Possible Change for K Street/Water Street Would Cut Into Parking Spaces

Photo by Brian Kapur/Current file photo
The removal of metered parking spaces below the Whitehurst Freeway would allow a dedicated bike lane.
The removal of metered parking spaces below the Whitehurst Freeway would allow a dedicated bike lane.

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Tentative plans to remove more than 40 metered parking spaces below the Whitehurst Freeway to accommodate a dedicated bike lane and other traffic enhancements drew mixed reviews from the Georgetown community Monday night. However, all agreed that the current roadway configuration needs improvement along K Street/Water Street NW.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District partnered last year with the D.C. Department of Transportation and Toole Design Group to plan short- and long-term improvements along the neighborhood’s southernmost street, which runs near the Potomac River. The first phase, set for implementation this fall, includes a bike lane between 34th and 30th streets NW, improved and expanded crosswalks, an improved system for tour bus drop-off and a new left-turn lane from K Street westbound onto Wisconsin.

Those improvements — estimated at a price tag in the “low six figures,” according to the business group’s Will Handsfield — could come at a cost to some stakeholders as well. Between 30 and 35 parking spots on Water and K west of Wisconsin would be eliminated, as well as 10 others east of Wisconsin, Department of Transportation planner Benito Perez said at Monday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith).

Vehicular traffic flow would not be altered under the current plan, Perez said. But he acknowledged that a loss of parking could exacerbate existing issues on the street, which already offers limited parking for a high-demand area.

Handsfield said he’s working on securing dedicated nighttime and weekend spots in nearby parking garages that could partially offset the loss of metered parking.

ANC 2E voted unanimously to express gratitude for the plans while maintaining that questions about parking remain. Numerous residents praised the plan, saying they think a significant number of motorists who currently clog up K and Water streets searching for parking won’t bother if they know they won’t find it. But several ANC 2E members expressed concern that removing parking will inconvenience residents and visitors while also failing to resolve existing congestion there.

“I think it’s unrealistic to think the drivers are going to stop driving because they can’t find parking,” commissioner Monica Roache said.

Roache acknowledged she doesn’t live in that portion of the neighborhood, and might not be fully aware of the issues there that parking cuts could address. By contrast, ANC 2E’s Lisa Palmer said she receives frequent messages from constituents with photos of pervasive gridlock. One resident saw emergency vehicles blocked by stopped traffic last weekend.

In the meantime, ANC 2E included in its resolution a request for more immediate traffic mitigation measures from the Department of Transportation: traffic control officers and possible timing adjustments on traffic lights on Wisconsin north of K. Commissioner Rick Murphy also described plans to create a subcommittee within ANC 2E that will help address parking issues there and elsewhere in the neighborhood.

A turnaround at Water and 34th streets NW — previously slated for the project’s first phase — has been delayed until 2019, when the Key Bridge reconstruction is complete. Long-term plans for K and Water streets include accommodating the proposed DC Streetcar extension by relocating the bike lane onto a pathway through Georgetown Waterfront Park.

This article appears in the April 5 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

5 Comments For This Article

John Capozzi

As a Biker, I want them to fix this dangerous area between the Bike trail and downtownDC. There should be a possible fix that the bike lane is open from 5:00am - 8:00pm and allow for parkinf t other times...DDOT needs to get creative!!

Meg Hardon

The traffic chaos in lower Georgetown is dangerous and is likely to result in some tragedy if not addressed. Residents fear ambulances and fire trucks will not make it to emergencies, workers cannot get out to get home after work, pedestrians just keep flowing across intersections without stopping, bikers swerve around pedestrians and cars. Those Georgetowners and ANC members who are not familiar with this chaos owe it to the entire community to understand and address the dangerous congestion for the safety of the entire community. If the community can remove blocks and blocks of parking on M Street for shoppers (and likely drive more traffic down to K/Water Sts.), the community should support traffic management for K/Water. It feels like a dumping ground down here right now and we need a solution for the entire community with the support of the city agencies responsible for transportation and public safety. Thank you Lisa Palmer for giving voice to our community.

Josh Lindsay

I echo the comments above, and I will add that the traffic situation on K/Water St is getting progressively worse each season. What used to be a problem on occasional weekends has become a regular occurrence each weekend between March and October and on some weekday evenings as well. I don't profess to being an urban planner, but in my view the traffic results from (i) a lack of visible parking (which leads to drivers aimlessly searching for spots that do not exist) and (ii) unnecessary hindrances to traffic flowing out of the K/Water St corridor.

Potential short-term solutions to the first problem include better signage pointing drivers to available garages and advising drivers that parking is largely unavailable west of Wisconsin on Water St. Long-term solutions would be to eliminate parking west of Wisconsin (although this comes with obvious downsides), to increase the number of traffic lanes (which conflicts with current plans to revamp this corridor), or to make a more attractive parking option elsewhere with a high number of easily accessible cheap spaces. This last option is perhaps the most viable, but likely would require Georgetown BID to purchase or subsidize large portions of the garage spaces at Georgetown Park, for example. People might pay $5 or $10 for an afternoon of parking rather than driving around the city looking for street parking, but they likely won't pay $20 unless they have to.

As to the second problem, I am encouraged by the proposals to improve traffic light timing at M & Wisconsin and employ traffic officers during weekends. I think the traffic light timing at K & 27th St should also be studied. Long-term, however, we may need lights at the various intersections along Water St from Wisconsin and east. That could address both traffic flow and pedestrian safety, as has been mentioned.


Better Headline: "Possible Change for K Street/Water Street Would Improve Safety"

The notion that the supply of parking is insufficient doesn't make much sense if you look at the total supply. There are tons of underused parking spaces, but they're in garages. The problem is that the garages charge a market rate, but the on-street spaces are government subsidized and insanely cheap by comparison. The natural result of this subsidy is that people circle around looking for the cheap on-street spaces, making it seem like there's not enough parking. The solution is to charge a reasonable price for on-street spaces so that the parking is used effectively. This also would cut down on the traffic created by people circling around looking for parking. Win-win!

Arian Vojdani

As a resident living on Water Street and witnessing the traffic for the last 5 years, these changes will not help. The traffic is due to a lack of proper traffic management on K Street. Every block currently has stop sign and pedestrian cross walks. The whole system needs to change. The intersection of Wisconsin and K needs proper traffic lights. Stop signs and cross walks need to be removed from every block and they should be replaced with a proper traffic light system from K until the Rock Creek exit. (Every other block would make more sense, but I assume professionals can figure this out.)

I don't know why this isn't being discussed and/or part of the discussion. Until this happens traffic and gridlock will remain the worst in DC on Water/K Street. Less parking spots will help minimally or worst, barely.