Occasionally I joke on Twitter about my  plan to buy an old, beat-up Chevy Astro Van, park it on the street near my house, and use it exclusively as storage space. It sounds ridiculous, but it's actually an interesting thought experiment.

(from analog photo fun on Flickr)

People typically react by saying that doing this would be an abuse of the public parking system. Street parking is supposed to be for parking cars, not storing stuff they say. But in essence, street parking (public space) is used to store automobiles (privately owned things) for little to no cost (it would cost me $35 per year for a residential permit in my neighborhood). Using a van for storage would cost significantly less money than renting a space at one of those self storage warehouses, and it would be a lot more convenient.

Using an Astro Van as a storage locker would cause some pain for drivers in my neighborhood. Since I'd never move the van (except when legally necessary for street sweeping or an emergency no-parking permit holder) the space would never turn over. I'd single-handedly eliminate a valuable parking space from the neighborhood. And yet - doing so is perfectly legal and within my rights, under the current law.

Why is it that if I want to store a bunch of junk, I should have to go pay market price to do so? But if I want to store a car, the city will give me space, near my home, for practically free? That's really the central issue that's going to be at the heart of the many parking debates to come this summer. There will be finger pointing, there will be claims about what street parking should be for, and who street parking should be for and why it should be provided for next to no cost.

At the end of the day there will be a lot of unhappy people. But as I see it, this is an issue that will always have a lot of unhappy people. We're talking about a lucrative government subsidy, after all; and the people who like getting it aren't going to give it up without a fight.


    On March 07, 2013 Anonymous said...

    I'm pretty sure that someone near Sherman Circle in Petworth has already had this idea...there's an old ex-Uhaul truck that hasn't moved from the area in months.

    On March 07, 2013 ES said...

    You don't even need an RPP or to move the car periodically on some blocks. Kitty-corner to me in Petworth is a block near Sherman Circle that is bordered on both sides by NPS land, and it has neither street sweeping nor RPP requirements. There are always two or three large panel trucks, vans, or storage trailers (often with Maryland tags) parked there. One truck has never once moved.

    On March 07, 2013 DC20009 said...

    I used to have a car which I drove very infrequently, so I was doing essentially what you propose, except that my car was empty. It was very blatantly empty - glove compartemnt empty and open, back seats folded down to clearly show the full hatchback area to be empty - all in an effort to keep my windows unbroken and my car unburgled. In that spirit, if you pursue yourr idea, I suggest you find a model that doesn't have as many windows as shown in the photo, because if you store a lot of stuff and it's so visible (even if boxed) your stuff will be gone in weeks.


    I can one-up you here. When I lived in Bloomingdale, there was a box truck that was permanently parked on 1st Street, and it wasn't storage - it was housing. A guy lived in the back of the truck, got up early in the morning and took off for the day. Saw him regularly leave the truck in the middle of the night to relieve himself on the sidewalk.

    On March 07, 2013 Anonymous said...

    The downtown developers already do it. They rent containers, deposit them on the street, and then park their cars in them. The containers probably arrive with materials in them, but as the materials go in the building, they turn into convenient reserved parking.

    On March 07, 2013 Anonymous said...

    wouldn't you also have to pay the registration fee and auto insurance in order to park it legally on the street? I'm not sure it would be that economical with those fees added in but I like your thinking.

    On March 07, 2013 Anonymous said...

    Even with registration and insurance, I doubt it would be more expensive than renting a storage unit. At the Extra Space storage on U St., the smallest unit (only 3x4, smaller than the interior of a van by far) is $70/month. RPP = $35/year, registration = $72/year, inspection = $17.50/year (2 years @ $35), and if you're not driving it, you'd likely only get bare-bones liability-only insurance, which is $500/year or less if you have good credit and a clean driving record. That's $624.50/year versus $840. BUT, the Astro Van has 170 cubic feet of cargo room to the smallest unit's only 120. To get the same capacity, you'd need to upgrade to a larger unit. The cheapest unit that meets or exceeds the capacity of the van is $91/month or $1092/year. If you needed this space for, say, 3 years, you'd save over $1400. And here's an Astro Van for sale for $1350: http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/nva/cto/3665064196.html (or $800 even! http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/nva/cto/3647869213.html).