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Metro's midday parking problem

Although Metro ridership is down, parking at Metro stations is not. Riders find they must get to the lots and garages earlier and earlier to find a space. Where does that leave a person who needs a space at midday? This letter writer decides to explore the issue to help her daughter.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
My daughter, who is a high school senior, is about to start a downtown D.C. internship for six weeks. Twice a week, she will leave school in Alexandria at noon and commute downtown.

Is there any way to find out which Metro stations in Northern Virginia might have parking spaces at noon? Options would be Franconia-Springfield, Dunn Loring or West Falls Church. But I noted on the WMATA Web site that at least at East Falls Church, the charge for parking is made on entry to the lot and thus, if the lot is full, you are not only out of luck, you are out the parking fee as well.

Can you give us your best information and advice on this topic?
-- Lesa L. Aylward

Metro doesn't have a parking system like BWI Marshall Airport's, which shows space availability on the levels and aisles of its garages. And it doesn't have one like Reagan National Airport's, which allows people to see the number of spaces available in the lots and garages before they leave for the airport. (As I write this, I know the A garage at National is full, but there are 600 spaces available in the B/C garage.)

So when you head for a garage with tight parking, you're on your own. The best chance for post-rush hour parking comes at 10 a.m., when the unfilled reserved parking spaces open up to everyone. But even those can disappear by noon.

On Monday, our letter-writer went out and did her own research. This is her report:

West Falls Church
1. At 11:50 a.m., the garage and parking lot entrances were blocked off with signs saying the lot was full, although people were leaving at a rate of a three or four cars every minute or two.
2. I noticed that there are meters along the access road, and with investigation I found that these meters are 12 hour meters (no parking between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.) and take either quarters ($1.00 per hour) or a Metro-issued card (but not the SmarTrip card). This card is apparently available only at Pentagon, Metro Center, or Metro headquarters.
3. There is also an independently-run surface lot across from the Metro garage that costs $4.50 per day. I talked to the attendant, and he said there is generally space in the middle of the day, although things are a little squeezed right now because of the snow piles.

Franconia-Springfield
At 12:15, there were signs blocking all garage entrances saying it was full, although again, people were leaving at a steady clip. There appeared to be no other options. I know that my daughter will not get out and move a sign to let herself into the garage, so this appears to be a no-go.

West Falls Church again
I drove back to West Falls Church (tracing the route she would take from her school). It took exactly 15 minutes from her school to the West Falls Church station, and I arrived at 12:40. At this point, they had removed the "full" signs from at least one of the entrances to the parking lot/garage.

Dr. G: What else can you travelers suggest? What's been your recent experience with post-rush parking at Metro lots and garages?

By Robert Thomson  |  February 24, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Comments

Park at the Springfield mall and take the TAGS (small green bus) to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station. The TAGS bus costs 25 cents (much less than parking at a metro station) and the mall ramp is never full. The bus stop is just past the Macy's entrance.

Posted by: nevermindtheend | February 24, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

She already has a car and midday traffic is not so bad, so why not just drive into DC and eliminate the Metro hassle entirely? The fare plus parking should be pretty close to what a downtown garage would charge and it is only 6 weeks. Skip a few Starbucks lattes and my guess is that it would be a wash.

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | February 24, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

@nevermindtheend: Park at Springfield Mall? Are you serious? I would NEVER let my teenage daughter go near that place, let alone use a parking deck. Springfield Mall is a little PG county when it comes to crime, especially crimes with female victims.

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | February 24, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

29 K/N bus to King St Metro

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | February 24, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

@Ebola_22039 I feel sorry for your daughter. She must be afraid of everything. Would you let her take transit? Go into DC alone? Have you ever even been to the Springfield Mall or are you just afraid of it because you've heard that minorities go there?

Posted by: nevermindtheend | February 24, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I understand the desire to use public transportation, but honestly it sounds to me like the best bet is to drive all the way into DC and park. By the time you pay for parking and a round trip metro ride to any of those outer stations, you could just pay for the parking in DC.

Or perhaps try the Huntington Metro? They have a HUGE garage that never seems to be full. It's a little farther from your perimeter, but might be a good solution. There's also a bunch of parking around the Eisenhower Metro.

Posted by: Ellvee | February 24, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

She might leave the car at TJHS and take the bus to Pentagon station. Fairfax Connector 306 buses pass TJHS at 11:17 AM and 12:17 PM headed for Pentagon. Metro Route 17A or 17F will get her back to TJHS in the afternoon rush.

Posted by: jcflack1 | February 24, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Greetings from a fellow (and far older :-/ ) TJ Colonial...

Have you considered parking at Ballston? They charge lower rates for shorter hours, because the (very large) garage there is shared with the mall. This also means that you can virtually always find a space there. From TJ, just take Braddock to Columbia Pike, and hang a left on Carlin Springs, which dead ends at the Ballston Common parking garage, which then has a bridge to the Metro. Mid-day traffic on that route is negligible.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | February 24, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

@nevermindtheend: Thanks for the concern, but my daughters - 17, 19 and 22 - are pretty self-sufficient and more than capable of taking care of themselves. All have spent considerable time traveling, alone or in small groups, to more than 20 countries including stops in Beijing, Port-au-Prince and Caracas, so they are quite familiar with risks in an urban environment. Not that it matters, but my oldest daughter works with Teach for America in the South Bronx.

The OP has a daughter who may not be as familiar with the risks at Springfield Mall (and you cannot argue the robberies - above the FXCO average - are not a reality ) which are worth considering.

Afraid of minorities? Hardly, since I am AA and my husband is from El Salvador.

I still contend that, for 12 trips over 6 weeks, that driving to DC is the easiest and least stressful solution.

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | February 24, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

To the person who said that Springfield Mall is too dangerous and instead this teenager should drive into D.C., you need to get real. The crime rate in D.C. is 10 times greater than at Springfield Mall!

Posted by: buffysummers | February 24, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

@Ebola_22039 Driving may well make more sense in this situation, but I still don't understand this seemingly irrational fear of the Springfield Mall. Unless this high school girl is going to be driving a fancy car and leaving expensive gadgets laying out the open, I doubt she would have any problems.

Posted by: nevermindtheend | February 24, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Dr G--

Parking lots are full. Trains and platforms are overcrowded (remember, Metro claims they have not reduced service). This does NOT add up to "ridership is down."

Where are the numbers, and have those numbers been audited and verified?

Posted by: ceebee2 | February 24, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Springfield Mall is crummy. I haven't been there for ages. I don't like it. Wannabe tough guys trying very hard to be "gangsta" skulking around with their trashy, tattoed girlfriends. Stick with Pentagon City, Ballston Common or the one in Georgetown. Springfield Mall has nothing that those malls don't have. Parking depends on what Metro station you go to. Some have extended their parking garage to accomodate more cars. Luck of the draw. But a lot of them do fill up by 10am. It ain't fun driving around trying to find a space. On the weekend, of course, it's a different story. Lots of space. If I had a daughter, I would be protective too. Men have it easier, more freedom. But there are still places in PG County & SE DC I stay away from because of bad experiences. In some neighborhoods, you stand out if you're white. Peeps be thinking you're Donald Trump.

Posted by: uncivil | February 24, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

@buffysummers: The girl is going to be in DC either way...why add unnecessary risk?

@nevermindtheend: Not irrational - the crime statistics for Springfield Mall do not lie. I do not understand the point of needlessly putting yourself into a potentially dangerous situation when there are lower risk alternatives. Also, you don't need to be driving a Lexus and carrying a Kate Spade bag to be targeted. Before you ask, no one in my family has had an issue there, but several friends have and the police blotter for the Franconia District has at least an incident per week (that is reported).

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | February 24, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Pentagon City has its share of sights too. Baby mamas. More tough guys. Very convenient with the Metro station right there. Used to have a multiplex but no more.

Posted by: uncivil | February 24, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

For those who say park downtown - where can you park from 1 PM to 6 PM for less than $16? All of the garages have early bird specials, but you usually have to be there by 8 or 9 AM.

If she is going to be gone by 4 PM, then she can park on the street and feed the meter, but it can be tricky to find a spot and if she has to leave every hour to feed the meter, it won't be much of an internship.

Posted by: support6 | February 24, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I agree wholeheartedly with Ebola_22039. There have been scores of robberies and thefts at Springfield Mall. As an adult, I don't like to go there at night alone, nor walk along the parking lots by myself. Although, she may be fine since this is during the day, as a parent, I wouldn't feel comfortable sending my high school aged daughter there by herself. I also agree that driving would be easiest and probably be a wash cost-wise.

As to Buffy's comments, while DC's crime rate may be higher, the crime isn't concentrated in downtown dc parking garages (most of which valet) during the day. Sending a teenager into a vacant garage in the Springfield Mall isn't the same as her driving downtown and leaving her car with an attendant at a parking garage in the middle of the day while the street 5 feet away is busy with people.

In addition, i tried to park at the Springfield Metro in the middle of the day yesterday, and the signs did show as full. I did see a couple cars come out and tried to move a sign to gain entry to the garage, but the gates wouldn't open anyway. So, I ended up driving into DC myself and found ample parking downtown.

So, I too agree that driving would probably be easier.

Posted by: Carla2198 | February 24, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The garage at the Ballston Common shopping mall is a good option. It's fairly cheap--I paid $4 to park there for about 5 hours on Monday, entering at around noon and leaving at around 4 PM. There is also a covered skywalk that leads to the building adjacent to the Metro stop, 901 North Stuart Street (the building where the Arlington Immigration Court and the Ruby Tuesday are located). From Jefferson, the easiest route is probably to take Braddock to Columbia Pike, make a right, pass under VA-7, make a left onto Carlin Springs, and follow that to its end. The garage entrance is then straight ahead through the light at Glebe Road.

The Springfield Mall commuter parking is on the top level of the garage closest to Macy's. I understand it's fairly popular because it's free. You can also walk from there to the Metro if you have time. The mall itself is fairly crime-ridden these days, but I doubt the commuter parking faces major problems because people wouldn't be willing to park there if crime were an issue.

The Pentagon City mall has a garage, but it's expensive. Ballston is a much better option.

The other Orange Line stops in Arlington also have some sort of parking available, though they may be pricier than Ballston and not as readily-accessible. Between Virginia Square and Clarendon there is a street near the GMU law school that has pay-and-display meters that allow for long-term parking (I think maybe up to 10 hours). I believe the street is Fairfax Drive; it's the segment right in front of the Catholic church located across the street from the newer part of the law school building. Note that these meters are very popular with the law students and with attorneys using the law library, but availability is better in the afternoons. Also, there is a parking garage at the Market Common (shopping mall down Clarendon Boulevard from the Clarendon Metro), but it costs more than Ballston's. There is also a garage at the shopping/office area adjacent to the Court House Metro, with a covered entrance to the subway, but again I don't know what it costs.

Depending on where this lady's daughter is going, it may be easier (and maybe cheaper) just to drive into DC and park at the surface lot where the old convention center was.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 24, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

"I paid $4 to park there for about 5 hours on Monday, entering at around noon and leaving at around 4 PM."

Obviously, I meant "for about 4 hours." Either way, a dollar an hour is a pretty reasonable rate in the DC area, and they never seem to run out of space. Note that the top two levels can often be more crowded than the lower levels because the Capitals' practice facility is on top of the garage. People going to watch practice sometimes park on the next-to-last floor so that their cars are out of the weather (and because some of the players park on that floor to try to avoid stalker-type fans seeing what they drive).

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 24, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Since parking lots are full, shouldn't Metro be considering reducing the number of spaces available in order to save money?

Posted by: member5 | February 24, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I have parked at Springfield Mall and walked to/from the metro many times. I'm not a teenager - I'm 26 - but it's not threatening. She isn't even going in the mall. She doesnt have to park on the top of the garage, Metro users may park on 2, 4, or 6, I believe, and at any time of day I walked there/back, there were other commuters walking that route at the same time.

I also worked at the mall when I was 16 (so yes, 10 years ago, but everyone knows the reason the mall when downhill was because of metro, which was there then). There is ample security in the parking garage and even a police substation in the mall.

Living in fear is silly.

Anyway, should the OP's daughter park at Springfield, I suggest she tell her daughter to be aware of her surroundings. But that's basic safety for any person, at any place.

Posted by: thistowniswrong | February 24, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

If an above ground parking garage at Springfield Mall is too "dangerous" wouldn't the underground garages in D.C. be even more "dangerous." So once a year a violent crime occurs outside Springfield Mall and you become terrified. Please put things into proportion. Also, there are deadly accidents on I-95 and the Beltway on a daily basis so wouldn't this teenager be in even more danger driving into D.C.

Posted by: buffysummers | February 24, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Ummm. Maybe WMATA should get out of the business of running parking lots and should leave it to the professionals?

Posted by: KS100H | February 24, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I would echo the suggestion of Ballston Common Mall. Its not dirt cheap, but its not all that much more expensive than a Metro garage if you aren't parking all day. Plus, you save a few cents on the Metro fare. The covered skywalk and the mall are well populated and safe.

I'm sorry, but I have to agree with the posters that suggest not parking at Springfield Mall. I have no problem with it, and I'm sure most adults would not either, but if I had a naive teenage daughter, I would not let her park there. Forget about the crime, I'd be more concerned with the walk to the Metro station, where you have to cross under a freeway. In the middle of the day, she would likely not have a lot of company when waiting for the TAGS bus if she chose that option. There is safety in numbers, when there are a lot of people around. There aren't a lot of people around that area in the middle of the day.

Posted by: thetan | February 24, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Buffy, as I mentioned, most garages around here are valet, so she wouldn't be going underground. Just because a garage is "above ground" doesn't mean it's safe or not safe. We're talking about statistics (and it's NOT once a year - check here: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/gisapps/myneighborhood/mynpolice.aspx).

And, driving into DC isn't any more dangerous than her driving anywhere else, so that argument isn't valid. And with the increase of accidents on the metro, the metro isn't safe either.

Posted by: Carla2198 | February 24, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I would argue that driving into DC isn't any more dangerous, per se, but unless she is experienced with city driving (which is very different than suburban driving), she might not be as comfortable or confident of her ability. When I moved from suburbs into DC, it took me a while to get used to city driving (looking for pedestrians, etc.)

Posted by: thetan | February 24, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Does the place she's interning have a garage of its own, or a deal with the local garage? For instance, the Kennedy Center does and at least when I was there (about 4 years ago) you could get reduced-fare parking by flashing your intern/employee ID. I think it was $6 for employees and $10-12 for everyone else (i.e., just had to pay the parking operator's fee, not the KC's cut).

It may be worth her asking her intern coordinator.

Posted by: forget@menot.com | February 24, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

@ceebee2:

Metro ridership stayed about the same from 2008-2009. Bus ridership was down around 4% though.

The platform crowding is mostly due to the fact that they can't run trains as fast or as close together as they used to (because they have to run in manual mode since the July crash).

For ridership info check out the FTA's monthly data release here: http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/data.htm

Posted by: mldickens | February 26, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

RE: Lesa L. Aylward - High School students and DC interns are two groups among which bicycles are very popular. From Thomas Jefferson High School to Franconia-Springfield METRO station is exactly five (5) miles. I checked google maps "streetview" and see excellent sidewalks the entire route between these two locations. This route should take about 45 minutes by bicycle at a leisurely pace. I young healthy person should not have any problems. Since it won't be rush hour, she can take your bicycle on the train with her. When she gets to her downtown DC Metro station, she can get from there to the intern location using the wonderful DC bicycle routes. She should get lights for her bicycle if she will be returning late at night.

Posted by: lwatkins4 | February 26, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

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