From the Forum

Traffic patterns on Harvard Street impeding emergency vehicles: will it get worse?

Hello, I live on the 1400 block of harvard and was wondering if anyone in MPD or the fire department was aware of the problems that parking congestion on Harvard is creating for emergency vehicles?

On May 9th I saw an ambulance coming from Adams Morgan that couldn’t get through on Harvard due to double parking on the 1500 block. On May 11th, I saw a near traffic accident as someone veered from a parking spot on the south side of the street to a spot on the north side. on May 12th, an ambulance had trouble picking up a medical emergency at All Souls Church due to no legal or illegal spaces near the building. On May 27,th a fire engine was unable to turn right onto Harvard because someone was illegally parked at the corner of Harvard and 15th Street NW

The reson I’m asking is that a developer is seeking to build an 8 unit apartment building on Harvard Street, NW and they are asking the board of zoning to waive the parking requirements to have parking for their building. We submitted over 70 signatures and 10 letters of opposition today, but apparently the planning department is planning on supporting this application.

It is my feeling that worsening the parking problem on Harvard street will effectively cut off access to local hospitals for residents in Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights, and will make it impossible for the fire trucks in Adams Morgan to help out at fires east of 16th street. Irving Street (the other eastbound thoroughfare) is effectively useless to EMS vehicles due to the traffic congestion caused by the DC USA. Fire officials from the Lanier Street station

Approving this parking variance would open the door to approval of other parking variance on the street (there are three more condo conversions -from single family homes in progress right now), and therefore in the long-term would create a very real public safety issue for this neighborhood.

There is a hearing on Tuesday June 4th the the DC Board of Zoning. If you would like to express your concern, please refer to application #18563 / MCSKA, LLC. The hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m. at 441 4th Street N.W., Washington, DC 20001 in Room 220 South.

51 Comment

  • The problem doesnt stop at 14th St either. I live near the intersection of 11th & Harvard and hear/see ambulances get stuck in traffic constantly. What a mess.

  • Wanting access to emergency services? NIMBYism at it’s worst!

    • Then the real answer would be no on street parking. But I’d guess OP is more concerned about maintaining their own parking and doesn’t really care about anyone elses.

  • Seems like the answer is more and better parking enforcement rather than trying to keep a new development out of the neighborhood.

    • Where did you read they wanted to stop the development?

      Because this post says they want to ensure the parking requirement is not waived for this development project.

      • The developer is obviously seeking the variance as a cost-savings measure. Without the variance, the developer might not be able to move forward due to the high costs of providing the required parking infrastructure.

        • Any developer will ask for any variance that saves them money.

          If a devloper cannot move forward with a project because of cashflow, they will not be able to develop. However, another developer will. DC is booming with new developments, so money is obviously being made.

          • you would be surprised. Most developers see parking as a cash cow – very few of them ask for parking relief.

        • Did you ever think that maybe they physically cannot provide the parking? I’m not sure that building has alley access, so how in the heck are they supposed to provide parking? Thus, a variance is required.

    • Yup. Off street parking isn’t necessary for a 8 unit building two blocks from the Metro. Just ticket people that are double parked.

    • +1, who do you call to report illegally parked cars – 311 or 911?

      @identified – the OP is opposed to any condo conversions that do not include parking, and since many of the houses being converted to condos do not have a place on the property where parking or a garage could be added, the OP is effectively opposed to many of these development projects.

      • And how do you know this, as it is not in the statments above?

        The OP stated they believe this development should not be waived and a (grounded) fear that if one variance is given – the others will be carte blanche. DC has been waiving parking requirements quite frequently for developers as of late, so this is not unfounded.

        • It’s getting waived because less and less people have cars in the city. I know several developments that got reduced parking, and still have parking left over after being leased up. Parking built into city developments will only decrease over time. Yes, it saves money, but why build parking if it’s not driven by the market any longer?

  • I saw an ambulance levitate and magically fly to Washington Hospital Center without any congestion problems.

    What, my baseless anecdotal evidence which is rife with confirmation bias isn’t acceptable??!?

  • Some of the larger developments need to have extra parking that can be rented to smaller developers in order to attain the necessary parking. Or they should have the obligation to contract parking from a public lot. Enough is enough.

  • the answer is simply for parking enforcement people to start ticketing people who double park, instead of ticketing people who are in legal parking spaces but have an expired registration or other stupid reasons like that. also, this city needs to quit sending firetrucks and ambulances out every time someone stubs their toe in this city. the amount of firetruck/ambulance traffic in this city is outrageous. and even on a clear street they literally drive about 15mph, clearly these are not emergencies. I think you just don’t want new development in your neighborhood, because this is about the dumbest objection I’ve ever heard

  • This is why we ought to equip first responders’ vehicles with monster truck technology. Deter double parking through risk of flattening. Everybody wins.

  • There’s no reason whatsoever to require a developer to build parking for a small building in an urban area.

    • Exactly. We do not want to ENCOURAGE parking in our neighborhood. Providing parking does just that. We live so close to several transit options that parking here would just be absurd.

      • People still own cars in the city, so putting up a building without the option of off-street parking only serves to strain the already scarce supply of street parking, not to mention the pollution from drivers having to circle for an hour just to find an open space.

        • In 13 years of living in DC I have never once had to circle for an hour to find a parking space. 15 or 20 minutes, tops.

          • U Street residential area on a Friday or Saturday night. Ugh, its awful! If we’re using the car, we always make sure that we’re parked back at home before 5pm on a Friday or Saturday. Otherwise, it will take us, literally, an hour to find a spot.

          • Yeah, I’ve definitely had that problem in Dupont or U Street. After an hour I gave up and went home!

  • Instead of outright opposing the application, you should look for ways to make it better and solve what you consider to be a problem. If you are a homeowner on Harvard street then this new apartment building would only add value to the street and the neighborhood. Besides, those creating the parking “problem” on the street are likely people from outside the neighborhood. Most people on our street take Metro or Cabi. Furthermore, if they were to park this apartment building, wouldn’t it create MORE traffic on the street? Given that they are asking for the variance means that people living there are likely to not own cars in the first place (which is what happens in my building) and, thus, do not park on the street. As stated above, they take Metro, bus, Cabi, walk.
    I am shocked that 70 people signed your letter. I am sure they weren’t from people on Harvard Street in the vicinity of this proposal.

  • A couple thoughts after reading your complaint:

    1) I sympathize with your concern that life-saving emergency vehicles be able to move through the streets and do their job.
    2) The problems you refer to are all the result of illegal actions. The city cannot — and should not seek to — craft zoning and parking policy to accommodate these illegal actions. Greater driver enforcement — and improved transportation choices so fewer people drive — is the answer.
    3) The most vibrant cities in the country are rejecting parking minimums for new development, and for good reason. Fewer people are driving, especially in big transit-rich cities like ours, and it’s not fair to build the cost of parking into the cost of an apartment for someone who doesn’t need it.
    4) Copious parking — off-street and on-street — should not be the goal of this city. The goal of this city should be to make good use of its scarce real estate, especially in desirable areas like Columbia Heights / Adams Morgan. Storing automobiles while no one is using them is not a good use of that space, especially given the wide availability of car-sharing in DC.
    5) Widely available parking — the mark of a dead city — encourages driving. The easier the city makes driving and parking, the less likely people are to opt for more sustainable modes of transportation like walking, biking, or transit. That’s not good for anybody. The city shouldn’t try to make driving or parking harder — but it’s not up them to waste public space and public money making it easier, either.

    I’m happy to provide sources for any of my assertions here, and I’m happy to talk more about why mandating off-street parking for new residential development is a terrible, outdated, unsustainable, inequitable, and dangerous idea.

    • “But but but I need a car! Omg, how am I going to take my 2 kids to go shopping at the big box stores! And those buses are for poor people, I need my self contained people mover! And what about taking my kids to school, how can they get there without a car?!?! And what about when I need to go to doctors – you expect me to take a taxi, Uber, car2go, or public transportation????? No way!”

      *ad naseaum with 15 commenters on why their individual situation makes them a special snowflake*

      • And why don’t you drive a car, mister self righteous? Too many DUIs?

      • Another presumptuous post…

        BTW, some people have family outside the city, and I for one would never use Car2Go on a highway. You’re just asking to get flattened…

      • OK, a little snarky, but I do see your point. As a 35-year old who’s never owned a car, I sometimes feel as though people are exaggerating their “need” for a car in a major city with ample public transit. (My carless-ness has been largely out of financial necessity, but also a calculation that with limited resources, the expense just isn’t worth it. A car would be a fun extra if a free one just materialized, magically titled in my name, and with super-cheap insurance. But when I think of the monthly costs for buying and maintaining a car compared to the amount of times that I would realistically need to use it, it’s too much.) I think it depends on your comfort level, though–other than tooling around in my relatives’ cars when I go visit them in Maryland, I don’t know any different than doing everything via public transportation. My bf, on the other hand, had a car since he was 16, and even if he wouldn’t use it for a daily commute in DC, is *really* attached to the concept, and finds the idea of not having a car horrifying and inconceivable.

    • The OP is not asking the city to craft any special regulations, he’s merely asking the city not to waive them for a developer that thinks he’s special. If you oppose the existing regulations, fine, that’s another matter, petition to have it changed, but having the existing regs on the books and then giving waivers to anybody who wants one is not a good way for a city to do business (I do not live anywhere near the area in question and to me the subject matter is irrelevant. Either enforce the existing zoning or change it, don’t keep it on the books and give everybody who thinks he’s special a waiver.

      • They are rewriting the zoning code right now, and are removing parking minimums for many situations, including buildings with fewer than 9 units (like this one), buildings in transit zones (like this one), and buildings in high density R-5 zones (like this one) . In a short while this development, or another like this, will be matter-of-right. So why not give these developers a waiver and let them get moving?

        • Thanks for this comment, really informative stuff.

          I’ve said it many times on PoPville, but it’s worth repeating: as a public policy matter, DC government is moving to make driving as difficult as possible in the District. If this is true, than it’s just another nail in coffin for cars in DC.

          Might as well face the music, folks.

          • Scrillin

            My god, what’s next? Cities were designed for cars, not people. It’s why humans began living in settlements in the first place.

            If DC residents want to walk everywhere or take public transportation, they should move out to the suburbs, and live their car-free lifestyles WHERE THEY BELONG!

        • clevelanddave

          Because DC neither has the infrastructure nor is ready for a true year round car free lifestyle for most people. Developers should be compelled to provide appropriate parking when they increase the density of the units they are renovating- otherwise you are subsidizing their development at the expense of everyone else. We have a winter here. Not everywhere has easy or reliable metro access. And many people simply aren’t able to coordinate their life/work/health and other needs so they can live without a car. This isn’t Manhattan, and it isn’t a high density southern city where you can reliably bike year round.

    • clevelanddave

      Widely available parking is the mark of a dead city?


  • That’s one of the densest, most walkable areas in DC. It’s basically a poster child for places where parking minimums don’t make sense. The developer should get the variance.

    If cars are parking illegally they should be ticketed and towed, which is a service the city normally excels at.

    • It may be one of the densest/most walkable communities, but that doesn’t mean that folks who buy condos in this building won’t come in with cars.

      • Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think the part about waiving parking minimums with the zoning rewrite comes with a pretty important caveat: residents of these buildings may not be eligible for RPP. If the system is set up this way and actually works (ahem), waiving a parking minimum will not increase the number of residents’ cars on the street.

      • Some might, some won’t. Few people are willing to circle the block for an hour evry night when they get home from work, so if that’s what it take to park there then chance are they’ll make other arrangements. They’ll rent a spot at DCUSA, or learn to live without a car. Or it will be so bad that the apartments won’t sell, and the developer will have to figure something out.

        One thing I know for sure: there are 30,000 people living in Columbia Heights, and there is not room to make 30,000 parking spaces. So some people are going to have to do without.

      • If you really need a car, then that should weigh heavily in where you choose to live.

  • I used to live on Harvard between 14th and 15th. It’s a narrow street. The problem isn’t new developments like this, it was double parking. They need to strictly enforce it. Seems like the OP is just worried about maintaining their own on street parking which strikes me as somewhat hypocritical if its on street.

  • Illegal parking by delivery vehicles can be a problem too. This morning around 9:00 there was a godawful jam on Irving Street between 14th and 16th because of a Shenandoah’s Pride milk delivery truck illegally parked on Irving outside the Next Step Public Charter School, and all that blocked-up traffic was impeding an ambulance trying to go east toward the hospitals from 16th Street. (It was creating noticeable ripple-effect jams on 16th and Mt. Pleasant too because of gridlock on Irving. All from one milk truck!)

    • Yes, THIS! UPS and FedEx drivers clog up 15th Street at the evening rush hour by double-parking. They both seem to drive the same route at the same time. Last week, the FedEx driver doubleparked in the right lane and the UPS driver doubleparked exactly across the street in the left lane, leaving one middle lane for all traffic to pass through. Northbound traffic was clogged from T Street nearly all the way down to Rhode Island! It was insane.

  • wouldn’t it be better if the cops actually ticketed for double parking, blocking the box and other infractions? adding more residents with cars on that street doesn’t sound like it will help things regardless if they are on-street or off-street parking.

  • I used to live on this block back when most houses were single family or boarded up and only a few we’re split into condos. Now it’s the opposite. Proper planning would dictate that emergency vehicles can pass at all times as this is a very popular route to the hospital. But I’m not sure parking requirements (or lack there of) should be part of that answer. Just tow like you would in rush hour spots.

  • clevelanddave

    This is the inherent problem that council tried to “fix” by having more on street parking for residence in their zone (and creating more confusion in the process for those who want to park legally). That is because zoining has failed to do their job. They have regularly given developers in this city waivers instead of asking them to provide a reasonable amount of parking for their developments. The problem is there isn’t enough parking for all these new units, those that already exist, and a reasonable amount of visitor parking. This has been obvious for some time. Are they bought and paid for by the developers, who are able to build without parking? It is the enviornmentalists who are pushing for a car free DC- that DC is neither able nor ready to provide? Is it those who own paid parking facilities who both are part of the problem that prevents the building of DC owned parking garages and are therefore able to charge exorbitant fees to park? Or is it a little bit of all of these, topped by a degree of incompetence in government that this city has (often for good reason) gotten a national reputation for?

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