Driving / Parking, Washington D.C.
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.
Yes, parking is free around the Mall. Be there before 9 am you will find a plenty of spots there. I parked easily by the Capitol and by the Natiuonal Gallery. For early birds only.
Signs restict you to 3hrs, but I would consider is as a gentlemen agreement rather then a law. Please advice.
You need great luck to park there after 10am.
Driving in DC is about as bad as it gets (okay, actually not that bad, but still). Traffic is always bad, every day of the week; and it's especially bad if there is a state funeral or if some group or another decides to hold a protest or rally. Parking is always impossible; and traffic circles (like Dupont Circle) are rather tricky and hard to navigate. During rush hour, traffic is at a standstill; don't think you'll get anywhere. If you're visiting DC, its best to park outside the city and take Metrorail or Metrobus into the city, since many of the attractions are within walking distance of each other.
There is a Metro Station not to far from the Wat Thai Temple. There is some parking near the temple but it will most likely be full fast and if you park in the neighborhoods near by its very possible to get a ticket from the police (depends on how and where you park). Your Best Bet is to park at Metro Station and Hope the Wat Thai Shuttle (may be a school bus) and it drops you off right in from of the Temple. It is a free shuttle so dont worry about price and usually the Metro Parking lot is free during this event (if held on a sunday). I do suggest however that you tip the Driver, being that Gas prices are crazy and they are saving you a lot of engery spent trying to get around. Just think of all the money saved by not getting a Ticket! And give it on the way to the temple because you may not have any on the way back to the car...plus your hands will be free and not lugging around all the stuff you bought!
Limousines are a standard mode of transport for Washington's important people and people who think they are. They not only come in basic black stretch jobs like in the included photo (outside the Hart Senate Office Building), they can also be in white, or customised stretch SUVs (sport utility vehicles, for those on the Left Bank) where folks can have all the luxury as well as the ability to move about in snow, ice or more treacherous terrain.
I was lucky to park my car close to the Lincoln Memorial, on a street (free!) - Ohio Drive SW. I saw a car trying to park between the two cars in a long row of parked cars and the driver after two attempts gave up, thus I parked there. Well, my parking training from Paris was again useful, that time in DC. There is a sign which says: 3 hours parking there and no parkometers. Hmm... it's likely I parked a bit longer there. Before I checked whether other cars had any paper clock put behind widshield to set for hour and minute of the parking and thus show whether 3 hours already passed or not (popular in Europe) but i didn't notice any. You see what I mean, right?
- read carefully parking signs put along a street you are going to park,
- parking on a street in downtown is usually limited to 2 hours from Monday to Friday from 9.30 am - 4.00 pm or even 6.30 pm and paid in a parkometer (get change ready)
- in Georgetown parking on a street was limited to 2 hours Monday to Saturday 9.30 am - 4.00 pm and 6.30 pm - 10.00 pm
- I've seen tickets put behind windshield wiper of cars whose drivers didn't pay
- I've never seen cars parked where it was not allowed (they are towed away, I've seen cars ready to tow them), hmm... in European cities it often works quite different :-(
- there are a few covered parking lots in downtown, look at the prices in my picture ($16 per 12 hours, expensive? it's half the Californian price from downtown San Francisco in 2003!)
- Georgetown tends to be a bit more expensive for parking than downtown
- check the opening hours of the parking lot (some are closed at night!)
- check how to pay for the parking (in some automatic parking lots you have to have change ready to pay and be let out)
- the option is to drive to metro parking lots and use metro, the lots are free in weekends and cheap in business days (say $3.50 - 5.00 per day) but you must buy a SmarTrip card to pay for the parking, details here.
I drove hired car I-95 from Richmond, Virginia northwards to Arlington, Virginia where I stayed and there were no traffic jams on the interstate. But they were on the road from Dulles International Airport to Arlington and DC and on the roads leading to the Capital Beltway. Washington DC is encircled by the Capital Beltway, formed by Interstates I-495 and I-95. Interstate 66 heads from DC west to Virginia. Interstate 50 heads east to Annapolis, MD and the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Beaches. Interstate 95 heads north to Baltimore and New York. Interstate 270 heads north to Frederick, MD and beyond.
From Arlington I easily got to DC by metro or metro + metrobus. I drove a car to National Cathedral and to Arlington Cemetery as well. I do not recommend driving in and to downtown Washington because of shortage of free of charge parking space. Metro is a very convenient mean of transportation in DC/Arlington.
But just in case you drive, a few tips for drivers
- there are no traffic jams in downtown DC except in rush hours but there is heavy traffic and traffic jams in roads to/from DC in rush hours (7.00 am - 9.00 am and 4.00 pm - 7.00 pm)
- streets in downtown are broad, multilane and... mostly empty or... closed for traffic (some temporarily due to road works or safety rules)
- there are very few one-way streets
- navigating in downtown is rather easy but it is difficult outside (watch for left lane exits!)
- they drive slowly and carefully, no worries, it's no problem to change a lane.
Baltimore-area residents traveling south this weekend are being urged to avoid the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, where transportation officials are planning to close three lanes as part of the mammoth project to replace the span that carries Interstate 95 over the Potomac River.
The inner loop of the Capital Beltway from Interstate 295 in Maryland to U.S. 1 in Virginia will be reduced from four lanes to one. The lane closings, which will let construction crews pour asphalt, will begin at 8 p.m. today and continue until as late as 5 a.m. Monday.
Officials predict that even if the bridge's normal traffic loads are down 75 percent, the remaining motorists could face backups of 10 to 15 miles and delays of one to 1 1/2 hours.
Similarly dire predictions were issued last month when transportation officials closed the outer loop for repaving. So many motorists took the warning to heart that severe backups were avoided.
Officials in charge of the 11-year, $2.43 billion project said they hope drivers will be equally diligent in finding alternate routes this weekend.
Those headed toward Richmond, Va. or the Carolinas should take U.S. 301 south from U.S. 50 through Southern Maryland, officials said. For Washington-area traffic, they recommended using the American Legion Bridge on the west side of the Capital Beltway or Interstate 395 through the District of Columbia.
Project officials also plan to close several ramps - one at I-295 in Maryland and the others in Alexandria, Va.
D.C. is the MOST confusing city I have EVER driven in. Here are the three reasons:
1.- The steets are not only grid north-south east-west, they are diagonally crossed, and connect into random circles. There is no consistent pattern to how the named streets flow through the squared off or diagonal intersections, and the signs rarely run paralell with the way the street actually flows. Not to mention, the dozens of random one way streets and also the numerical and alphabetical quagmire of streets on both sides of DC create drvivng hell, much worse than NYC.
2- Security. You look at a map and think a route is a straight shot through, and low and behold we are on Homeland Security Status Orange and the street is blocked to thru traffic. Thank George W Bush for all of that trumped-up paranoia.
3- Inconsistent income levels/crime areas. I walked from RFK to the Capitol building Saturday night before I finally caught a cab. For three blocks there were hooligans and riff-raff spitting out obsenities and gesturing towards myself and the girls with me and within a few streets there were couples dressed in the best Armani and Versace walking home from some Capitol Hill parties. Some areas that are ultra high class are immediately beside the ghetto. I don't like driving or walking through areas that I might not be safe if I break down in, so it gets confusing as to where the good places to drive around or walk around really are.
"Waste of time is the most extravagant and costly of all expenses."
In this city renowned for marble monuments, outstanding museums & celebrated sights, you will want to walk or take the Metrorail (Metro).
[DO NOT DRIVE] because parking is at a premium, & the parking police are unforgiving. DC drivers seldom use turn signals & often ignore the yellow stop light. Rush hour is horrid with entire streets changing directions suddenly & without warning.
The Metrorail is efficient & inexpensive. The Metro uses a ticketing system called Farecard. You purchase it from those vending machines located at each stop. A magnetic strip on the card encodes the value remaining. Now, after you purchase a card, insert it into the slot at the turnstile. At your exit, insert the card into a turnstile again, & the cost of the trip will be deducted from the card.
To make travel more convenient, buy sufficient fare for a roundtrip. But, you will save money if you purchase a $5.00 pass that allows a day of unlimited travel on the Metro.
The cost varies depending on the distance traveled, usually from $1.10-$3.25.
8:00 am to 2:00 am on Friday/Saturday
8:00-Midnight on Sunday
5:30-Midnight on Monday-Thursday
There are 5 Metrorail Lines, & they are color-coded: Orange, Blue, Red, Yellow, & Green.
You may also combine Metrorail with Metrobus which has almost 16,000 stops scattered throughout DC & surrounding areas. Bus tickets cost $1.10 & usually .25 for transfers. You pay the driver with either a tourist pass or exact change.
We walked while in DC because it's an easy city to navigate once you learn the grid system. Just remember that the US Capitol is the grid's center & the 4 quadrants go from there.
NW is on North Capitol St.
NE is on South Capitol St.
SE is on East Capitol St
SW is the Mall
If you walk, make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes & a good street map in hand.
Being from LA, we're used to driving around ourselves. I loved being able to use a Taxi and not having to deal with the stress of traffic. And I love the fact that they have zones, so no matter where you travel there will always be a fixed price and you don't have to worry about the meter running and the cab drive intentionally taking the long way. And don't forget to tip the driver, a dollar or two ought to be enough.
If you're planning a trip to Washington, DC or already live there then you should definitely check out this interactive map.
Move your cursor over any road and click to get current information about the traffic conditions on it. In some places you can get live traffic photos and even video!
Parking in DC can be difficult.. obey the signs or make a policeman's ticket quota for the day!
Try a garage some offer 15$ a day, its worth it for some of us (not to mention the security surrounding your vehicle).
Avoid rush hour, get in early see the Lincoln Memorial or the monument until 10 the museums will open then. Leave the city by 2 pm.
You can always come back in the evening!
Automobile safety did not have the major emphasis in those days that it presently does. Consequently, for the long road trip in our 2-door Duster, I built a wooden platform for the back seat area that brought the floor up level with the seat. The whole back seat area was then covered with blankets, sleeping bags and pillows where our two girls could roll around and sleep at their leisure. Of course, we did not even have seat belts ourselves so this did not seem too outlandish at the time!