Image by Kev22 licensed under Creative Commons.

By spring 2019, the District will nearly double the number of street parking zones reserved for tour bus parking. These changes will allocate some limited curbside parking to create additional easy-to-use and safe places for large numbers of passengers visiting the District to get on and off motorcoaches.

Roughly one-third of the 21-25 million annual visitors to the District arrive by motorcoach, according to 2015 National Park Service (NPS) data. NPS estimates that 1,200 motorcoaches arrive each day during peak tourist season.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) wants these buses to transport passengers to and from their destinations while minimizing cruising in search of parking. Tour bus drivers circling the block for parking increases traffic congestion for other drivers and causes air pollution for everyone, while wasting fuel.

Expect more bus parking by Spring 2019

DDOT has already deployed three motorcoach parking zones: Virginia Avenue SW near Museum of the Bible, L'Enfant Plaza, and the 700 block of Frontage Road SW just south of L'Enfant Plaza and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The fourth location at Thomas Jefferson Drive NW has been deployed, but was not part of the initial plan for roll-out and currently shares space with food trucks.

"DDOT motorcoach parking only coming soon" sign posted on light pole at eastbound New York Avenue NW between 14th Street NW and 15th Street NW. Image by the author.

There are three additional locations that DDOT has planned for the first phase: 400 block of Independence Avenue SW near the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and the 1100 block of Independence Avenue SW near the Freer and Sackler Galleries and L'Enfant Plaza that will be operational by the spring tourist season. In addition, the 1400 block of New York Avenue NW will be active starting sometime in January 2019.

DDOT has initiated the planning process for five other locations, however, they require further study of their feasibility.

Assuming phase one results in success for motorcoach drivers, passengers, and other District stakeholders, the second phase will look at commuter buses. This phase will need to account for traffic patterns starting earlier and ending later than typical rush hour, along with different locations. DDOT anticipates similar resources for commuter buses as is provided for tour buses.

Curbside parking for buses will benefit a greater number of people

Unlike passenger cars, tour buses don’t fit into most underground parking garages. This makes curbside parking an effective way to drop off the up to 60 passengers carried by a standard 45-foot motorcoach safely and conveniently.

According to Public Affairs Specialist Lauren Stephens, DDOT assumes that, “While not every bus will be full, it is generally cost prohibitive for tour groups to charter ‘empty’ buses.” DDOT plans to study bus passenger capacity and traffic trends.

DDOT makes space for each tour bus by removing three standard car parking spaces. While the parked cars may have carried a full load of passengers, the Federal Highway Administration estimates an average vehicle holds 1.7 people per car.

A fully loaded motorcoach parked in that space carrying up to 60 passengers replaces approximately 5.1 passengers in the three cars that would have parked instead. At the same time, a much larger number of people on a bus benefit from the curbside access, while a smaller number of drivers would incur the walk time from parking in an underground garage.

Bus drivers spoke, and DDOT Listened

These new locations aren’t DDOT’s first attempt to help with tour bus parking. There were already 30 on-street and parking lot bus spaces at approximately six locations owned by the District and NPS. Other pay-to-park locations included 20 spots in the Union Station garage and 100 more in the RFK Stadium lots. Two hundred more bus parking spaces are available between the National Arboretum, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the National Zoo, and the Washington National Cathedral.

Double parked tour bus at eastbound New York Avenue NW between 14th Street NW and 15th Street NW. Image by the author.

But bus drivers, representing their passengers’ interests, said the RFK and Union Station lots weren’t useful for tour groups takings short visits to the National Mall. These lots were simply too far away, plus these bus parking locations lacked convenient and safe access to amenities like restrooms and restaurants.

DDOT reached out to NPS, Destination DC, and the American Bus Association to determine criteria for selecting locations near museums, memorials, monuments, and other desirable amenities. But they also looked for places with adequate sidewalk capacity, parking alternatives for cars, safe places, and nearby walkable areas including crosswalks.

Convenience will drive demand, not rules

Bus drivers are allowed to cruise around to look for parking or do something while their passengers tour the District. But they do have to obey traffic laws, adhere to normal parking regulations, and uphold commercial vehicle licensing requirements. Drivers can’t leave their vehicles idling for more than three minutes while stopped or parked, or five minutes when temperatures dip below freezing.

Convenience and cost will encourage drivers to park in these locations instead of cruising. For $6.90 an hour—triple the single parking space rate of $2.30—the driver can park in a legal location close to nearby attractions. Parking is allowed from 7 am until 6:30 pm for one to three hours, depending on location. Locations designated for overnight parking allow a bus to stay up to 12.5 hours between 6:30 pm and 7 am.

DDOT offers a one-stop webpage with the maps, guides, and information to keep motorcoach operators in compliance with laws and regulations, while steering them toward the available curbside parking for buses.

What will success look like?

DDOT acknowledges that, for curbside bus parking to work, DDOT will need to encourage drivers of personal vehicles to use off-street parking, mainly underground parking garages. At the same time, this could free up spaces for buses near the National Mall and other high-demand sites. DDOT will eventually provide overnight parking for multi-day trips.

Curbside motorcoach parking has the potential to move more people safely, efficiently, and closer to where they want to be. We are a city that that earns $7.5 billion in tourism revenue and supports over 75,000 tourism-related jobs. These types of transportation changes may not only increase the fun for tourists—the improvements could also drive more jobs, profits, and tax revenue on our way to another record tourism year.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that there are three additional locations that DDOT has planned for the first phase, not two, and DDOT has initiated the planning process for five other locations, not six.

Adopt-A-Tag

Allison Davis is this month’s sponsor for posts about Transportation. Learn more »

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.