Dumb Policy of the Day

Washington is a fairly dense center city. It’s well served by transit. Most Washingtonians do not drive themselves to work. Walkable, transit-oriented developments have deepened the tax base of the city and gotten the population growing again. The city is even moving, if slowly, on building a long-planned streetcar network. And then there’s this:

If you think it’s hard to find a gas station in the District, you’re right, according to D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5).

Thomas introduced legislation today to encourage the construction and retention of gas stations by giving them tax breaks. The details, he said, would be worked out later. But he said the city must stem their closings. The number of gas stations dwindled from more than 200 to 108 in recent years, Thomas said.

Several council members signed on as co-sponsors at the council Committee of the Whole meeting today.

Oy. With 108 stations in the District, there’s nearly two stations per square mile. And the city wants to give up revenue in order to attract new gas stations? And if I were going to speculate, I would suggest that land values in the city are rising most near transit or near neighborhoods that have been invigorated by new development (which, in this city, is almost uniformly walkable). What this probably means, of course, is that the stations that are closing are closing because walkable uses are more profitable, and gas stations of less use.

Consider — I’m in Councilmember Thomas’ ward. He just helped pass a small area plan for the land around the Brookland Metro station, which also happens to be the land around me. Included in this plan are two parcels that contain gas stations — two, within a quarter mile of each other, within the Metro plan’s territory, and in places that are targeted to host more retail and housing and improve the neighborhood’s pedestrian experience. And Thomas wants to give them tax breaks to help keep them open. Or maybe to bring in another one! Needless to say, gas stations don’t exactly add a lot of value to the businesses and homes on these streets, or to the pedestrians walking them.

This is no threat to drivers; within a mile of the station there are probably at least five other gas stations. Really, I just have no words.



  1. Doug says:

    That really is a dumb proposal, but it is a pretty good day when that’s the dumb policy of the day. I’d even contend that policies like this are a natural result of intentional, political urbanism. The more policy makers are expected to guide the composition of communities, the more gas stations, liquor stores, bookies and howling tomcats can be expected to have their essentialness argued in the corridors of power

  2. Dave Reid says:

    Agreed. How gas stations do you need. They should be happy that there are about 100, what are likely to be corner, lots available for redevelopment.