The District Gave Us Streateries. Now, We Need Parking.
By June 16, 2021 0 297•
Walking the commercial streets of Georgetown these days the relief, even joy, of shoppers, salon, café and restaurant patrons, and even tourists is as visible as the streets active with cars and sidewalks with people.
Everyone is noticing the streateries and expanded sidewalks, running along most sides M Street from about 29th to 33rd Streets and Wisconsin Avenue from Grace to S Streets, and a two small spots on 28th Street and up on up on P. Some shopkeepers display wares on chairs and tables outside. In the evenings, streateries, lighted up, make Georgetown come alive. “Streateries might be the saviour of Georgetown,” as onlookers have proclaimed.
“The District of Columbia has invested some $460,000 to date for the development of the secure but mobile platforms, protective shielding and landscaping,” according to Georgetown Business Improvement District CEO Joe Sternlieb. “The rest of the project’s total costs estimated to exceed one million dollars is being covered by the BID,” he said.
The expanded sidewalk-streatery project has been a vision of the Georgetown BID. The economic crisis brought on by the pandemic shutdown suddenly accelerated the project as a primary focus for the recovery of Georgetown’s small businesses. The one known unknown concern was parking. Streateries are taking up more that 200 street parking places, according to BID. That’s a big problem.
Shoppers and diners in Georgetown, used to parking on the street and running into favorite stores or having a quick bite, now cannot during the day. One shopkeeper showed the Georgetowner a text she received from a regular customer from Bethesda the day they were laying the expanded sidewalks on Wisconsin Avenue. “I’ve been looking for 25 minutes for a place to park so I can come into the shop and try on some things,” the customer wrote. “I’m giving up and going home. Sorry.” Almost $1,000 of expected business was lost, according to the upset shop owner, who struggled to stay open, especially after her shop was looted in June 2020.
There are thousands of parking spots in office garages, according to Sternlieb. Problem is, most are south of M Street and not available during working hours. Many people don’t want to walk uphill to shop and dine on Wisconsin Avenue, and others don’t want to retrieve their cars alone in a big garage. Many don’t want to chance a ticket by parking illegally nor pay extra on for-hire vehicles. BID has been trying to help some businesses negotiate discounts with parking lot owners. Still, the parking businesses have all the leverage.
Places like Bethesda support free and frequent, clean and well lit, easy off and on shuttles for customers from mid-morning to after midnight. Other municipalities subsidize free parking – usually 90 minutes at designated spots. In this regard, the District of Columbia should step up to the plate. After all, the city has spent almost a half million dollars to develop the widened sidewalks so more people might come. But now those eager consumers can’t park. The city should consider subsidizing shuttles, electric go carts and parking in partially used commercial or public lots throughout Georgetown.
It’s not like the city can’t afford it. When Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced her 2021 budget May 26, the Washington Post wrote: “Bowser’s $17.5 billion budget, flush with federal dollars.” “We are using significant federal investments to provide recovery and growth opportunities across all eight wards,” Bowser said. “We have weathered the financial impacts of Covid.”
“We did approach the city early in the pandemic about reducing parking lot taxes in exchange for agreement from operators to lower their rates,” Sternlieb told The Georgetowner. “The city said no. The city has always been reluctant to subsidize parking in private garages… albeit with some exceptions in Adams Morgan and at Union market.”
So, today, it seems reasonable to ask D.C., flush with pandemic savings, to seriously consider the final piece of the streateries project. Subsidize parking for those shopping and dining in Georgetown.