- 7 Photos
- North Adams Street in Lyon Village isn’t wide enough to let two cars pass with cars parked on both sides. (Photo: Rebecca A. Cooper/TBD)
Residents in the Old Glebe neighborhood of North Arlington were miffed last August when they returned from their summer vacations to find that “no parking” signs had suddenly appeared in front of their houses.
Jane McFarland and her husband moved into their house on North Dittmar Street in 1986, and never had a problem with the relatively narrow roadway. Residents had always managed to stagger their parking on both sides of the block between Old Glebe Road and North 38th Street, McFarland says. But after receiving complaints, Arlington County measured the street and determined it too narrow for parking on both sides. Within a couple weeks, signs went up, and parking on the north side of the street was no more.
A letter from the county to residents argued the proposed change was for public safety reasons. McFarland begs to differ. "Our block has a perfect safety record and we used an innate system for calming traffic," he says.
In November, residents of North Edgewood Street in Lyon Park received letters from the county that proposed limiting parking on their street, too. The county’s Solid Waste Division had filed a complaint, county staff later told residents, because its contractor was having difficulty maneuvering its garbage trucks on the block between North 1st Street and North 2nd Road.
“We didn’t understand why after 50 years of the street being fine, all of the sudden there’s an issue," says Natalie Roy, president of the Lyon Park Civic Association.
When Arlington County Fire Department came out with its fire trucks to test the clearance, they say they found very little wiggle room. "The fire department did make a field visit, and they agree with us that parking needs to come off of one side," says Department of Environmental Services official Patricia Bush.
In 2006, Arlington set the county’s desired street width at 28 feet, in order to balance “the need to provide adequate access of emergency vehicles, with the desire of residents to have calm streets, and parking on both sides of the streets,” according to DES transportation chief Wayne Wentz. (He notes, however, that the practice of examining parking rules on narrow streets goes back way beyond 2006 — that was just the year it was incorporated into county code.)
Since then, the county has restricted parking on a handful of narrow streets per year — not a staggering figure compared to the hundreds of streets that don’t meet that width requirement throughout the county. "It’s completely complaint driven," says Bush. "We don’t go out looking for these."
And that’s where it gets tricky. In Arlington, residents aren’t shy about their complaints. When one neighbor’s complaint turns into something that other citizens complain about, what’s a near-perfect county to do?
Although the policy is aimed at maintaining public safety, few of the complaints that trigger the parking changes come from the county’s emergency services teams. "The vast majority come from residents," says Wentz. And McFarland says she knows which of her neighbors complained about the parking. She just doesn’t happen to agree.
Lyon Park residents responded more quickly to their notifications from the county than Dittmar Street residents did, and have since been working to reach some kind of compromise. The county is now considering whether to restrict parking to one side of the street on a certain stretch, and to the other side of the street on another stretch.
But the discussion has left other Arlington neighborhood associations wondering which of their roads could be next. Residents of 21st Road, a narrow one-way street between townhouses in Glebewood, would feel the impact of a parking restriction, says Glebewood Civic Association president Laura Johnson.
And one street in Lyon Village is apparently slated for a change, according to Lyon Village Civic Association President H.K. Park, but he doesn’t yet know which one.
"It's a real mystery why streets where people have lived for decades are suddenly deemed too narrow for certain trucks," he says. "I raised this matter with the County Board this week because it affects all Arlington neighborhoods."
Park is calling for the county to halt these kinds of parking changes until there can be a more "collaborative discussion" between residents and the county staff. "How the county forms its policy and how those policies are playing out on the ground are coming to something of a rub," Park told board members at a recent Arlington County Civic Federation meeting.