Parking Coalition: No Authority, But Subtle Power

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The Georgetown Parking Coalition is not the usual community organization profiled by The Georgetowner. Although its members are all well-known representatives of Georgetown’s most active and powerful community organizations, the Parking Coalition is not itself an official entity.

The Georgetown Parking Coalition has no real authority. While it has been very open about its meetings with city officials — what takes place and what information is shared — still those meeting are mostly closed to the press and the public. There is no staff, no application forms to fill out to join the coalition or even to indicate one’s support. There’s really nothing to support.

Nonetheless, the Georgetown Parking Coalition is on top of one of the most contentious, complex, dynamic and often emotional issues in Georgetown: the availability of parking places for Georgetown’s residents, their guests, business owners, employees and especially visitors. Its comments, reports and suggestions about what to do about the seemingly endless parking problems and proposed solutions have been listened to, quoted and written into parking regulations for the past 10 years.

“I don’t know how exactly it got started. That’s an interesting question,” mused Ron Lewis, one of the “founding” members of the coalition when he was an advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Not any one person started it. Just like now, available parking was one of the biggest issues during my time on the ANC. We always needed the best information available, and it seemed the best way to do that was for us community representatives to meet with city officials to find out what was available.”

“The idea was always to meet as a small group of community representatives and then pass on the information to Georgetown residents, business, university people and nonprofit organization activists in Georgetown to get their ideas for ways new parking policies could work,” said Jim Wilcox, a current advisory neighborhood commissioner active on the coalition.

It seems the function of the Georgetown Parking Coalition has always been to be an information conduit among all the stakeholders. These include the Georgetown Business Improvement District, the ANCs for Georgetown-Burleith and Dupont Circle, the Citizens Associations of Georgetown and Burleith and the Georgetown Business Association, as well as the District Department of Transportation and the offices of the mayor and Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, among others.

The coalition meets on an as-needed basis. From time to time, it convenes town meetings. Mostly, the members pass information on to the community groups and offices they represent.

The parking issue is not only complex; it changes over time, tracking changes in Georgetown’s demographics and in the local economy. In addition to more SUVs, there are now Ubers, Lyfts and commercial vehicles such as delivery vans and food trucks searching for parking. Special events at churches and nonprofits require overflow parking. Embassy staffers and highly placed officials with entourages of security vehicles demand reserved, unrestricted parking.

Wilcox recounts a recent kerfuffle on 28th Street between M and Olive Streets as a case in point. The defense ministry of the country of Qatar moved into a commodious office building on the block and reserved more than half of the east side of the street for diplomatic cars. Neighbors protested and DDOT ended up denying all diplomatic parking there.

Lewis cites growing interest in a relatively new plan to limit parking on one side of residential streets exclusively to residents and their guests. “It’s being tried in other District neighborhoods with good results,” he reported.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Rick Murphy has requested that more statistical information be gathered by DDOT about exactly how many parking places would be removed, reallocated or remain the same in various plans. The currently circulating claim that “over 2,000 parking places would be lost” is grossly exaggerated, according to Wilcox.

That’s why we have the parking coalition, Lewis said (his quiet voice has guided many an area compromise). “The best solution is to talk about everything with good information,” said Wilcox.

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