To say finding parking on a residential street in most D.C. neighborhoods is challenging is an understatement. But for residents and visitors to Kalorama in Northwest Washington, home to several foreign embassies, dignitaries and political figures, it can be an unending nightmare.
The new neighbors — and their security installments — took over numerous parking spots in a community that was already struggling to balance supply and demand. The many embassies, chanceries and other government-owned residences have dedicated street parking all around the neighborhood. Then there are the hundreds of people attending prayers, held five times a day, at the Islamic Center of Washington, the city’s largest mosque, just blocks from the Obama and Trump-Kushner residences.
“Finding places to park has gotten increasingly worse,” said Ellen Goldstein, a longtime resident and member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. “That obviously adds a great deal of stress to the residents who use street parking,” she said. “It is a struggle.”
In response to neighborhood concerns, the city last month began installing resident-only parking signs to ensure the people who live there have access to their curbsides. The District has also taken steps to adjust the number of dedicated parking spaces assigned to the ambassadorial residences. City transportation officials said they notified the State Department last year that a number of residences were incorrectly provided reserved parking in public spaces and that the city would move to take the spaces back.
Residents in the wealthy neighborhood asked for the changes last year, after years of growing tension over the mosque traffic and the diplomatic parking privileges. Then came January. The Obamas moved in on Belmont Road, and the Secret Service put up barricades to block off traffic access to their eight-bedroom, 9½ -bath rental home — which the family purchased last week for $8.1 million.
Trump and her family moved around the corner from the Obamas. With them came the requisite multiple Secret Service SUVs camped outside their six-bedroom, five-fireplace residence, taking over the Tracy Place block. Pedestrians were prohibited from their side of the sidewalk.
A few blocks away, on 24th Street NW, a couple of parking spots are taken by the security detail outside the home of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
(Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, also owns a home in the neighborhood.)
A highly sought community with a mix of mansions, townhouses, apartment buildings and embassies northwest of Dupont Circle, Kalorama has been home to many dignitaries and political figures over the years.
Still, residents say they are just like any other neighborhood, with concerns about trash pickup, rats and parking. Though tensions escalated with the arrival of the Trump entourage, residents reject claims that their complaints are partisan-based.
“I say that’s ridiculous,” Goldstein said. “There are no red spaces, there are no blue spaces, there are only D.C. spaces. Parking is a nonpartisan issue.”
District Department of Transportation spokesman Terry Owens said the new parking challenges, combined with the existing impacts from the foreign missions, as well as “the spillover of commercial parking onto residential streets warranted further intervention to maintain District resident access to their curbsides.”
The District has similar parking restrictions on residential streets with proximity to heavy commercial activity such as the H Street corridor, U Street and neighborhoods around Nationals Park. In many cases, the restrictions have resulted from growing tensions between neighbors and visitors, generally in booming areas of the city with limited public parking options.
Mosque official among critics
Kalorama residents welcome the resident-only parking, but some critics say it doesn’t solve the problem. For example, it leaves fewer visitor spaces, making it more difficult for those who attend services at the mosque, located on Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue. Many of those who worship at the mosque say they have no other option but to park in the neighborhood. There are no public parking facilities nearby, and the closest Metro station is nearly a mile away.
“This is the worst place to be for parking,” said Abrahim Kamara, a Prince George’s County resident, who visits the mosque every afternoon to pray.
Mosque spokesman Abassie Jarr-Koroma said the facility is being unfairly singled out. Already, parking enforcement officers circulate the area during prayer times, particularly during busy Friday afternoons when as many as 2,500 people come to pray, he said. Most of them park in the neighborhood.
The new parking restrictions were implemented without any consultation or consideration of the mosque’s needs, he said.
“We just woke up one morning and saw the signs,” Jarr-Koroma said.
Afterward, officials with the mayor’s office alerted the mosque about the new regulations, and enforcement, Jarr-Koroma said.
A DDOT spokesman said the agency didn’t speak directly with the mosque about the resident-only restrictions, but the mayor’s representatives met with the community.
Jarr-Koroma agreed an already difficult parking situation turned worse after the Obama and Trump-Kushner families moved. The new parking restrictions made things even worse. The mosque, which opened in 1957, is taking a hit with some people skipping prayers because they can’t find a place to park, he said.
The block on the side of the mosque has various restrictions. One side of Belmont Road has some two-hour parking, with the rest reserved for resident-only permits. The other side is reserved for Russian diplomats. At the corner with Tracy Place, a Secret Service vehicle and barricades block traffic from continuing on Belmont Road where the Obama house is located. That block of Tracy Place has reserved parking for the Embassy of Guyana, and the next block has no-parking signs in front of the Trump home on Tracy Place.
“Why are we being targeted?” Jarr-Koroma said. “We have been here longer than most people and we can’t park in our neighborhood. The Russians have parking privileges in our block. The people in the building across the street, who have underground parking, can park on our street. But we can’t park there.”
By 12:30 p.m. Friday, about 30 minutes before prayers, the few Belmont Road spots available to visitors were filled. Traffic backed up around the mosque and a parking enforcement vehicle was idling curbside. By 1 p.m., scores of people could be seen walking from the neighborhood streets to the mosque, and there wasn’t a free space for blocks.
Many of the mosque attendees are taxi drivers, recognizable by their cabs, which residents complain take up valuable parking. Some drivers who couldn’t find a legal spot parked on streets displaying “Diplomatic Cars Only” and “Resident Permit Parking Only” signs. Many said they’re willing to risk getting ticketed.
If anything, Kamara said, the resident-only restrictions will push mosque traffic further into the neighborhood — and lead to more illegal parking.
“They can give me hundreds of tickets, but I have to come to pray,” Kamara said.
The fine for parking illegally in areas that require a residential permit is $30; repeat violators face $60 fines. Tickets for parking in reserved diplomatic spaces are $20.
Cheryl Haywood, who lives across the street from the Islamic Center, said sometimes it’s so busy that she stays in her car and reads a book for 20 minutes or so while she waits for prayers to end and a space to open up. But that doesn’t bother Haywood, a teacher who has lived in the area for five years.
“We need to respect the people who come to pray,” Haywood said. Last week, she was lucky to find a tight spot edging the Secret Service barricade on Belmont Road. “For the most part, people have been very understanding.”