Saturday, January 17, 2015

Still Life With Robin: Circles of Parking Hell

by Peggy Robin

I saw a movie today at the Georgetown 14 Cinemas, parking in the underground garage. For some time I have been working up a list of the worst-designed parking garages in DC, and until today, for unknown reasons, the Georgetown 14 had escaped getting on the list. Just a few short hours ago I realized it has earned its spot. I will get to why in a minute, but first, let me cover the five qualities of bad design that can land a garage on the worst-designed list.

1. Impossible turns. These are turns that you cannot avoid as you follow the path to your parking spot or to the exit, which can’t be made by an average sized car without some back and forth maneuvering, or driving into the opposite lane. For example, at the new underground garage for the Cathedral Commons Giant, you can’t turn right from the closest parking aisle toward the exit ticket machine in a single maneuver. You either have to back up and reposition yourself closer to the ticket machine, or you have to stop so far from the ticket machine that you need to open the door and get out of your seat to put your ticket in the slot.

2. Narrow, winding ramps. The prime example of this is the garage underneath the Kalorama Street Harris-Teeter. The down ramp is bad, but the up-ramp is evil. After going up a narrow, sharply banked semi-circle, you come to a stop sign not quite at the top. You can’t see anything at all from the stop line, although cars coming from the left have no stop. You need to creep past the stop line to see what's coming around the bend. There’s a mirror hung on a pole and it’s meant to help out. The problem is I’m not sure who or how. Maybe it’s just there to remind you of a funhouse mirror, causing you to reflect that some garage designers seem to take the amusement park funhouse as their design template

3. Conflicts at crossings. Now we come back to the Georgetown 14. The garage itself is not so hard to drive around once you’re down there. It’s getting back up to street level that's the problem. After you’ve paid the ticket, you have an alpine climb ahead of you. And at the top of the climb, a crowded Georgetown sidewalk, full of pedestrians who have just seen a movie and are chatting, happily and obliviously as they cross the driveway opening. The driver, who may also be chatting about the movie with the passengers while approaching the pedestrian crossing, is coming from dark to light and is not positioned well the see the people. There’s another one of those funhouse mirrors, but again, it’s not clear who it’s supposed to help. Of course, the pedestrians have the right of way....which doesn't mean a lot if the driver can't see them.

4. Validation aggravation. The underground Giant at Van Ness suffers from this flaw. You can park for free for 90 minutes if you get your ticket validated at checkout. The cashiers seldom remind you of this fact. And even if you remember, the problem is that it’s not a little stamp on your parking stub – it’s a separate piece of paper, just a flimsy little slip -- all too easy to drop it somewhere between the checkout and the parking ticket booth. If you never picked it up, or you dropped it along the way, then you pay. And even if you remember your validation slip, you could still be stuck in line behind someone who forgot, and you will be waiting, waiting, waiting, while that person argues in vain about the fee. 

5. Car-scraper support poles. The winner in this category is the Tenley Whole Foods garage. The structure is honeycombed with massive, sharp-edged diamond-shaped pillars. They are placed at intervals so close to the driving lanes that they practically lunge out for your bumpers as you pass. They must take a heavy toll, by the look of all the paint scrapes that decorate them.

I trust all the intrepid drivers in DC can think of examples of parking garages that qualify as bad parking garages under the above criteria. But there’s one that to me stands out as far and away the worst of any I’ve encountered. Impossible turns – check! Car scaper poles -- it’s parking rash city there. Narrow, winding ramps – couldn’t be any narrower or windier. Validation aggravation – well, nobody in the building in question validates and so everyone is made to pay up to get out. And lots of drivers are shocked at the cost when they finally wind their way down to the poorly placed ticket booth.  Where is this ill-designed expanse of driving/parking hell? It’s behind the medical building at 3301 New Mexico Avenue. If you weren’t feeling bad before you went, you certainly will be by the time you drive out.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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