The parking saga started with a complaint last winter from one resident of the one-block, dead-end street in north Arlington. So many parked cars were clogging the narrow street, she wrote on a form on the county website, that she was having difficulty getting into and out of her driveway.
That single complaint — since withdrawn — triggered an unstoppable government response focused on public safety and emergency-vehicle access.
On Thursday, after eight months of email exchanges and several face-to-face meetings, the county installed five no-parking signs on stretches of 24th Street North and removed eight of the 14 previously allowed on-street parking spaces.
The solution, longtime residents say, is far worse than the original problem.
“In general, Arlington is pretty responsive to our needs,” said Joe Ruth, 93, who has lived on the block since 1959. “But they do have a kind of rigidity at times.”
It all started last December, after valets who were working for a house party on another street parked guests’ cars up and down the 2900 block of 24th Street North.
A frustrated Alexandra Murphy, who runs a licensed day-care from her family’s home, filed an online complaint, pointing out problems navigating the street even on ordinary days. Some drivers turned around in her driveway, repeatedly knocking down young saplings, and once a taxi got stuck in the middle of the narrow street, blocking access for hours, she said.
The county swung into action, citing rules that allow the government to ban parking on streets narrower than 21 feet (24th Street is only 15 feet wide in places) and concerns about how fire department vehicles could quickly get in and out.
But the county was slow to inform the other residents of the block that most of their curbside parking was about to disappear.
When they found out, they were outraged.
Murphy, whose husband grew up on the street, sent the county another email in March, formally withdrawing her complaint. It was too late, however. Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten said that the county does not seek out violations of its parking or zoning laws but that once a complaint is filed, it is obligated to respond.
“When you’re talking about safety, once we’re aware of it, I don’t think people would want us to ignore it,” Mitten said.
That is exactly what residents of the block wanted.
James B. Edwards, 92, who has lived in his home for 51 years and uses a walker, said that an ambulance came for him three times in 2015 and there was “no problem” getting in or out, although he does not remember whether the ambulance backed up or turned around.
All of the houses on the block have at least one off-street parking space. Edwards and his wife, Vicki Edwards, 80, who has an artificial knee and artificial hip, share a steep private driveway with Joe Ruth and Sharon Rogers. When it rains or snows, however, both households prefer to park on the street, which gives them easy access to their front doors.
“This is definitely limiting our goal of aging in place,” said Rogers, 75, who has helped organize the street’s resistance.
The block, just off North Fillmore Street in the Woodmont neighborhood, is home to a tightly knit community of retired academics and government officials, lobbyists, journalists and at least one lawyer.
The 13 residences include older single-family homes with front porches and hidden gardens, renovated homes fronted by picket fences and permeable pavements, and a house that contains four separate apartments. The front yards have, over time, encroached on the street right of way here and there by a few feet.
The neighbors’ fight to keep their parking drew sympathy from one member of the Arlington County Board, John Vihstadt (I), who met with them and appealed to the county — unsuccessfully — to change its mind.
“It’s sometimes hard to fight city hall, even from the inside,” he said in an interview, adding that he still does not think banning parking is necessary.
“This streetscape has existed for literally decades and life has gone on,” Vihstadt said. “All sorts of emergency vehicles, garbage trucks, moving vans, construction vehicles, even snowplows, have come and gone on this street, to no apparent detriment.”
No one has done a survey to count whether similar blocks in Arlington pose similar hazards, Mitten said. She said she does not know whether the county has restricted parking elsewhere because of expected hazards for emergency vehicles.
Doug Insley, the fire department’s deputy chief and fire marshal, did not return repeated calls for comment.
With help from Vihstadt, the residents successfully delayed the restrictions this spring, and the county made changes in response to their concerns, such as reducing the number of no-parking signs and rearranging the locations of the no-parking areas.
But there was little anyone could do when workers showed up Thursday morning and quickly installed the signs, as a handful of neighbors watched and worried.
“We’ve lost,” Rogers said as she watched her favorite spot become illegal. “Now I’ll just collect parking tickets.”