You will not understand Old Town’s parking woes until you live here

You will not understand Old Town’s parking woes until you live here

By Katherine Viar, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

With all due respect to Nate Macek of the Alexandria Planning Commission and his letter to the editor (“Resident-only parking is not the solution,” March 27), I have to disagree with his assessment that there is no need for resident-only parking in Old Town.

While Macek made many valid points and offered some suggestions worthy of consideration, he was too quick to assert that there is sufficient parking for residents. This isn’t just about applying principles of economics and numbers, but even if it was, the city got it wrong while crunching the numbers. As a resident, I feel compelled to provide a more accurate look at the parking challenges confronting us on a daily basis.

The parking study Macek referenced included (at least) one fundamental flaw. I pointed this out in a letter to the editor in March 2013 after much back and forth with the city’s transportation planning division. This concerned the methodology for exactly how parking space inventory was calculated.

In short, I confirmed with city staff that the survey of parking inventory counted on-street parking spaces that are technically illegal according to city code. I can attest to the fact that parking enforcement will ticket a resident’s vehicle if it is parked within 15 feet of an intersection in Old Town. It has happened to my husband and several of my neighbors in the southeast quadrant, even though their cars were not obstructing pedestrian crosswalks. The law is not enforced consistently, but it is the law nonetheless.

The parking survey should not have counted these spaces, occupied or not. If the parking survey included this fundamental mistake, I have to question what else was mismanaged in the overall study.

Even if a valid parking study found that less than 85 percent of on-street parking was being used, one only needs to drive into Old Town on a weeknight between 5:30 and 7 p.m. to see that the metered parking spots adjacent to King Street are largely vacant, while the nearby non-metered spots on residential streets are, by and large, occupied. I confront this situation on my way home from work and it is frustrating, not just because I typically cannot park within two or three blocks of my house, but because there are no exceptions in metered spots for residents with parking permits.

If city officials truly feel that there is no shortage of parking for residents, then why not allow residents to park in metered spots and exempt them from time limits and parking fees? Why did the parking study group not make this recommendation since, as Macek so astutely pointed out, visitors will opt for the vacant free spots before a vacant metered spot?

I also am not sure why those behind the parking study didn’t bother to survey Prince Street at 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. If they did, they would see that two-thirds of the spots on the 100 block are typically vacant, which serves as evidence that residents typically have access to one-third or fewer of the spots on Saturday evenings. I also can tell you that the vast majority of the visiting vehicles do not obey the time limits for parking, and we rarely see tickets issued for this offense.

I recognize that these are my own observations and therefore are anecdotal, but it certainly supports the call for a better-designed parking survey, and one that is more focused on how parking shortages affect residents.

I genuinely care about the potential impact of resident-only parking on the businesses in Old Town, but there is no guarantee that visitors will secure free on-street parking. Should we assume that shoppers and diners simply leave when they cannot find free parking?

I am not sure where the line should be drawn, but it seems to me that there are areas of Old Town where resident-only parking is warranted. It does not need to be an all or nothing proposition. Why not consider implementing resident-only parking during certain time periods only or limit resident-only parking to one side of the street on the most affected blocks, similar to what neighborhoods on Capitol Hill have done? This could provide a much-needed happy medium, assuming proper enforcement. Or, as I pointed out earlier, the city should exempt residents from the conditions of metered parking if officials continue to assert that there is sufficient parking overall. The 2012 parking study outlined some of these options, but ultimately did not recommend implementing any of them.

Moving to Old Town, my husband and I recognized that there would be parking challenges and that we would need to learn to coexist with tourists, visitors and patrons of the local businesses. We felt it was manageable and worth it to live in a lovely, historic city.

But the demand for parking has steadily increased since we moved here, and it will only get worse as development continues along the waterfront. Something needs to be done. Otherwise, the city will drive out residents increasingly frustrated by the lack of parking and parking enforcement.

There has to be a better way to manage this issue. If the city won’t listen to the affected residents, then we might as well move, because this significantly affects our lives on a daily basis.

Perhaps city officials would like to stay in my home for a week to better assess the true magnitude of this problem. If any of them care enough about their constituents and the quality of life in Old Town, my offer stands.