Busting Myths About Georgetown Parking
By June 16, 2021 0 753•
In Georgetown, few issues are as controversial as parking. With the pandemic easing and commercial activity bubbling up, higher numbers of automobile drivers are competing for open spots. Everyone’s got a grievance, but — in the heat of the moment — the nuances and complexities of finding a space for your car are often overlooked.
To make sense of Georgetown’s parking dynamics, The Georgetowner spoke with Rick Murphy, Chair of the Georgetown-Burleith Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC2E), Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, and Jamie Scott, the BID’s Director for Planning and Economic Development.
Given Georgetown’s unique historic composition of small adjoining shops, narrow streets and a regional draw, they agreed that a delicate “balancing act” is required to meet the variety of commercial, residential and visitor needs in Georgetown, especially during the pandemic. Though they didn’t agree on everything, they did want to debunk certain myths surrounding the issue.
Myth #1: Georgetown Doesn’t Have Enough Parking.
Georgetown actually has plenty of available paid parking, though local residents and car visitors might have to scramble for free spaces. “We have over 7,000 parking spaces in Georgetown between on-street spaces, garages and lots,” Sternlieb said. Private parking garages and lots account for 3,200 spaces in Georgetown, according to data analyzed by Jamie Scott. “That’s probably about twice the amount of parking available for the Wharf,” Scott said.
“We feel there’s an adequate amount of parking in the garages and lots,” said Scott. “There are still about 1,100 metered spaces in Georgetown and 4,041 RPP [Residential Parking Permit] spaces in Georgetown and the city regulation allows visitors to park in those spaces for two hours. We’re not encouraging people to come and park in residential spaces, because it’s very important for residents to maintain the ability to park near their home… But I think there’s a lot of parking available in Georgetown.”
“There are a lot of spaces in the parking garages, particularly south of M St. and the BID is trying to encourage the operators to price in such a way as to make it attractive to people who would otherwise try to park on the street to try to park down there,” said Rick Murphy.
As the pandemic eases, ridesharing will also return, lowering demand for curbside parking, and freeing up curbside spaces. “The parking is there. We got some data from the [D.C.] Department of For-Hire Vehicles which is the city agency that regulates taxis, Ubers and Lyfts,” Scott said. “In 2019, before the pandemic, there were 1.5 million ride-sharing trips to and from Georgetown. Five years prior to that, there were probably none. Ridesharing has introduced a totally new way for people to get around. And there are many neighborhoods around the District that have popped up as entertainment, dining or retail destinations that, shockingly, don’t have tons of easily available curbside parking. And yet, people find a way to get there.”
With the pandemic, many Georgetown residents worked from home and kept their cars parked on the street, thereby reducing the number of available spaces. To the extent they return to their pre-pandemic commutes, neighborhood congestion may also be eased.
The BID and the ANC are also considering a program currently in use in Alexandria whereby residents are granted more free parking permits while non-residents are charged for parking on an hourly basis, thereby increasing street circulation as drivers stop trawling for free spaces. The idea is to “price the street parking for more turnover,” said Sternlieb.
Having lived in Georgetown for 18 years, Rick Murphy said he “gets it” when it comes to the complexities of finding residential parking in the neighborhoods. However, some long-term trends might be hopeful. According to the last D.C. Department of Transportation study on parking in Georgetown, automobile registrations among residents were declining. Given reduced car usage and the return of ridesharing, he said, “there may be less demand for parking as we come out of this.”
Myth #2: The Streateries and Sidewalk Widening Projects Are the Main Cause of Parking Problems.
Of the thousands of available parking spaces in Georgetown, only a few hundred have been taken by streateries in response to the pandemic and the BID’s sidewalk widening program launched prior to Covid. “We’re not losing parking to streateries,” said Murphy.
According to Sternlieb, only 2.5 percent of available parking has been affected by 200 spaces being reassigned out of approximately 6,000 spaces in all of Georgetown. Moreover, these new features have allowed for pick-up and drop-off points critical for the flow of commercial traffic and Georgetown’s vibrancy.
“We have replaced approximately 200 parking spaces with … something like 40 or 50 commercial loading pick-up and drop-off areas,” Sternlieb said. “So, what we’ve done is replaced storing private cars on our most valuable retail streets with places for people to get Uber and Lyft drop-offs and to get picked up, and for commercial loading to take place. For everyone else, we’re saying ‘listen, for the next six months, let’s see what wider sidewalks and outdoor dining can do to transform Georgetown into a more pedestrian focused historic neighborhood.’ ”
Myth #3: Enforcing Parking Restrictions by Ticketing Cars Will Only Make Parking Problems Worse.
Actually, when the District suspended parking enforcement in March 2020 due to the pandemic, it increased neighborhood parking congestion because out-of-boundary car commuters wound up squatting in free spaces for much of the day without penalty.
Over the last 15 months, Scott said: “The city was not enforcing residential parking restrictions or meters. So, if you live in Maryland or Virginia you could drive to Georgetown and park on the street all day or if you live in the District but not in Zone 2, you could drive on the street and park all day. And, as more people were working from home and weren’t moving their cars out front, it was really putting a lot of pressure on parking. Now that parking enforcement has resumed, we’re really hopeful some aggressive enforcement will return which … will help create more turnover and free up more space.”
Enforcing parking restrictions near loading or drop-off zones is especially important for the BID. “We reached out to the head of parking enforcement for the DPW [Department of Public Works] and we’ve done a walk with him in the last couple of weeks and are planning another one to highlight all the hot spots, like ‘this is a loading zone; it’s really important you enforce [here],” Scott said. Such enforcement will ease traffic flow, not only facilitating commercial activity, but cutting down on truck double-parking which causes congestion and makes finding parking that much more difficult.
Myth #4: Georgetown’s Paid Parking Is Too Expensive.
While parking fees can always be prohibitive for people’s budgets, the costs of parking in Georgetown appear to fare well against competing neighborhoods. During the pandemic, the Georgetown BID has also worked with major parking companies to provide discount prices during peak shopping days.
The Georgetown BID has also been promoting parking garage discounts on its website and encouraging visitors to take advantage. “We successfully worked with two parking garage operators to offer discounted parking rates… so there’s a parking garage at 3307 M St. [operated by PMI] that’s been offering $10 all-day parking,” said Scott. Since Memorial Day, visitors can find a space at Georgetown Park’s Colonial Parking lots, for “$12 in the garage after 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and a $15 max on Saturday and Sunday, with Thursday through Sunday being the busiest days in Georgetown.”
The BID website features all public garages and lots available to visitors as well as parking reservation opportunities. It is also currently promoting the SpotHero app so visitors to Georgetown can easily find open parking spaces.
Other District neighborhoods can also be pricier to park than Georgetown, according to Sternlieb. “You know, the parking at the Wharf, on a night when something’s at the Anthem, prior to Covid, it’s $45 to park in the lot. But, it’s $12 to park in our lots. So, I think what we have to do is look at our world and see where the competition is… and recognize that the world has changed and we’re evolving with it.”
Myth #5: Georgetown Residents and Businesses Are at Odds Over Parking.
While ANC2E represents the interests of the residents of Georgetown and the Georgetown BID is dedicated to enhancing Georgetown’s commercial district, each has worked closely with the other during the pandemic. “We want to make sure the scarce resource of parking is fairly allocated,” Murphy said, “but on the other hand, we’re interested in having a vibrant commercial area. So, like many things, it’s a balancing act.”
Working closely with the BID has been one of the ANC’s priorities this year. “One of our most important issues for the last several years has been trying to bring the commercial district back,” Murphy said. “That’s very key for the neighborhood.”