Precise parallel parking is an art: Mastered by some, frustrating to many. For those who live, work and shop in Alexandria it is a necessary part of life in the city. Generating enough parking spaces to meet the demand of residents, employees and customers is more science. Demand can be calculated by examining available data on the number of residents and businesses in various parts of the city and by evaluating studies on parking patterns. Meeting that demand is another matter.
Parking and its myriad attendant issues, such as cost, availability and fairness have long been topics of contention in our city. The long-simmering issue has reached a boiling point in recent weeks with the July 1 hike in parking meter rates from $1 to $1.75 per hour. Since then, these pages have been full of letters and columns from residents, business leaders and elected officials who have been upset or concerned about various aspects of parking in Alexandria.
Specific concerns raised have included outrage over the meter rate increase, which many residents felt was excessive and unnecessary (i.e., spending cuts would have been preferable). Although its too soon to tell, there is worry that the rate increase will negatively impact business owners in Old Town and Del Ray. Citizens have been concerned about the fairness involved in requiring holders of handicapped placards to pay for parking (most respondents supported the same parking rates for everyone). Others have expressed outrage over bus parking in Alexandria. While tourism dollars benefit us all, the price of those dollars can seem steep to nearby residents who must deal with bus noise and pollution and large crowds descending on Old Town.
The stickiest problems concern squaring the parking needs of residents with those who drive to patronize restaurants and shops, particularly in lower Old Town (though the problem exists in Del Ray and Upper King Street as well). At peak times, there simply arent enough spaces on the streets for all who want to park, resulting in disgruntled residents who wind up parking five blocks from home or in unhappy restaurant-goers, who return a little too late to their cars after a nice meal to find a ticket. These people may decide to dine elsewhere next time.
As Chamber of Commerce President Tina Leone points out in her column this week, we need to find ways to get patrons of Alexandria establishments, particularly in Old Town, to park in garages. Perhaps some of the revenues from the meter rate increase should go to subsidize garage parking on weekends and in evenings. The city, the Chamber and businesses could then advertise the availability of discounted parking. Such a partnership could go far toward solving the parking dilemma while also helping to erase the perception, fair or not, that Alexandria is not friendly to small businesses.
The key to solving Alexandrias parking dilemma is one of balance. The offsetting concerns of residents, workers, business owners, shoppers and tourists must be weighed against one another. The needs of tax-paying residents should come first, as livability is one of Alexandrias key attractions. But getting the cars of patrons off residential streets and into parking garages will go far toward moving the debate on parking in Alexandria from tempestuous to tepid.