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Your Gov't At Work: Making It Even Harder to Park

Just when you thought it was becoming necessary to have an advanced degree in urban parking to find a space in downtown Washington, now comes the D.C. government to make it even harder.

The District has just published proposed valet parking regulations--a true sign of the gentrifying times, now that valet parking is sweeping across the core of the city--that would strip away an untold but very large number of parking spaces that until now were available to the taxpayers. The regulations would give restaurants, bars and the like the chance to grab curbside parking spaces and claim them entirely as their own, for use as staging areas for valet parking.

Of course, there's no problem whatsoever with the existing lack of regulation--valets simply step up to customers' cars that are momentarily double-parked and whisk the vehicle away to whatever garage they've rented spaces in. But the city--perhaps eager to snare some rental fees from restaurants--now proposes to charge establishments $15 per foot to rent public parking spaces, which would then be declared No Parking zones for actual taxpayers who are not shelling out the big money for valet service.

This is part of a continuing effort to hand public parking spaces over to private businesses for their own profit. First, it was the decision to give public spaces to Zipcar and Flexcar, the car-sharing businesses that are increasingly popular in the city. Those are at least businesses that may have a beneficial impact on reducing traffic--many city dwellers find that they can rely exclusively on car-sharing and don't need to own and park a car of their own. So there's at least some justification for using public space in that case.

But in the case of valet parking, there is no social good that comes from delivering public spaces into the hands of for-profit businesses. Those restaurants will offer valet service whether or not the city gives them low-rate public space. Customers surely don't care whether they hand over their keys at the curb or while double-parked. So the only benefit is for the convenience of the businesses.

Luckily, there's still time to stop this giveaway. You can email your views to publicspace.committee@dc.gov and also let your council member and the Mayor-Almost Elect know what you think.

By Marc Fisher |  September 22, 2006; 7:19 AM ET
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Comments

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Even now, restaurants commandeer spaces outside their front door for valet use. I have occasionally parked in one (at least where they didnt have a sign blocking it) and earned the verbal abuse of the restaurant's valet. But so far, at least, there's nothing they can do about it.

Other cities, trying to lure people into scary downtowns, have established valet curb zones so people will feel comfortable driving into town, knowing they won't have to walk any distance through the mean streets. West Palm Beach is an example. But it's hard to imagine why we need that in DC.

But doesnt this raise the question of why we need all these "No Parking Entrance" signs in front of office buildings that hardly anybody uses after 6pm? How is that any different?

Posted by: Meridian | September 22, 2006 8:32 AM

Valet parkers on the Hill are a joke. At the private for-profit business running out of the Frederick Douglass Museum (on a residential street) at 3rd and A NE, they hold political events and whatnot offering valet parking. Their parkers tell patrons that they are parking in nearby garages. Well, there ain't any nearby garages. They simply deposit the cars on already clogged residential streets. It's a sham. But these folks don't care. They don't live here, and they seem to view the residents of the neighborhood as a nuisance rather than as neighbors.

Of course, this is trumped only by the DC Police officer that used to 'direct traffic' for the church on the corner of 3rd and A. He'd 'reserve' street spaces for churchgoers, telling residents they couldn't park there. He'd also tell residents that there was 'police business' requiring double parking. Turns out it was just church parking taking over residential parking spaces and streets, under fear of official police reprisal if you protested.

Posted by: Hillman | September 22, 2006 8:45 AM

I and many others fully support giving a few street spaces to Zipcar and Flexcar. These services provide a great service to actual DC residents. They make it possible for a lot of people to ditch their cars and use these car services instead.

If the city really wanted to free up spaces, they'd go back and look at the huge spaces they have reserved for Metro buses. Sometimes 1/3 of the parking on a block is reserved for Metro buses. And the buses usually don't bother to use the spaces. They just pull up sortof nearby, in traffic anyway.

And a lot of the Metro bus zones are ridiculously duplicative, with numerous zones within a block or two. Some are used rarely, and many could be eliminated if Metro would just actually look at the situation.

Posted by: Hillman | September 22, 2006 8:48 AM

I've had the experience of trying to park in front of a restaurant, in a legal spot, and having a cop tell me I couldn't park there.

Fifteen dollars a foot for curb space seems incredibly low. A parking meter in a popular spot generates about $2000 per month.

Posted by: DC taxpayer | September 22, 2006 9:17 AM

I think it's ridiculous and unacceptable, it didn't seem to be a problem for restaurants before...(from personal experience), every time I've any business that offers Valet parking, they take my car and find a parking space vs. telling me sorry sir we can't find any parking.

What about the taxpayers that simply want to park downtown and take a walk with a loved one, sorry sir can't park here!

DC Gov't, Yuk!!!!

Posted by: Frankey | September 22, 2006 10:16 AM

I don't know about taking spaces, but in Bethesda many valet parkers are in such a hurry to park that they're are a menace to other drivers and pedestrians. The valets speed up and down slow streets and, worst of all, speed through parking garages where pedestrians are walking to/from their own cars. I report this to the police whenever I see it.

Posted by: J from Bethesda | September 22, 2006 12:47 PM

Hillman is right, there simply are no garage spaces. These cars are being parked on already clogged streets. There would a lot fewer people casually handing over their keys to valets if they knew what was really happening to their cars.

There's nothing quite like the experience of watching valets jockey cars in and out of a space in front of your house all evening. There is no first come first served on these public spaces, valets tie upt the same spaces on residental streets all evening. If anyhting the city should regulate valet parking be requiring that these businesses show proof of having control over off'street spaces for their patrons.

Posted by: CW | September 22, 2006 1:32 PM

It's elitist and undemocratic. The double parking, speeding, and illegal U-turns caused by the valets are just plain dangerous. I hate the whole idea. Take public transportation, a taxi, or wait in line and cruise for a parking place like the rest of us. Drive down Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda one Friday or Saturday night and you can see all the traffic problems the restaurant valets cause.

Posted by: I hate valet | September 22, 2006 2:52 PM

I am 100% behind this. With one condition. The valets must park--FREE OF CHARGE--any car with DC tags or whose driver or passenger holds a valid DC driver's licence, regardless of whether or not the occupants of the vehicle will patronize the establishment employing the valet. A refusal of said service would result in the loss of that establishment's right to use the parking places. I would, of course, be happy to tip the valet.

Posted by: dc driver | September 22, 2006 4:00 PM

DC Taxpayer writes:

"I've had the experience of trying to park in front of a restaurant, in a legal spot, and having a cop tell me I couldn't park there."

I wonder how many have had the same experience. The cops must be wrong, because if that were so there would be no need for the new law; the restaurants would already have the right to do what the city proposes charging them for. Couldn't be that the restaurant had slipped the cop a few bucks -- or a few meals -- to tell you that, could it? Nawww.

Posted by: Meridian | September 22, 2006 4:10 PM

I think this is an appalling idea. I will certainly write my Councilman-for-now, Mr Fenty, and let him know.

I'm not a lawyer (one of the 25 or so DC residents who isn't), but I would wonder if it is legal to take public street space and 'rent it out' to private entities like restaurants. Maybe this falls under the imminent domain regulations: I don't know. But the city should be trying to maximize use of public transportation and create a more livable city, not encourage people to head to the suburbs because there's no more parking downtown.

Posted by: Selden | September 22, 2006 4:32 PM

It seems like people are fewer people commenting--after all it's only the election--maybe it's time to post another article about how lousy soccer is. Throw some red meat to the hooligans.

Posted by: Chris | September 22, 2006 4:36 PM

Actually I'm all for valet parking IF they have a place for the cars. I love Old Ebbitt Grill downtown, but I know I can't eat there if they don't have valet parking. I don't find circling for half an hour for parking to be fun.

Yes, I can take a cab. But that adds $25 to the tab, and cabs in DC are so often filthy death traps.

We actually had a situation here on the Hill where valets were parking for Two Quail restaurant and 'reserving' street spaces for their guests, putting out cones, parking in illegal spaces, etc.. We ended up having to call the city and make them stop. Stupendously, the valets were quite belligerant about it.

Posted by: Hillman | September 22, 2006 4:54 PM

D.C. also seems to have a surfeit of "loading zones," where parking is banned for what seems like all day. How much of this loading is actually happening? I mean, the FedEx trucks and the ridiculous Deer Park water lorries block the streets whenever they want as it is. Why reserve further space for these inconsiderate obstacles?

Valet parking seems to be less of a hindrance to getting around than illegal trucks. At least the valets move the vehicles somewhere.

Posted by: bigolbose | September 22, 2006 5:02 PM

As Meridian points out, restaurants already do this. Might as well have a law to control it.

As for the $15 fee . . . the regulation also says that the restaurant/applicant has to reimburse the city for any lost revenue. So if there are in fact meters there that are collecting $2000/month, presumably that gets counted as well.

Posted by: ah | September 22, 2006 5:11 PM

Please don't compare the providing of spaces to Flexcar and Zipcar to this situation. Every space filled by one of these cars frees up many more spaces as neighborhood residents get rid of their cars. You can thank me for one more space in Adams Morgan thanks to this service and there are many more where I came from. I got rid of my car a year ago and am loving it.

Posted by: Shared Car User | September 22, 2006 5:24 PM

No no no no no!!! I drive from Arlington to 24th and M several times a month after work. Twice I have confronted valet parkers who had put their No Parking sign up and claimed it was therefore illegal for me to park there. Both times I went ahead and parked, because it was perfectly legal for me to do so. One of those times the sign was actually in the street, and I simply moved it onto the sidewalk. Parking is hard enough, and I am there to spend my money in DC just like the people going to the restaurant, so I have every right to park there. p.s. Metro is not an option because there is no station near where I live and no bus routes to get me home.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 22, 2006 6:52 PM

I have never understood why DC has not built municipal parking garages downtown and in major commercial areas like other large cities (and even small towns and suburbs like Bethesda and Silver Spring) have done.

Maybe someone out there can enlghten us?

Posted by: CEEAF | September 25, 2006 12:54 PM

There is already such a zone in Adams Morgan, on the north side of Columbia Rd, just west of uh, Belmont St? A block and a bit more west of 18th St.

It's infuriating. Those valets aren't parking those cars off street. And they drive and park like maniacs. And they took away 4 parking spaces to do this. (Originally it was 3, but it expanded by one space last week.)

I won't give my car to valets, as I don't trust them with my clutch, and I have seen how they drive and how they park. I find it remarkably stupid and elitist to give over public space for valet parking.

Posted by: sfw_dc | September 25, 2006 4:31 PM

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