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D.C. to Valet Parkers: The Streets Are Yours

I don't see much point in valet parking; I'd far rather conduct my own search for a space than hand over the task to a hired hand. But I recognize that lots of folks appreciate the chance to leave the parking to others, and as the practice becomes more prevalent in Washington, we're seeing more and more conflict between those who want curbside spots available to park their own vehicles and those restaurant owners and customers who want to be able to zip into an empty space and hand the keys over to a uniformed attendant.

Enter the D.C. government, which somehow decided that this particular urban conflict was one it could solve. Now, the District is poised to institute rules that will strip away dozens of parking spaces previously available to all, reserving those spots as "Valet Staging Zones." Restaurants will be allowed to rent public curbside spaces for a year at a time at $15 per square foot. (That would give the city about $2,000 to $2,500 a year for an average parking space--a pittance.)

When the city first proposed to do this, last fall, I argued against yet another privatization of public space--the District seems intent on handing public parking spaces over to any and all corporate comers, whether it's the Flexcar and Zipcar sharing services, or bars and restaurants. If the District were really interested in helping people who frequent local businesses, they'd build municipal parking facilities.

Since the initial announcement of the regulations, there has been enough criticism of the city's plans to spur some changes in the proposed giveaway to valet parkers. Unfortunately, some of those changes make it even easier for businesses that use valets to take up public spaces. In theory, valet parkers would have to use off-street locations to park cars. But while the original version of the regulations would have required restaurants to have access to enough off-street spaces to serve 30 percent of their full occupancy, they would now need enough spaces to accommodate only 10 percent of their customers. That means more valets will find ways on the sly to stick more cars into spots formerly available to John Q. Public.

What's most disturbing about this proposal is that it addresses a problem that doesn't exist. Those who like valet parking have every opportunity to avail themselves of the service as it stands now. All they need do is double park their car for a minute or so and a valet will whisk it away. What the regulations seek to provide is curbside service, as if walking out into the street is some kind of hardship for the swells who plunk down an extra $5 or $10 for valet parking.

By Marc Fisher |  July 11, 2007; 7:30 AM ET
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The proposed policy is a loser. It offers below-market rates for commercial use of public parking space (in violation of existing DC policy). There is no incentive for the many private parking facilities to stay open late for valet parkers. Parking attendants are not required to wear individualized, official badges. It reduces scarce public parking. Any possible reduction in traffic congestion will be offset by arguments between valet attendants and drivers seeking parking places, some of which will require mediation by law enforcement.

This is even worse than the signs in front of the Willard (are they still there?) reading Limo Parking Only.

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 11, 2007 9:09 AM

MoCo (surprise they gave away yet more public space to commercial businesses) already practices this valet junk in Bethesda on Friday and Saturday nights. Downtown Bethesda street parking meters have signs on them saying no parking from about 6 to 10 pm so the restaurants can set up valet service. In theory this eliminates the problem of blocked streets with double parked cars waiting for a valet to park the vehicles. In reality it's yet another abuse by government to take away public space that I as John Q. Taxpayer have paid for already. MoCo government loves to sell out to the highest bidder when they should be serving the public not private interests.

Posted by: John Q. Taxpayer | July 11, 2007 9:13 AM

DC should reconsider the rates that they are charging for those spots. However, I would argue that one of the reasons we have such fabulous restaurants in this city is because of people coming in from the suburbs. Without an easily accessible valet parking you may end up losing a lot of those customers (and tax revenue).

Posted by: Petworth | July 11, 2007 9:15 AM

Taking residential street spaces away from residents is a terrible idea. We already have commuters taking over our spaces in neighborhoods every day in large part because we allow it (much more so than our suburban brethren do). I agree completely with Marc on this one. If they want valet parking, they need to arrange for offstreet spaces.

Do you think residents in, say, Arlington would put up with this? Not for a second.

But, then, DC also needs to pony up and build some garages in high-use areas as well.

Posted by: Hillman | July 11, 2007 9:19 AM

"All they need do is double park their car for a minute or so and a valet will whisk it away. What the regulations seek to provide is curbside service, as if walking out into the street is some kind of hardship for the swells who plunk down an extra $5 or $10 for valet parking."

While I agree with the main point of not giving any more of our public places to private entities for at substantial discounts (at best) and for free (at worst), I call into question telling people it's okay to double park, even for "a minute or so". It creates a hazard when there are people stepping out into the street from between other parked cars or opening their doors to get in and out, and the ripple effect from double parked vehicles sometimes causes some pretty big traffic snarls. The DC region doesn't need any more traffic woes.

Posted by: Eric G. | July 11, 2007 9:35 AM

I think they should pretty much ban cars in the city and bring back trolley cars so you could get all over town.

Posted by: Stick | July 11, 2007 9:42 AM

The problem here is that the valet parkers themselves rarely operate using common sense and common courtesy! Sadly, it must also be mentioned that now-a-days, most of the valet parkers are foreign-born, and many have limited command of English. Consequently, John Q Public driving in the vicinity of a downtown restaurant has to deal with not-very-well-educated(or fluent) workers that don't particularly care if they are taking up extra space, blocking an alley way, blocking the sidewalk, etc.

Bottom line- this is a bad idea!

Posted by: KMM | July 11, 2007 9:50 AM


I'm not a swell, and I don't pay extra for valet parking. Look around Penn Quarter: not a lot of street parking, tons of public lots that cost $15-$20 for the evening. When the restaurants offer valet for the same price or less (!), then of course I'm going to use the service. Why would I climb the ramps and hunt for the secret stairs to the parking garage in my high heels when I don't have to?

Posted by: Annapolis | July 11, 2007 9:59 AM

My suggestion: boycott restaurants in D.C. that abuse their valet parking privileges. If you must go to such a restaurant, take public transportation or cabs.

Posted by: Boycott | July 11, 2007 10:00 AM

Here's a simple solution: Require the operators of valet parking -- whether it is the restaurant or a third-party -- to park ALL cars off-street. This will provide a financial incentive for more commercial garages to stay open late, and it will free up some spaces for individuals choosing to park their own cars. Then, the tradeoff for the valet "staging area" is worth it, and I wouldn't quibble about the amount of money the city gets.

But if the valet parkers are just parking the cars on the street, forget it.

Posted by: Meridian | July 11, 2007 10:09 AM

Seems like too few streets in DC have back-in/pull in parking instead of parallel parking. Though maybe not a fix on narrow streets or crowded arteries, this is something I think should be considered and implemented more often. The electronic parking kiosks as used on stretches of K St. in downtown could make this pretty easy and as a bonus we wouldn't need to maintain all those cruddy broken parking meters.

Posted by: Southwest DC | July 11, 2007 10:24 AM

To Boycott,

Horrible idea. I'm not boycotting my favorite restaurants because of some valet parking snafu. Besides, valet parking is cheaper than parking in the garage! Last time I went to Fogo de Chao downtown on Penn Ave, the valet costs a mere $6 when the parking lot charged $13! Please, everyone should embrace valet parking, it actually saves you money.

Posted by: Wendy | July 11, 2007 10:33 AM

So you'll just toss your keys to anyone. Let's see...your address is on the registration card, your housekey (to be duplicated for now or later) is on your keyring, and you'll be in the restaurant for 2 hours. And you're how smart???

Posted by: VandalParking | July 11, 2007 10:48 AM

I think this stinks, but I still see the Flexcar system as a good thing.

Posted by: Paul | July 11, 2007 10:58 AM

I think this stinks, but I still see the Flexcar system as a good thing.

Posted by: Paul | July 11, 2007 10:58 AM

Thank DC for giving away public alley space to developers and creating "loading zones" along one entire lane of a street. Combine that snafu with valet parking -- cars double parked waiting for a valet -- and you have a big mess. Then just for fun, throw in pedestrians that refuse to obey the "walk" "don't walk" signs. Ever try to get down 19th Street from Dupont Circle to K Street during rush? Takes 20-45 minutes!

Posted by: Rich | July 11, 2007 10:58 AM

Which is why savvy users of valet have portioned keyrings, so they can hand the car keys to the valet parker and hold onto the house keys. Duh.

Posted by: To VandalParking | July 11, 2007 11:55 AM

valet parking is something crucial to business in the District of Columbia. Our restaurants, which pay a lot of taxes to the District need to be able to tell customers that they can come in and not have to spend 30 or more minutes traveling around the area looking for parking or people won't come.

I am not quite sure why Mark Fisher calls people who use valet parking swells. Seems to me the going rate of $5- $15 doesn't require a swell but an intelligent consumer to use. I applaud Mr. Fisher for finding his own spaces, guess as a reporter he can do his work anytime day or night so time is not of the essence to him as it is to people with real jobs. I also assume based on his age he no longer has young children at home so showing up 30 to 60 mintutes early for a restaurant reservation allowing time for parking is no big deal to him. No extra baby sitting charges or leaving your children with someone else for an extra hour.

It is so easy to attack everything without thinking about the total picture, but I guess that is what a columnist has the power to do. Thankfully most people read Mr. Fisher's columns for amusement rather than to get the real facts.

Posted by: peter dc | July 11, 2007 12:20 PM

If you're leaving a copy of your registration with your address on it in the car all the time, it's an open invitation to having your car stolen - you're supposed to have it with you, not leave it in the car.

Posted by: registration | July 11, 2007 12:21 PM

I agree with Annapolis.

Furthermore, as a woman who regularly meets up with friends but heads home alone at the end of the evening, a valet is a MUCH SAFER solution than wandering a street for my car or a less than well lit parking garage.

Posted by: LV | July 11, 2007 12:59 PM

Wendy - Saves you money? How stupid are you? Parking on the street is free.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2007 1:07 PM

When the valets can't find a spot they'll park illegally, getting you a ticket, and eventually a boot, since you don't know about the ticket.

I wouldn't let a valet park my car for free.

Take a subway and a cab.

Posted by: Valet Parking | July 11, 2007 1:08 PM

These restaurants are in real live neighborhoods where people live. What these valets do is park on your street or in front of your house and then use cell phones to keep the spaces all evening, one guy pulls a car out and his partner pulls a car in. No guarantee of a space in front of my house, fair enough: but I at least ought to be able to compete for it. Oh and by the way, at the same time my access to my off-street parking has been partially blocked by valets leaving customers' cars.

These businesses simply must have off-street spaces available before being given(allowed to lease) these curb spaces as a base for taking over heighborhoods.

Posted by: CW | July 11, 2007 1:48 PM

Marc Fisher-
The problem is not " walking out into the street is some kind of hardship for the swells who plunk down an extra $5 or $10 for valet parking." The problem is the overubandance of DOUBLE PARKERS!! They cause traffic mayhem. My opinion is that EVERY double parker (yes: taxis, UPS and FedEx included) should get a $200 ticket immediately. Only then will we actually have drivable streets in DC. I'm all for Valet loading zones- although a $10,000 rental fee would be more appropriate.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2007 2:28 PM

I wholly agree with the post that the problem is the overabundance of double parkers. It is maddening trying to travel, for example, Wisconsin Ave. or M Street -- particularly after 6:30 pm on weekdays. The curb lane is occupied by parked cars, the left lane often is blocked by people trying to turn left, and the center lane is blocked by double parkers, including valet services. The Maggiano's at Friendship Heights is a case in point. Wisconsin Ave. northbound at Western Ave. becomes virtually impassable after 6:30. It also would help if the "no parking" hours were extended to at least 7 pm -- as if rush hour is over by 6:30!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2007 3:00 PM

Once again the liberal DC regime is legislating in search of a problem. What a waste of time and my taxpayer dollars to work on something like this. Instead, let's try and reduce the literally hundreds of people who are murdered in DC every year.

Posted by: Tom | July 11, 2007 3:08 PM


The last I knew, valet parkers were already taking spots up on the street ... and not paying a dime for it.

It's my understanding that this all came about because valet parking has heretofore been totally unregulated in the District ... and establishing valet staging areas is part of the process of regulating the practice. We'll now finally have valet parking regulations ... and via the collection of staging area "rent" ... the funding for the adminstration and enforcement of the new regulations.

This is a good thing. It finally gives John Q. Public some say into what Valet Parkers can do on our public streets (and public spaces.)

Posted by: Lance | July 11, 2007 3:25 PM

wow, perhaps you should stay inside and never venture outside. its very scary out there. i'm sure you have a friend who's cousin's neighbor's dog walker had his house broken into by some rougue valet parker who copied his keys, but in reality, that doesn't happen all that often.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2007 3:45 PM

Wendy said:
"Last time I went to Fogo de Chao downtown on Penn Ave, the valet costs a mere $6 when the parking lot charged $13! Please, everyone should embrace valet parking, it actually saves you money."

Hmmm ... So tell me ... Do you realize that today (i.e., pre-regulation) valet parkers are parking cars anywhere and any way they can? Many valeted cars end up illegally parked in front of hydrants, driveways, too close to intersections, etc. So, what do you think happens when the valet parker goes to retrieve your car and finds a ticket on your windshield? Have you ever wondered why there are so many tickets lying in the gutters a block or two from popular restaurants? Do you really think the valet parker will return the car to you with the ticket still on the windshield. And those reminders from the District for the tickets you don't remember getting 6 - 12 months prior ... I bet you thought they it was just "DC beaurcracy" ...

We need valet parking regulations because we need to regulate what valet parkers do. (Currently, they aren't even required to be bonded or insured.) Marc errs in confusing valet staging areas with parking spaces. Valet staging areas are the "no parking - drop off area" and corner curbs that are ALREADY being used by valet parkers. The regulations that are part and parcel of the establishment of valet staging areas will help us ensure that cars are properly valeted in off street lots and not simply left parked in regular spots or worse yet in illegal spots.

Marc is correct in opposing the giving away of public spots to private interests ... But establishing valet staging areas isn't the giving away of anything ... It is the taking back of our public streets ... and protection of valet parking consumers.

Posted by: Lance | July 11, 2007 3:49 PM

If only I thought designated valet zones would actually stop the double parking. Have you ever noticed that even when there's an open space at a restaurant curb, there are typically three cars doubleparked in the roadway? Valets, cabs, etc. just don't want to take the time to pull into a "space" so giving them a valet zone isn't going change behavior.

Posted by: cap hill | July 11, 2007 4:13 PM

Cap Hill said:
"Valets, cabs, etc. just don't want to take the time to pull into a "space" so giving them a valet zone isn't going change behavior."

No, but fining and other forms of enforcement can. And now there will be regs in place to be enforced and revenue (from the staging areas) to pay for the enforcement.

Posted by: Lance | July 11, 2007 4:23 PM

As a taxpaying D.C. resident, I think it's great that D.C. is trying to come up with ways to make D.C. more livable for people who don't live or pay taxes in D.C.

Posted by: Bleeters | July 11, 2007 4:31 PM

So many idiots here, so little time...first of all, who keeps their car key with the rest of their keys? That's just dumb and bad for your car to boot. Second, there is a fabulous invention called the valet key, which doesn't open the glove box. Third, many meters downtown go until 9:00pm, so street parking is not always free and there's the added frustration of the many, many broken meters, and/or having enough change. Fourth, what about the "business" of homeless people pimping street parking spots, and then asking for a little "donation" to ensure your car stays safe! That's always reassuring.

To sum up, long live valet parking...where is it written in stone that certain spots need to be reserved for certain people?

Posted by: Duh | July 11, 2007 5:09 PM

I agree that this valet parking proposal is a mistake, a giveaway to restaurants, but you can't compare it on-street parking for car-sharing services.

The valet parking proposal will increase consumption of limited spaces by taking current spaces and making them unusable while at the same time encouraging people to bring their cars which will need even more parking spaces.

Car-sharing reduces the number of cars on the street by encouraging people to not have their own cars, thus freeing up more spaces. Without Zipcar, I know I would have my own vehicle taking up a neighborhood parking spot. With it, I and many others don't need the many on-street spots we would otherwise use, just the relative few for the cars we share.

Posted by: Chris | July 11, 2007 11:56 PM

Stupid idea! Valet parkers should park cars IN GARAGES or parking lots, not on the street. It's bad enough that these people are fooling half of their clients by just parking their cars on the street. When I give my car to a valet, I don't expect him to just park it down the block--I can do that myself. There is no reason that these people should be able to buy street parking spaces from the city. There are plenty of garages downtown for these valets to use.

Posted by: C-dog | July 12, 2007 8:39 AM

Public Auto-mobile Parking, especially in a big city like DC,
is a total disaster of an idea. Public parking in DC should be banned,
or at least highly taxed (a realistic rate), because it attracts huge amounts
of high-speed traffic, pollution, noise, etc. All these parked cars block
pedestrian access, bicycle access, emergency access, etc...
huge delays for everyone, and it costs the city a lot of money to no benefit.
If it was priced realistically, nobody could afford it, which is revealing of the problem.

People don't come to DC because they can or can't find a parking space,
rather, they come because of the Jobs, entertainment, etc. that the
city has to offer. There are lots of other ways to get here, but auto-mobile
access is highly subsidized to the point that it becomes cost-effective for non-residents.

More than half of the people driving and parking in DC are Non-Residents.
It's only a minority of District Residents who even own cars.
Non-residents use these roads but they don't pay for them - residents pay for them.

Best solution thus far is to write a lot of parking tickets.
However, there are better ways to solve this.

The District, like many big cities, tried to deal with this by proposing a
congestion pricing fee for car commuters, but the Fed has blocked this.
Too bad, because congestion pricing reduces car traffic by 30%, while
at the same time boosting sales downtown (ie. the cover-charge effect).

Non-residents mainly come to the city to go to restaurants, etc. and they
love Valet parking because they have no clue where to look for spaces.

Valet make money for DC businesses, which means more income for the city, while at the same time removing public parking spaces with without fear of backlash from the business community. This way the Gov't wins more for it's residents on two fronts. It's a baby-step in the right direction.

The only idea worse than public parking for cars, is for the city to build
off-street parking for all these cars. That's an even bigger negative return on investment, while wasting even more valuable real-estate in the city, only to the benefit of non-residents.

A more realistic idea is to charge the auto commuters for the huge costs they
impose on the city, both in terms of congestion pricing, and road parking pricing. If auto-drivers actually had to handle these costs, they would opt for more one of the many more cost-effective options for accessing the city, and everyone would benefit.

Posted by: Lee Watkins | July 12, 2007 10:51 AM

Rich said: "Ever try to get down 19th Street from Dupont Circle to K Street during rush? Takes 20-45 minutes!"

And the walk takes me 10. Why in the world would you drive??

Posted by: happy walker | July 12, 2007 12:55 PM

Lee Watkins: If what you propose became a reality, D.C. would be a ghost town except for the people on Captiol Hill and government workers who have to work downtown. No one else would come here and the nightlife in D.C. would dry up. If you were here in the late 70's or early 80's you would know what D.C. would be like after dark--deserted. Cars are a way of life in America so D.C. will just have to deal with it like everyother city does. A commuter tax would stifle this town. That is the harsh reality. People with cars can and will easily drive elswhere if you make it too much of a hassle to come downtown. I don't know, maybe you'd like to see tumble weeds rolling past the Verizon Center!

Posted by: C-dog | July 12, 2007 4:20 PM

The valet parking situation in DC isn't nearly as bad as in the LA area.

In Beverly Hills, there are streets where valet parking is the only parking available. One evening on Beverly Drive, I saw police actually putting signs on the parking meters to announce that valet parking began at 7PM and violators would be ticketed and towed.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 13, 2007 12:52 AM

Bleeters |said:

"As a taxpaying D.C. resident, I think it's great that D.C. is trying to come up with ways to make D.C. more livable for people who don't live or pay taxes in D.C."

Are you REALLY so myopic that you think EVERYONE who parks at a DC restaurant is a non-resident? Your resentment of non-DC residents is certainly making you STUPID.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 13, 2007 12:55 AM

Lee Watkins,

There are so many gross mis-statements of facts, silly slogans, and absolute nonsense in your comments that it is impossible to take you seriously.

My favorites:

"More than half of the people driving and parking in DC are Non-Residents. "

"It's only a minority of District Residents who even own cars."

And of course, the BS that driving is somehow "subsidized".

As for "subsidies", who do you think is paying for your transit ride? YOU'RE paying for only 30% of the cost of your ride at the farebox. Where do you think the rest comes from? You guessed it - Those suburban drivers you hate so much!

Now, please explain exactly HOW you are and other non-drivers "subsidizing" drivers who buy, maintain, insure, license, and resiter their own vehicles IN ADDITION TO paying taxes and tolls for roads AND for your transit?

Another favorite:

"Non-residents use these roads but they don't pay for them - residents pay for them."

In that same vein, perhaps we in Virginia and Maryland should charge DC residents a fee to use our roads to reach our airports.

Finally, if you think banning public parking and forcing everyone to come into DC on transit is such a great idea, let me tell you DC will turn into a ghost town and lose hundreds of millions in tax revenue. Many businesses will close down and/or -move to be closer and more convenient to those darn suburbanites, putting thousands of DC residents out of work!

Then you and your bike can have the streets all to yourselves. Or you can walk. Just watch out for all those angry, desperate, out-of-work muggers.

Be careful what you wish for.

When I see posts like yours, I often can't tell whether it's the result of one's ignorance or whether it's a deliberate attempt to mis-inform. In any event, have a nice day.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 13, 2007 1:26 AM

Lee Watkins,

I said, when I see posts like yours, I often can't tell whether it's the result of one's ignorance or whether it's a deliberate attempt to mis-inform. In any event, have a nice day.

Then again, maybe your'e joking. You ARE joking, right?

Posted by: CEEAF | July 13, 2007 1:31 AM

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