I remember a New Yorker telling me that he had parked in front of the Washington Memorial for the 4th of July celebration. Anyone who has been in this town knows that is a tall tale (though it may have been true many many years ago).
For the visitor- you will have to make a lot of quick exits from the highway. There is very very limited on street parking (particularly near any tourist sites) and downtown DC has a multitude of one way streets that seems to follow no logic. Parking in a garage will be quite expensive (especially during the week.)
Long and short of it, please take the metro if you are going to see the common sights in DC. You will save yourself a lot of money and aggravation.
Washington D C sits on the bank of the Potomac River and the Arlington Memorial Bridge--Memorial Bridge to the locals--is one of the more picturesque ways of entering the city. The first building you'll see coming across is the Lincoln Memorial Building.
Traveling to and around Washington D.C. by car is not necessary, but convenient, especially if day trips are in the plan.
Parking is sometimes hard to find and expensive. It is a busy city so there usually is heavy/chaotic traffic to deal with. The roads are not on a grid type pattern so it's easy to get lost and you really have to pay attention to the signs and watch out for oblivious pedestrians.
Still, I toured the city, in a private car, with a long time resident who knew the rules of the road, knew the best streets to use at the time and knew the nearest, least expensive places to park. So, I thought driving through the city was really a great experience. Plus we went on many day trips and the car was really the best way to do that.
Despite the driving troubles this great city presents, there are many ways to have a stress free time in getting around. There is the Metro, which you can cathc at union station, which provides a cheap crime-free way around the city. also, there are numerous parking spots around the National Mall, many are 3 hours spots, so find one and then metro it around for awhile. If you are going to go out and drive downtown on your own, come prepared with a very detailed map in which the directions of the streets arelisted, this will help you navigate your journeys. i have listed a website below that lists some of the better hotels and attractions.
We rented a car for a week from/to Dulles airport. the deal was sourced through a consolidator/search engine website - Argus. Dollar was the provider.
The shuttle bus service from/to the terminal is excellent. It is a bit of a distance to get to the car rental offices - not unusual for a large sprawling airport, but Dulles is relatively small and compact.
Pick-up was quick, friendly, helpful and efficient. Drop off just the same.
One thing which surprised us is that fuel is not included in the quoted price. You pay extra for a full tank, and then return the car empty. I don’t know if that is a Dollar thing, just a quirk of the deal we got, or the norm in the USA. I’d say it added $20 to our cost. Not much in relation to a 7 day rental for $300+, but not so good if you just have the car for a day and don’t drive far.
We had a Chevvy Malibu. Comfortable and spacious. Excellent on the freeways, but like driving a sofa on the back roads.
There are limited parking at the memorial. Other nearby with limited parking: Washington Monument and Tidal Basin at Jefferson Memorial (park near the pedal boat rental at the Tidal Basin) A better bet would be at National Mall near the museums. You are allowed 3 hours parking. Usually no problems if you arrive early. You can also put your your in a parking lot for $10 a day for cars (cheapest I found) at a lot right off 14th street bridge, across from the US Engraving & Printing Bureau. (You have to go around the block to get into the lot). Enjoy your visit!
If you drive in Washington, parking is an issue. We wanted to visit the Supreme Court and were looking for someplace to park when a helpful policeman told me that probably the closest was the parking deck at Union Station. It is not cheap (nothing in Washington seems to be) but quite convenient. It is in easy walking distance to the Supreme Court (about a mile). Also, the Capitol building is not much further and that puts you on the mall. I think we were gone between 3 and 4 hours and the fee was $9. It would have been more but there are parking validation machines as you approach the parking area and I used one. I don’t recommend driving in Washington it is a great place to walk and the public transportation is pretty good but this is a good place and Union Station is worth exploring while you are there. A grand great hall, lots of shops and restaurants.
DEPENDS on your point of arrival and also your itinerary. This tip was written for those who will be travelling inside the loop.
Inside the "loop" #1 and #2 Capital Beltway I-495 is 64 miles long. Many tourist destinations are accessible by metro subway system and many others are a short bus ride or a taxi ride.
#1 - best choice - if you are arriving at Union Station (by train, bus, metro or car) you are in luck, you are within walking distance of several destinations and tourist attractions. You can also walk to the red ine of the metro system, you can also walk to the DCCirculator, buses, shopping, dining etc. You can easily hail a cab or pick up a zip-car or a flexi car.
#2 choice - if you are arriving at National Reagan Airport you can walk to the yellow and blue lines of the metro system. Alternatively, take a taxi or take a zip-car or a super shuttle.
Outside the loop #3 and #4
#3 choice - If you are arriving at Baltimore Washington International Airport, then you will need to reach Greenbelt metro station (using metro bus or taxi or rental car) , alternatively, you could take the shuttle to Amtrak train to Union station, rent a car, take the super shuttle take a zip-car
#4 choice - From Dulles International Airport - you could take the Washington Flyer bus to West Falls Church metro station from whence you can take the orange line of the metro system. Alternatively you could take the super-shuttle or take a zip-car.
When to use a car - if you are not within walking distance of the metro system and if your destination is not accessible by metro system, you might consider using a car. Beware the traffic can be a nightmare and in some places parking is difficult. You might consider a car if you have a disbaled person in your group, parking is easier if you have a valid permit for handiapped parking.
Traversing across the city by car or taxi can take 3 hours if traffic is bad or 1 1/2 if there is no traffic. A taxi ride to the outskirts of the city can easily cost $60.00 or more
We decided to leave our car parked at the hotel and take a taxi to and from our events. This was our best option for two reason, we didn't want to worry about finding a place to park the car and we also wanted to enjoy ourselves with a few drinks.
The taxi was our only real option actually as we were going to be out later than the operating hours of the DC Metro.
There are plenty of ways to get to DC, but driving is easiest and fastest way for us. Our drive takes us about 4 hours (depending on time of day we leave home) on I-95 South until we get to MD-295S (via Exit 52) to US-50W/New York Avenue to DC.
If we are going to Arlington, we continue to I-395 (crossing to VA) and on to our location.
If you don't have a navigational system, check out mapquest.com or if you are a member of AAA you can get directions from them.
There was a big parking lot next to the Eisenhover Avenue Metro Station, it was next to an AMC theater, we used this to park our car through the day as we traveled by metro and it was free of charge! A helpful attendant at the Metro Station gave us this tip.
The Capital Beltway is one of the most famous roads in the country, particularly for those who are interested in politics. The Beltway is also one of the most infamous roads in DC for local drivers who spend half of their lives sitting in traffic. It is also just one of numerous limited access highways provided transportation to and from the DC area. On a random Saturday in December 2008, it took me an hour just to cross the damned old Woodrow. On a Saturday! Thank god I don't have to drive this freakin road every day.
The Beltway (I-495) - As its name suggests, the beltway forms a ring around central Washington DC, with the road almost entirely in the states of Maryland and Virginia, traveling through DC just over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It is designated as Interstate 495 though the eastern portion of the Beltway is also the path of Interstate 95. On local traffic reports you will hear the inner loop and outer loop mentioned... the inner loop is the clockwise lanes closer to the city and the outer loop is made up of the counterclockwise lanes. The total route is 64 miles.
Interstate 395 - I-395 begins in the south where I-95 meets the Beltway at Springfield, VA (this huge interchange is known as the Mixing Bowl). It runs 13 miles northeast through Virginia then over the Potomac and into downtown DC. After passing under the Mall it ends at New York Avenue.
Interstate 295 - I-295 runs just 8 miles from the Beltway at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, along the east bank of the Potomac, then into downtown Washington DC (where it is called the Southeast Freeway, or even Interstate 695 for 1.5 miles) before it merges with I-395. If you continue north on I-295 rather then heading into downtown DC, this route becomes Anacostia Freeway / Kenilworth Ave then the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Interstate 66 - I-66 begins in Washington and runs west for 76 miles to Interstate 81 in Middletown, VA. This is the only two-digit Interstate in the city of Washington DC other than the tiny portion of I-95 over Woodrow Wilson Bridge. In Washington I-66 occupies the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge just north of the Lincoln Memorial and it turns due north before quickly ending around Foggy Bottom and the Rock Creek Parkway.
George Washington Memorial Parkway - The GW Parkway is a small freeway maintained by the National Park Service. It follows the south and west bank of the Potomac through Virginia from the beltway to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. The Northern Section runs from the Beltway past the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport to the north end of Old Town Alexandria at North Washington Street. The Southern Section begins at the south edge of old Town on South Washington Street, and runs to Mount Vernon.
Clara Barton and Cabin John Parkways - These small freeways run along the C&O Canal and the north bank of the Potomac from Georgetown to the Beltway. The Clara Barton Parkway runs the entire distance from downtown to the Beltway, while the Cabin John Parkway is just 1.5 miles long and connects to the Beltway a few exists to the north. the Clara Barton Parkway is part of the GW PArkway Administration under the National Park Service. It provides numerous parking areas for visitors to the C&O Canal trail.
Dulles Access Road (Rt 267) - As the name suggests it runs to the Dulles Airport. It is really two roads, a free road directly to the airport with no local exits, and a toll road providing access to the communities near the airport. A portion of the tolls will be used to build the Metro's Silver Line to Dulles Airport. The roads run about 14 miles from the Beltway east of the city to the airport.
Anacostia Freeway / Kenilworth Ave / Baltimore-Washington Parkway (DC & MD 295) - The non-interstate portion of I-295. It runs from I-295's end point all the way to Baltimore (via MD 295), mostly along the east side of the Anacostia River.
Interstate 270 (Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Highway) - Runs from the Beltway through Maryland, 34 miles to to I-70 at Fredericksburg. This route runs Northeast away from the city, and it connects into central Washington on Wisconsin Avenue.
If you don't want to fight traffic in town and struggle to find a parking spot, a great alternative is to drive to one of the stations outside of the city and take the Metro in to town. My last visit, I parked at Cheverly, Maryland, and enjoyed the 20-minute ride to the city center. Cheverly and the other Metro parking areas recently implemented the SmarTrip card system to pay for parking. A SmarTrip card costs $5 and strores up to $300 in value. It has a special RF chip embedded in the card that allows you to swipe it across a sensor, rather than inserting a paper ticket in the slot. Ahhh technology... no waste, no moving parts. SmarTrip cards are also in use on the buses and the Metro.
Many stations, particularly outside of the city offer daily parking, but only a few offer any long-term, or even overnight, parking areas. Check the DC Metro's website.
Driving in the city of Washington DC can be a real experience. Here are some of my big gripes after just a few weeks in the city:
1. Pedestrians never obey don't walk signs, and they always assume they have the right of way even if they are crossing in front of you when you have a green light. Where this is most frustrating for me is when I am trying to turn on red--I check to ensure pedestrians have a don't walk signal, I check for a break in oncoming traffic, then I go, only to find the crosswalk full of jaywalkers.
2. Avenues, squares, and traffic circles. We are all used to grid patterns in cities and they are easy to figure out. But in Washington DC the avenues are angle streets that create odd six eight, and ten-way intersections; and because of these funny angled avenues, through streets are occasionally randomly blocked, breaking up the grid pattern.
3. Drivers ignore red lights and block the box. Anytime a light changes from green to red at a busy intersection it seems the next six or eight cars will always try to squeeze through, so when the cross traffic light changes to green they always have to wait 10-20 seconds for the intersection to clear before they can proceed.
4. Security measures. Do we have to block half of the roads around all the government buildings? If I can walk there with a back pack or suitcase, why can't I drive there?
(more to come, I'm sure)
Update June 2008: DC cabs now use meters! The new system charges passengers $3 for the first sixth of a mile and 25 cents for each additional sixth of a mile. Also passengers are charged 25 cents for each minute stopped in traffic or traveling slower than 10 miles per hour.
Taxi fares inside the District stump even the long-time residents. Fares are based on a zone system rather than actual distance or time spent idling in traffic. Travel within a zone and get charged the lowest price, travel into an adjacent zone and get charged the next lowest price. Sounds simple right? The trick is knowing where the zone lines are because you could ask to be dropped off on one corner and pay a higher price than if the cabbie had dropped you on the other side of the intersection.
Virginia licensed taxis (Alexandria, Crystal City, Arlington) use the familiar meters, even when traveling into the District.
If you are good enough in parallel parking, you can try yourself on Constitution Ave between 14th abd 17th. There are no meters there and I saw no other signs there to mark parking spots. Since rural US is a parking paradise and most Americans are not trained in parallel parking (or even never heard about), you can be surprised with an empty spot with a good view on the White House over the Ellipse just from your left window.
May be very handy for Europeans, New-Yorkers, and other experienced parking fighters.
A tip: I heard that americans do not mind when you compress their cars by gently pushing them with your bumper. Tried that in Boston (where Avis surprised me with a Buick) and it worked for me.