As they prepare for the relocation of the Washington Nationals to Southeast D.C. next season, Capitol Hill residents balked Tuesday night at a preliminary D.C. Department of Transportation plan that would ban everyone but Ward 6 residents from parking in the area just north of the Southeast freeway during baseball games.
In addition to affecting the area right around the stadium, the plan would limit parking in the area bounded by the freeway, Pennsylvania Avenue and First and Sixth streets Southeast.
Non-residents currently can park in Ward 6 for two hours between 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and with no limits outside of those hours.
Residents worry the proposed plan will discourage people from visiting Garfield Park and patronizing businesses along Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast.
Bill Phillips, vice president of the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals and president of Friends of Garfield Park, expressed his concern at a Tuesday night meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, which encompasses the area in question.
“There are four parks and five churches in that neighborhood, and those streets are used for parking for Pennsylvania Avenue businesses,” Phillips said. “This baseball stadium was imposed on us in Southeast — we didn’t have a vote — and it’s going to turn our lives upside down.”
Chris Delfs, the DDOT traffic planner at the meeting, said the plan actually was scaled back from an earlier one that restricted parking further north to Independence Avenue and further east to Seventh Street.
DDOT backed off that plan, he said, because of concerns it would interrupt Eastern Market activities, especially during Sunday afternoon games.
But now the Garfield Park issue has emerged. David Garrison, an ANC commissioner whose district would be affected, noted that the park is used for picnics and bocce ball leagues.
“Under this policy, bocce is done,” he said at the meeting. “We need to realize that we’re making a choice when we do this, because it interacts with other activities. Neighbors may think it’s fine not to have bocce players on Tuesday nights, but it is an issue.”
Some commissioners suggested the restrictions are unnecessary because game attendees would not venture into their neighborhoods to find free parking.
“There is a huge psychological barrier called the freeway,” commissioner Ken Jarboe said of the stretch of Interstate 295 that cuts through Southeast D.C. “What is the rationale behind expanding the restriction north of the freeway?”
ANC 6B Chairwoman Julie Olson argued that it would take non-Ward 6 residents a long time to figure out how short the walk is from the restricted area to the new ballpark, which will be at First and N streets Southeast. But Phillips and Delfs disagreed.
“My home is an easy six-minute walk from the ballpark, and I live north of the freeway,” said Phillips, who lives on the 100 block of F Street.
“For free parking, people can be pretty industrious,” Delfs added.
An even more restrictive option would be to go back to the policy used for the RFK Stadium area when the Redskins played there. That policy required residents near the stadium to have special “Enhanced Enforcement Zone” parking stickers in addition to their Zone Six stickers. That prevented Ward 6 residents from outside the immediate RFK area from parking on the street during games.
Commissioner Francis Campbell, who lives near RFK, fondly recalled the enhanced protection of those days. But with residents off Garfield Park and Pennsylvania Avenue already wary of scaring off visitors, that option does not appear to be on the table.
Delfs said DDOT would like to have the parking plan ready by the end of the year, but both sides agreed there is no easy solution.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” Phillips said. “Pennsylvania Avenue customers do use streets south of Pennsylvania for parking. Residents only need to be protected from baseball parkers, not from customers.”
“We’re never going to reach a consensus,” Delfs added. “If you take a vote of 10 people or 200 people, it’s going to be a 50/50 split. I guarantee you that’s how it will be.”