Parking in Old Town must help retailers thrive

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By Elizabeth Todd, founder, The Shoe Hive; co-founder, The Old Town Boutique District

Alexandrians take great pride in our thriving downtown commercial district. Most municipalities our size around the country can only dream of one day building such a great place to dine, shop, work and meet, all in a distinctive and charming locale. We cannot take our downtown district’s commercial health for granted and it is imperative that the city’s parking policies be designed in a manner to foster that health and not damage it.

Old Town’s retailers succeed in spite of what can only be called a challenging parking environment. The primary competitors to our district are planned shopping malls in Arlington and Fairfax counties with acres of free and convenient parking. Those developments seek the same thing we seek: a place where customers can eat a meal, peruse multiple specialty shops and enjoy salons all on the same trip, all without having to move their car in the process.

Alexandria’s City Council needs to make this “park once” objective the driving force behind all of the city’s parking policies. That would include:

1)   Increasing the maximum parking time on a city meter from 2 hours to 3 hours, enabling a customer to shop and eat a meal without moving their car.

2)   Better signage so that parkers who like garages will know where to find them.

3)   Reasonable parking rates and maximum street spaces available for out-of-zone parkers during business hours.

4)   A more customer-friendly and less predatory approach to meter enforcement — the availability of digital meter information should not result in many parking fines issued at the exact moment a parking credit expires, as is now too often the case.

These four principles would go a long way to help Alexandria minimize the parking disadvantage our retailers face relative to our competition. And when our shops and restaurants thrive, the city’s tax base thrives.

Unfortunately, over the past few months, some discussion among city leaders has moved in the exact wrong direction on parking. For example, some in the city’s leadership want to “force” parkers toward garages, when the fact is many customers dislike garages and those garages are not even available for those visiting the Upper King Street corridor. The extension of parking meter enforcement to 9 p.m., which began this summer, sent a signal that the city prioritizes revenue over convenience. Recent debate has involved a potential increase of meter rates to increase revenue, when we should seek to keep meters as cheap as possible to lower the barrier to shop in Old Town. Our competition allows free parking — that’s the number Alexandria competes against.

Alexandria retailers are coming together to advocate “Park Smarter” policies — it’s critical to the success of our businesses, most of which are locally owned and a vital component of our city’s economy. We ask customers to join us in advocating these policies and holding city leaders accountable to make positive changes.

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10 COMMENTS

    • You are greatly mistaken. This is private property developed and paid for by investors. Here in the United States the Constitution protects us from the taking of property without due compensation. If those office buildings wish to allow you to park in their lots for a fee fine, but do not demand that you should be given preferential treatment because you refuse to use a taxi or public transportation or even your feet for 15 or 30 minutes to walk to downtown if you live within a couple of miles. Don’t forget, that those building owners take a huge liability risk to let you park on their property.

    • I understand and sympathize. However if you know the general layout of parking it should not be a problem.
      I started to explain the trick but thought better that if I disclosed some simple common logic to the public they would learn my tricks to find parking within a block of where you want to go so this reply has been censored. Don’t worry about garage parking, there is always nonmeterred street parking if you know what you are doing.

      • If your “trick” is to park in the unmetered parking just bordering King on either side, you’re part of the problem for residents such as myself. Parking in spots designated for residents prohibits me from parking within a few blocks of my own house since the city extended parking hours to 9P. I’m sympathetic to the plight of businesses along King in OTA, and the city’s extension of enforcement hours has likely only made it worse. People who would come and park at 6:30 and pay for half an hour of parking now park in resident spots rather than pay for 2.5 hours of parking (which I don’t believe is even possible in parts of Old Town). The parking problem in OTA is becoming a burden on retailers and residents alike, and the City is only exacerbating it in their ever-growing reach for tax revenue.

        • Ultimatly this is a problem that the city council is going to have to fix. The new parking restictions are unwanted and the additional revenue can be found in the form of spending cuts. Not new/more tax burden placed on the citizens of Alexandria. My family no longer visits businesses in OT or Carlyle as a boycott to show the city we mean business. We can go out in Arlington and spend our dining funds in other areas that do NOT have these ridiculous parking restrictions. I encourage everyone who has issues with the parking restrictions to voice their opinion to Justin and the city council.

  1. The parking meter decisions made by the City Council are astonishing. I have talked to numerous businesses in Old Town and Carlyle who have noticed a steep drop off in commercial activity directly linked to the new parking restrictions. I am a current resident in Carlyle and i can tell you after 5 PM on weekdays and on saturday the place is a ghost town. NOBODY comes anymore and its directly related to the parking restrictions. Caryle businesses are suffering just at a moment when good restaurants were starting to move to the area. Im afraid these new parking policies will prevent new businesses from moving into the neighborhood. We already have too much vacant commercial property in the area and these short-sided polices will ensure that it remains vacant. I urge people to contact Justin Wilson and voice your concerns.

    another issue to consider is why does these parking restrictions NOT apply to the crowded streets of Del Ray? PErhaps its because Justin and the mayor live in Del Ray and subscribe to the NIMBY doctrine. Thanks a lot justin. Please contact Justin at http://www.justin.net

  2. I support all the suggestions made by Elizabeth Todd to improve the parking situation in Old Town. I particularly favor longer time limits from two to at least three hours. There are many places in Old Town that use VOLUNTEERS and they need to rush out in the middle of their three hour commitment to attend to their car. The city should be grateful for volunteer support for the English Language Learners Program, the Twig, the Opportunity Shop, 10,000 Villages, etc. I hope the parking regulations will be be reviewed.

  3. “The primary competitors to our district are planned shopping malls in Arlington and Fairfax counties with acres of free and convenient parking.” Strongly disagree. It’s an apples to oranges comparison. The draw of Old Town is character and perceived authenticity. A real “sense of place” vs. some shopping mall with acres of parking. Old Town isn’t competing with Tyson’s, or Pentagon City. The shops, restaurants, amenities, and experiences are completely different. In 20 years of living in Alexandria, whenever I’ve driven to Old Town, I’ve never had to park more than two blocks away from my destination. It’s not difficult at all, I don’t mind paying, and for long stays- bike parking is free and extremely convenient, and virtually buses operating in the City lead to somewhere near Washington and King.