Park service planning to charge for parking around Mall

The National Park Service has scheduled a public meeting for Feb. 11 to discuss its plan to install parking meters at various points around the National Mall later this year.

Multi-space meter
The meters would be the multi-space style, similar to those near Nationals Park. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The meters would require drivers to pay for what is now free parking on Madison and Jefferson drives near the Smithsonian museums, on Constitution Avenue north of the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials, around the Tidal Basin, on Ohio Drive and on a short stretch of parkway along the Potomac River northwest of the Lincoln Memorial.

The park service lists three goals for this program: Manage the parking turnover so more visitors can use the spaces, encourage people to take transit, rather than drive, and raise money to improve transportation services around the Mall.

The District government and the park service also are working on a plan to recreate a National Mall route for the D.C. Circulator buses in 2015. When the Circulator buses first began operating a few years ago, there was such a route, but the District Department of Transportation eventually shut it down because it wasn’t attracting enough riders.

Like almost all public transit, this bus route probably would operate at a loss, but the parking meter revenue could help subsidize it.

The parking meters would be the multi-space kind, with a single kiosk dispensing receipts that drivers can place on their dashboards.

Like the meter style, the rates, hours and days would be similar to those in the rest of downtown Washington, but they have not yet been set, according to the park service. The park police would be responsible for enforcement.

The park service has been working for years on plans to better manage the crowded streets around the national memorials, museums and open space.
According to a 2006 transportation study, the park service manages 14 miles of roads within the National Mall and memorials area, which includes 1,900 now-free parking spaces, about 400 of them on the Mall near the museums.

In this area, the park service has long faced some of the same traffic problems as in the Acadia, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks: At popular tourist times, people can’t easily get around in vehicles. In other settings, the park service has banned traffic and required visitors to board shuttle buses. The plan for the National Mall would offer new access to transit — the Circulator buses — while discouraging long-term parking through the use of meters.

The Feb. 11 meeting to discuss the plan is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at the park service’s National Capital Region headquarters, 1100 Ohio Dr. SW.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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