’s no defensible rationale I’m aware of not to have a one-to-three parking ratio at this point,” said Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson.

Anderson said that parking at the site encourages more people to drive to work along Rockville Pike, where heavy congestion is compounded by traffic to Naval Support Activity Bethesda, which also went before the board for an advisory review Thursday.

Fewer available spaces at NIH, Anderson argued, would force workers to find alternative means of transportation like transit or carpooling.

“The idea that you can’t achieve these kind of mode share goals in a place that’s right on top of a Metro, I’m trying to push back in no unequivocal terms and say, ‘I don’t buy that,’” Anderson said.

NIH officials said they encourage alternative means of transportation, but defended the need for parking for employees, some of whom live far away and may not be able to afford to live closer to campus.

“I live in Prince George’s county and there’s no way I can get here unless I drive,” said Ricardo Herring, director of NIH division of facilities planning. “No way.”

Should NIH reduce parking at its Bethesda campus? Tell us in the comments.

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