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Letter to the Editor: How To Manage On-street Parking

To the Editor:

A recent letter recommended resident-only on-street parking near the waterfront. However, this prescribes the wrong medicine for Old Town's constrained parking.

One need only visit blocks in the District or Arlington's Clarendon neighborhood to witness the results of resident-only parking zones. Many of the spaces are left unused in the evening hours, a waste of public resources. On-street parking works best when it is about 85 percent occupied, so that most spaces are in use but turnover occurs frequently enough for a few spaces in each block to remain available at any given time. If demand by residents is far less than the supply, the supply should be opened for use by others.

Old Town Alexandria's many small businesses could not survive without the convenience that on-street parking provides their customers. Indeed, in Clarendon, the retail mix has transitioned to many more chain stores over the last 10 years, coincident with the switch to resident-only parking in adjacent neighborhoods. Applied here, resident-only parking could negatively impact many of the locally-owned businesses Old Town residents themselves know and love. This is why the Old Town Area Parking Study Work Group, comprised of residents and businesspersons alike (and on which I served as a representative of the Waterfront Commission), was resolute in rejecting resident-only parking during its deliberations in 2012.

So what could we do to better manage Old Town's on-street parking? One requirement, adopted as city policy in the Waterfront Small Area Plan, is to require new development to provide off-street parking for its patrons. This is the case for the recently-approved hotel in the 200 block of South Union Street, which will construct a ratio of parking spaces per hotel room in excess of actual usage rates at comparable existing Old Town hotels. This policy will increase the supply of parking in Old Town, thereby limiting demand for on-street parking from patrons of new development.

A second approach is to manage existing demand for on-street parking through pricing. Right now, there's a great deal of incentive for Old Town visitors to park in adjacent neighborhoods because the parking (while time limited) is free. If there were a modest fee for visitors to park in residential blocks immediately adjacent to King Street and the waterfront, there would be less incentive to park on street, causing more motorists to park in garages and free up on-street parking spaces for residents. Residents and their guests with applicable parking permits could continue to park in their existing residential parking zone without paying the new fees, but would continue to pay to park along commercial blocks and in other residential parking zones. And they’d have an easier time finding parking near their homes.

In the past, implementation of an arrangement like this would have required the placement of costly multispace parking meters on residential blocks, rendering the proposal cost-prohibitive. However, new technology recently implemented in Old Town allows motorists to pay for on-street parking on commercial blocks by phone or smartphone app. This could serve as the exclusive payment option for paid visitor parking along selected residential blocks. With some additional signage and a rollout campaign to educate residents and visitors about the new policy, a pilot program could be up and running in a couple of months. As an added benefit, the program would generate additional revenue for city coffers.

These are but two of a number of innovative approaches we can apply to balance supply and demand for parking. On-street parking provides benefits for residents, visitors, and businesses alike. With the right policies, we can cooperatively manage this valuable resource.

Nate Macek

Old Town Alexandria