Polly Roebuck and Linnsey White budgeted for gas for their trip from Pennsylvania to the District — they just didn’t expect to use half of the money circling the city in search of a parking space.
“It took more gas to find a parking space in the District than it did to drive from Pennsylvania,” said Ms. White, 21. “We drove around for 45 minutes just to find a parking space to go into the [Washington] Convention Center. It was extremely frustrating.”
Ms. White and Ms. Roebuck are not alone in their frustration as D.C. officials continually encourage tourists to visit a city that greets them with limited parking, confusing signs and aggressive ticket writers.
“They definitely need more parking,” said Ms. Roebuck, 21.
City officials recently acknowledged there are 175,000 more vehicles than on-street parking spaces on any day, which also contributes to the gridlock that visitors encounter as motorists orbit the downtown looking for inexpensive meter parking, instead of private garages.
The D.C. Department of Transportation has offered several solutions, including increasing the meter fees so motorists will no longer plunk coins into the machines throughout the day.
“The distribution of parking spaces by location and time is a long-standing problem,” Bill Rice, a transportation department spokesman, said yesterday. “These are just proposals at the moment, and they’re just out for discussion at the moment.”
The city has roughly 16,300 meters and collects about $13.5 million annually through a contract with Affiliated Computer Services State and Local Solutions, which monitors and repairs the meters.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, has also made some proposals to improve the city’s parking problems.
However, none of them include the repeal of legislation she sponsored in 2002 that allows council members to park free at meters.
Lon Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic says the District is not doing enough.
“This city is one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions, and everybody has figured that out except Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Mr. Anderson said the parking headaches are compounded by government officials trying too hard to make the District terrorist proof.
He cited as examples the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and the barricades around federal buildings.
“We all need to be safe, but this is the nation’s capital,” he said. “We need to appeal to tourists, and we need to offer tourists sites that are not torn up and parking that is available. Access and parking are key amenities for tourists. … Remember, Pennsylvania Avenue had 29,000 cars a day up and down the avenue passing the White House.”
Smithsonian officials yesterday reported a steady decline in attendance, 26.3 million visitors in 2002 to 20.4 million in 2004. However, they did not provide an explanation and said preliminary numbers show increases in 2005.
The city has taken some steps recently to alleviate parking problems.
Police recently arrested at least 15 persons for jamming, vandalizing and stealing from city parking meters, putting them out of service. And earlier this month, the city introduced a fleet of 29 gleaming new buses known as the D.C. Circulator, which offer crosstown rides for $1. A Metrobus ride costs $1.25 and Metrorail is $1.35 a ride.
Metro has added parking at its West Falls Church and College Park stations to encourage people to take public transportation, Steven Taubenkibel, an agency spokesman, said yesterday. He also said Metro ridership has continued to increase. The agency reported the 18.5 million riders in June was a 29-year high.
Victoria Isley of the Washington D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation disagreed that trying to find parking in the city deters visitors.
“We are aware parking can be challenging whether you are a resident or a visitor, but our safe and clean public transportation is a great asset to our city,” she said.
Linda Bazerjian and her family took a MARC train yesterday into the city, instead of driving from Baltimore.
“It’s cheaper than Amtrak,” she said. “It’s easier than driving into the District [and] having to find a place to park, then having to pay for it.”
Ayla Kremen contributed to this report.