From his store window on Columbia Road NW, Patrick Dwyer said he sees the same scene almost every day. By 9:30 a.m., virtually all the parking spaces around 18th Street and Columbia Road are filled with familiar cars.
They belong to business owners, employes and other commuters, who come to the curbside periodically to feed quarters into parking meters, despite signs proclaiming a two-hour parking limit.
"When customers come, there's no parking for them," Dwyer lamented at a D.C. Council hearing yesterday. "But what are the people who work there supposed to do? There's no parking for them either."
In Anacostia, the council's Public Works Committee was told, business development has been stymied in part because of a shortage of parking. By contrast, said Albert Hopkins, president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp., shopping centers flourish just across the District line in Maryland. He said their parking lots are thronged by cars with D.C. tags.
Despite a neighborhood municipal off-street parking law passed seven years ago, the District government operates no off-street parking facilities, a situation that a group of council members is prodding Mayor Marion Barry to change.
Yesterday Wallace Cohen, a Public Works Department administrator representing the mayor, said the District plans to hire a consultant to study where the parking lots and garages might be located. But council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), who conducted the four-hour hearing, rebuked the mayor for moving "so slowly" except when it comes to giving out parking tickets.
Last year the D.C. government netted about $45 million from parking fines, meters, boots and taxes, all of it used to subsidize Metro bus and subway service.
About 1.8 million parking tickets were issued, making the city's parking bureau "the most efficient agency in the city," said Herbert W. White, the owner of Herb's Restaurant on 17th Street NW. White was one of 20 witnesses urging the District to end what he called the squeeze on merchants and their customers by opening off-street parking facilities.
"City coffers are swelled by parking fines when it is impossible to find a legal space," said Mary Anne Reynolds, of the Potomac area chapter of the American Automobile Association. "It would certainly seem appropriate that a portion of the city's ever-growing parking ticket revenues be used . . . to build municipal parking lots."
From Georgetown to the Maine Avenue fish wharf, witnesses gave a recitation of similar complaints. The Georgetown business district has "fallen on hard times," partly because of its notorious parking problems, said David Roffman, editor of The Georgetowner newspaper.
At the fish wharf in Southwest, the parking lot often is plagued by "gridlock," said lawyer T. Rodney Oppmann. Police give out so many tickets, said Benjamin F. Edwards, who operates the fish cleaning house at the wharf, that customers are chased away.
"Seven thousand parking spaces have been created at Tysons Corner. That's the competition," Oppmann said. "If you want to have commerce here, you have to have parking."
Winter has introduced a bill requiring the mayor to establish municipal parking facilities for at least 1,000 cars a year for four years. The bill also would create a 13-member committee, appointed by the mayor and council, to advise where the parking should be.
Cohen said the committee would duplicate the work of the parking consultant. The requirement to create 1,000 spaces a year, he said, would eat deeply into the city's capital budget because each space costs from $2,000 to more than $10,000. But Cohen supported another provision in Winter's bill to ease zoning restrictions for municipal parking lots.
Several council members at the hearing also seemed skeptical about the bill.
"Some of these neighborhoods see themselves as overdeveloped already," said council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1). "The people who live there don't want to see another car."