Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Study shows O'Connell plan will cause severe parking shortage on neighborhood streets

As part of its plan to install lights and create a larger sports complex to host NCAA events with Marymount University, Bishop O’Connell High School plans to enlarge its stadium and shrink its parking lot. But surprisingly, Arlington County has not required the school to conduct a study on the impact in the neighborhood -- particularly on parking.

So residents of the neighborhood have recently conducted a study that calculates the parking impact. The study finds that the expanded stadium will bring hundreds of cars to nighttime events, overwhelming the school’s limited parking lots and forcing more than 400 cars to seek parking on our streets.

With O’Connell expanding the stadium, the study finds that 850 cars will come to the school for a typical nighttime football game. But O’Connell’s lots -- which will lose about 50 spaces because of the expansion -- will only hold 447 cars. So the remaining 403 cars will seek parking on neighborhood streets.

The study shows that even if people attending O’Connell events take every available parking space on the streets near the school, there will still be such a shortage that they will have to park in the outer ring of streets far from the school.

The parking shortage could have a serious domino effect. As O'Connell events clog neighborhood streets, many residents will be unable to find a place to park near their home. That could make them likely to seek further parking restrictions (the current zone protections end at 5 p.m.). But that in turn could cause attendees for the O’Connell events to park on streets farther and farther away.

We are sending a copy of the study to the County Board today. 
A copy of it is after the link.

Parking Impact of a Proposal to Increase
the Stadium Capacity and Install Lights at Bishop O’Connell High School

December 7, 2010


Bishop O’Connell High School, a private school in Arlington’s Williamsburg-East Falls Church neighborhood, is proposing to increase the size of its stadium and install lights for increased nighttime activities and NCAA sporting events with Marymount University. To our knowledge, the school has not acknowledged the impact of the new facilities on parking in the neighborhoods surrounding the facility. So residents of the neighborhood have conducted this study and are providing it to the County Board.

The study shows that some nighttime events at the private school would significantly outstrip the parking capacity in the school’s lots, forcing hundreds of people to seek parking on neighborhood streets. The study finds that only 447 cars will be able to park in O’Connell’s lots, so at a typical game, 403 cars will be forced to find parking on the neighboring streets.

Because of limited spaces in the neighborhoods, hundreds of attendees will end up having to park blocks away, on neighborhood streets that have previously experienced little impact from O’Connell activities. And the influx of hundreds of cars will bring noise and commotion to a residential neighborhood during nighttime hours.



To calculate the parking shortage, we conducted research to determine four variables:

  1. The attendance for a football game
  2. The number of cars that would come to the games
  3. The number of spaces in Bishop O’Connell’s parking lots
  4. The number of available spaces on adjacent streets

We confirmed our methodology with a neighbor who is a transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a regional agency that does traffic studies for local governments such as Arlington County.

1. Attendance for a Football Game

Bishop O’Connell plans to re-construct, re-orient and significantly enlarge its sports complex and install lights for nighttime sporting events. A key reason for the expansion is a partnership with Marymount University to host NCAA events at the complex. As part of the expansion, O’Connell officials have said they will rebuild the football stadium and increase its capacity by nearly 30 percent, from 1,100 to 1,400.

(In an e-mail message to O’Connell families in mid-November, the school incorrectly said there is sufficient capacity in the school’s lots for the current daytime games. In fact, dozens of cars park on Trinidad, Little Falls and other neighborhood streets for those games. Also, those daytime weekend events do not provide an accurate comparison for the new proposal because 1) nighttime events are likely to bring larger crowds and 2) O’Connell is seeking to enlarge the stadium, so school officials must believe that many more people will attend.)

It’s important to note that actual attendance at a high school football can often exceed the capacity of a stadium because of students taking part in the game, band members, teachers, coaches, game officials, snack bar volunteers, etc. Also, many attendees -- particularly students -- don’t occupy an actual seat. For example, at Yorktown High School games, it is traditional for seniors to stand in the end zone and for younger students to gather on the walkway beneath the scoreboard.

At Yorktown, which is a slightly larger school than Bishop O’Connell, football games attract 1,200 to 2,000 paid attendees, plus 250 to 300 additional people who have passes, according to the school’s athletic department. So that means a total of 1,450 to 2,300 people attend.

Because O’Connell is seeking to expand its stadium by nearly 30 percent, we presume there has been a lack of seating and that attendance has been at or near capacity, prompting officials to seek the larger stadium because of the increase from nighttime events. So we will use planned capacity (1,400) in our calculations.

So for the purposes of this study we will assume:

1,400 people attending and sitting in the stadium
+ 300 others (student athletes, student band members, trainers, coaches, officials, parent volunteers, etc.)

= 1,700 total attendees

That number is probably on the low end of a possible range. Higher attendance should be expected for homecoming and playoff games.

2. The Number of Cars

It is difficult to estimate the number of cars requiring accommodation during nighttime sporting events. We don’t know, for example, exactly how many people drive themselves, come with someone else, get dropped off by a parent or walk or bicycle.

For an accurate estimate, we relied on the one used by Arlington County in the Yorktown Transportation Demand Management Plan, which was 2 persons per car.

We find that number reflects current usage in our region. As we all know, Northern Virginia has become a land of the single-occupant car, even for teen-agers. On school days, O’Connell’s lots and the surrounding streets fill with the students’ cars -- and a large share of those students, as we have observed over time, drive alone.

(In fact, Virginia law restricts how many passengers a teen-age driver can carry. A 16- or 17-year-old may carry only one passenger under age 18 during the first year that he or she holds a driver’s license. So even if O’Connell students wanted to car-pool to the games, Virginia law would prevent them from doing so.)

People who arrive early for the game -- coaches, officials, administrators -- are more likely to drive alone because they would have a more difficult time pairing up with a rider. (The 50-60 student athletes from the visiting team would arrive by bus, but those buses would take up 7-8 parking spaces each.) Closer to game time, it’s more likely that parents and some students would come with two or even three people in a car. Students who are too young to drive would either ride with someone or be dropped off by a parent.

So given this mix, we will estimate that each car will hold 2 people, to keep with a ratio previously used by Arlington County in the Yorktown study.

3. The number of parking spaces at Bishop O’Connell

Bishop O’Connell has large parking lots on three sides of the school that, despite their size, do not provide sufficient parking, even for a normal school day. Students have historically sought parking in the neighborhoods, forcing residents of many streets to petition Arlington County for zone restrictions. Arlington County reviewed the neighbors’ requests, conducted its own review of available neighborhood parking during the school days, and granted parking zone restrictions on various neighborhood streets. But these restrictions currently end at 5 p.m. And yet, in its request to the county, O’Connell asks that the school be allowed to light its fields for sporting events until 11 p.m., 365 days a year.

We visited O’Connell’s lots on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010, and counted a total of 518 spaces.

Because of the stadium expansion, O’Connell has said it will be necessary to eliminate as many as 50 spaces to make room for the much larger facility.

With that expansion, it also is unclear where O’Connell will park the two school buses that are typically needed to bring visiting teams. More than two buses may be needed when Marymount University arrives for games because both the home and visiting teams would need bus transportation and parking.

O’Connell has its own large yellow bus that is left in its lot and typically takes seven to eight parking spaces. So we will deduct spaces on the assumption there will be three buses (two for visiting teams, and one for O’Connell’s). To summarize:

518 spaces now
- 50 spaces lost because of stadium expansion
- 21 spaces for buses (3 buses x 7 spaces)
= 447 parking spaces available in O’Connell’s lots

(O’Connell officials have said they plan to increase the capacity of their lots by shrinking the size of many parking spaces. We don’t have precise calculations for this, but our survey of the lot suggests any gain from this will be modest.)

Using our assumption of 1,700 people attending and 2 people per car, that means a capacity event will bring 850 cars. And with only 447 spaces at the school, there will be a parking shortage of 403 spaces.

So that means that up to 403 cars will seek parking in the neighborhood on residential streets.

4. Number of Spaces Available on Neighborhood Streets

To calculate the number of spaces available in neighborhoods streets surrounding Bishop O’Connell, we counted available spaces on each street. We visited the streets at various times to estimate how many spaces would be taken by residents on a typical game night.

Accounting for nighttime residential parking patterns is a critical variable because the night games will occur when most residents are home and park their vehicles in front of their homes. This substantially reduces the number of spaces available to the game attendees, forcing them to park on streets farther away from the school. Another variable is how many neighborhood streets will seek expanded restrictions on parking, effectively putting their streets off limits. This, too, could force game attendees to park even farther from the school.

We drove through the streets at night and found that the streets that immediately border O’Connell -- Trinidad, 26th Street, Underwood and Little Falls -- had relatively few cars parked on them. But on the residential streets beyond those boundaries, residents had taken many of the parking spaces in front of their homes. By our count, neighborhood cars took up about 50 percent of the spaces. So we’ll apply those factors to each type of street in our calculations:

  • Nearly all spaces available for game attendees on the sections of Trinidad, N. 26th, Little Falls and Underwood that directly form the borders for O’Connell.
  • 50 percent available on other residential streets around the school.

We assume that attendees at the O’Connell games will seek parking in the neighborhoods closest to the stadium, so for the purposes of this study, we’ll began by assigning cars to those streets and working outward.

We found the immediate streets that border O’Connell provide parking for 146 cars. We did not include the Tuckahoe Elementary School lot because on some nights it is likely to be filled with cars for nighttime Tuckahoe events. Those events could also limit or even eliminate the available parking for O’Connell attendees on 26th Street. For purposes of this study, we won’t include the lot, but neither will we deduct the lost spaces on 26th Street for nights when Tuckahoe has an event. (It’s important to note, however, that on nights when Tuckahoe and O’Connell both have events, there will be an even more severe shortage of parking.)

So even if cars fill every space on the streets that directly border O’Connell, there is still a shortage of 257 parking spaces. So that means that 257 cars will need to find parking in the neighborhoods.

Initially, cars will be parking on the neighborhood streets closest to O’Connell. We assigned cars to the streets where we calculated people would be likely to park, working from the streets closest to O’Connell. Using our assumption of 50 percent of the spaces already in use by homeowners, we assigned spaces for the O’Connell attendees on the following streets:

Underwood between Lee Hwy and 26th
24th Road cul de sac
25th Street cul de sac
26th Road cul de sac off Trinidad
27th Street North/Somerset between Trinidad and Little Falls
28th Street between Trinidad and Somerset/27th
Little Falls between Trinidad and Sycamore
Tuckahoe Street/29th from Little Falls to Trinidad
Underwood between Little Falls and Williamsburg Blvd
Little Falls between Underwood and Washington/I-66
27th Street between Underwood and 26th
26th between Washington and Underwood

Those streets provided an additional 225 parking spaces. When added to the 146 spaces on the streets that border O’Connell, and it totals 371.

That meant that if people attending the games took every available parking space on the adjacent streets, it still wouldn’t be enough for our estimate of 403 cars that would need parking outside the school.

So we sought to find more parking spaces. To find them, we were forced to look in what we’ll call the “outer ring,” streets that are a longer walk from the stadium but where drivers will seek parking as the closer spaces are taken.

It includes these streets, which could also see a significant number of parked cars:
Sycamore Street on the Tuckahoe Park side, from 26th to the park entrance
Sycamore Street, residential side, from 26th to across from across from the park entrance
West side of Sycamore between Little Falls and 26th
East side of Sycamore between 27th and 26th
29th Street/Tacoma

Only at that point, with cars now parked in the outer ring across Sycamore and on streets a long walk from the stadium, there would be sufficient parking.


The expansion of O’Connell’s football stadium and the installation of stadium lights will bring hundreds of additional cars to nighttime events at the private high school. Because the school’s existing parking lots do not provide adequate parking, even for daytime games, the larger crowds attending events in the larger stadium will face a significant shortage of on-site parking.

The parking shortage will force hundreds of drivers to seek parking on neighborhood streets. The study finds that only 447 cars will be able to park in O’Connell’s lots, so at a typical game, 403 cars will be forced to find parking on the neighboring streets. With cars taking every available space, attendees will still have to search for many blocks to find an open space. Residents who arrive during a game may also have to hunt far beyond their street to find a place to park.

We offer this study with the caveat that some variables can’t yet be determined. Residents on many streets are likely to seek more parking restrictions, which will cut capacity even further and force cars to park even farther away. And it’s not known how often Tuckahoe will hold events the same night as O’Connell, which could make the parking shortage even more severe.

-- Residents of Williamsburg and                
Arlington/East Falls Church Civic Associations

Contact: Bill Adair,