Parking in the District
Like any large city, parking can be challenging at times, but much of the city offers free or metered street parking.
All it takes is a bit of patience and you can usually find a parking spot within a few minutes just a short walk to your destination.
Parking meters in most areas require payment (quarters) from 7:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. (in Georgetown and close to the Verizon Center until 10:00 p.m.). Parking tickets for expired meters are $25.00 and filling a meter multiple times throughout the day is illegal and can result in a ticket, but it does cause parking spots to turn over frequently. Often parking in a public garage or lot is your best choice. Look for discounted all-day rates. Hotel parking tends to be more costly than parking lots and garages.
Most meters do not require payment on weekends and federal holidays. DC Police aggressively target expired meters and illegally parked cars so a word of caution – it’s better to park in a garage than risk a ticket. DC also contracts with a tough collection agency so even if you are from out of town, they will track you down. Additionally, unpaid ticket fines double after 14 days if unpaid.
Parking is prohibited on some major streets during rush hours, typically 7:00-9:30 a.m. and 4:00-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Fines for rush hour parking are $100 and in some areas your car might be towed (additional costs apply), so check the parking signs in front of and behind your car carefully before parking.
During the many national holidays, and during big rallies, parades, festivals and other special events, parking in the National Mall area can be restricted, so you may need to look a few blocks away.
DC is also conducting a trial to replace individual parking meters in some areas of Georgetown, Adams Morgan and on K St. NW between 12th and 21st Streets NW with multi-space parking meters. Suburban Arlington, VA is also testing the multi-space meters.
Most of these new parking meters accept coins and major credit cards. To use, simply deposit enough money to cover the period of time you’ll need and print the receipt. Then place your receipt face-up on the curbside of your dashboard.
Look for these new meters either up or down the block from where you might park in DC. Tickets are $25 for not paying or expired meters.
In our post September 11th world, some DC streets may be closed, have security checkpoints or be temporarily barricaded for various reasons such as security threats, protests, rallies, VIP travel routes or other unknown reasons. Security checkpoints may be staffed with police or military personnel. While these changes in traffic patterns may come and go without notice, they can be a bit challenging to get around. Your best bet is to keep your cool and simply detour and find another route.
Furthermore, concrete barriers, full-size SUVs or Metro busses may block some streets and government building entrances or driveways. Under no circumstances should you attempt to drive around them.
Mobile Phone Use While Driving
The District enacted a hand-free mobile phone law in 2004 and the police aggressively enforce it. Get caught using your mobile phone without a hands-free device for anything other than an emergency call and you risk receiving a $100 ticket.
Speeding and Red Light Cameras
Since 1999, Washington DC has employed mobile and fixed-location red light and speeding cameras around the city. With about 50 red light cameras and close to 75 speeding cameras, it’s easy to get cited (personal experience), even if you are driving a rental car. To date the program has issued over 3 million traffic tickets so while driving, try to remember…Big Brother is Watching!!!
The speed limit in DC if it’s not posted is 25 mph, so drive carefully. Fines range from $30 for less than 11 mph over the posted speed limit, to $200 for over 26 mph over the limit.
Click It or Ticket
DC also has a zero tolerance on drivers and passengers that do not wear seat belts. Police aggressively look for unbelted drivers and passengers. Fines are $50 per infraction.
Traffic and Law Enforcement
The District of Columbia probably has more law enforcement agencies and types of officers than any city in the U.S. It’s most notable around the National Mall, National Parks, Federal buildings and embassies. Besides the DC Police (Metropolitan Police Department), you may see FBI and Secret Service Police, National Park Police, Metro Police, U.S. Capitol Police, and various other law enforcement agencies patroling the District. There are police and law enforcement officers what seems like everywhere, which is comorting, but obey the traffic laws, as many of these police can issue traffic citations.