As Metro rider­ship de­creases, so do open park­ing spots

De­spite the fall­ing number of pas­sen­gers, Wiehle-Re­ston’s park­ing garage has been packed, and the rea­son is a mys­tery

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY LORI ARATANI lori.aratani@wash­post.com

Like most Wash­ing­ton-area res­i­dents, Banessa Mo­radi had a well-prac­ticed rou­tine for her morn­ing com­mute. To avoid the rush at the Wiehle-Re­ston Metro sta­tion, she planned her ar­rival for around 10 a.m. Once there, she would pull into one of the many open spa­ces in the park­ing garage, then hop on a train.

But a few months ago, she be­gan to no­tice a change: in­creas­ingly, she was ar­riv­ing to find the garage was full. It hap­pened so of­ten that she even­tu­ally gave up. Now she just has her hus­band drop her off at the kiss-and-ride area.

“It’s just too crowded,” said Mo­radi, a se­nior busi­ness an­a­lyst from Ster­ling, who has been tak­ing the Sil­ver Line from Wiehle to her job in down­town Wash­ing­ton since the line opened in 2014. “It’s too much of a has­sle.”

For years, com­muters like Mo­radi, who hopped on the Sil­ver Line at Wiehle for jobs in Tysons or the Dis­trict, didn’t have to worry about park­ing. There al­ways seemed to be room in the 2,300-space, seven-level garage. When it first opened, some joked that it would never fill. But no more.

The big mys­tery: Where are all the cars com­ing from?

The ob­vi­ous ex­pla­na­tion — that more peo­ple are park­ing at Wiehle to take Metro — doesn’t jibe with the num­bers. Av­er­age week­day rider­ship from the sta­tion, which is the western ter­mi­nus for Sil­ver Line ser­vice, is well be­low what it was in 2015, when com­muters say there was al­ways space in the garage.

Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pro­vided by Metro, the number of av­er­age week­day pas­sen­ger board­ings in 2015 — the first full year that the Sil­ver Line was in op­er­a­tion — was 8,588; garage uti­liza­tion was just over 88 per­cent. So far this year, av­er­age week­day pas­sen­ger board­ings are 7,785 — about 800 fewer — but garage uti­liza­tion in recent months has been nearly 95 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Metro, which op­er­ates the garage.

Could it be more bus rid­ers us­ing the garage as a park-an­dride? It’s un­clear. Fair­fax County of­fi­cials added routes from the sta­tion, but they said a change this year in the tech­nol­ogy used to cal­cu­late rider­ship means they can’t com­pare it with that of pre­vi­ous years. They note, how­ever, that bus rider­ship over­all has been on the de­cline since 2016.

It costs $4.95 a day to park in the garage. For an ad­di­tional $65 a month, com­muters can get re­served park­ing, which guar­an­tees you a space if you ar­rive be­fore 10 a.m. How­ever, it does not ap­pear the recent crowd­ing has led to a rush to pur­chase the spa­ces. Of the 250 avail­able re­served spots, 119 have been pur­chased — a number that has re­mained con­sis­tent since they be­came avail­able, Metro of­fi­cials said.

Metro of­fi­cials say more busi­nesses have opened in the area, which may ac­count for some of tight con­di­tions.

“Some of the in­crease in park­ing uti­liza­tion may be at­trib­ut­able to peo­ple who are us­ing the garage for non-Metro pur­poses,” Metro spokesman Ron Holzer said in an email.

But it’s not clear that is the case, ei­ther. An apart­ment com­plex atop the Metro sta­tion has its own garage. A branch of the pop­u­lar Found­ing Farm­ers restau­rant, which opened at the sta­tion in April, has its own cus­tomer park­ing. And com­muters like Chad Clary doubt other busi­nesses in the com­plex — in­clud­ing a nail salon and Star­bucks — draw enough pa­trons dur­ing com­mut­ing hours to ac­count for the in­crease.

Clary, an IT se­cu­rity consultant who drives to the sta­tion from Ash­burn, said the garage is far more crowded than when he be­gan us­ing it in 2014. Ar­riv­ing in the morn­ing is easy: He gets there be­fore 7 a.m. and parks in the same corner space on Level 7. But get­ting out at the end of the day — around 5 p.m. — has got­ten more dif­fi­cult. Clary said the garage is so full some days that com­muters park in the traf­fic lanes. That means lanes nor­mally wide enough to al­low two cars to pass in ei­ther di­rec­tion are nar­rowed so that only one can pass.

“It’s har­row­ing try­ing to pass through an area made for two cars that’s only wide enough for one,” he said. “It’s fine when all the traf­fic is go­ing one way but less fine when you’ve got sports fans com­ing in mix­ing with com­muters try­ing to get out.”

That was in­deed the case on a recent week­day around 5 p.m. On level G-7, at least a half-dozen cars were parked in pass-through lanes rather than spa­ces, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for more than one car to get through. Other ve­hi­cles found space along var­i­ous walls. None was tick­eted for park­ing il­le­gally.

When asked about the sit­u­a­tion, Terri Seigh­man of Ster­ling just shook her head.

“There’s go­ing to be an ac­ci­dent,” she said.

Robin Geiger, spokes­woman for the Fair­fax County Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, said so far this year, traf­fic en­force­ment of­fi­cers have writ­ten just over 1,100 tick­ets at the garage — a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease from the pre­vi­ous year, when 474 park­ing tick­ets were is­sued.

In recent days, of­fi­cials have be­gun putting warn­ing fliers on the wind­shields of cars parked il­le­gally, com­muters said.

Of the tick­ets is­sued, Geiger said, roughly 31 per­cent were for vi­o­la­tions that in­clude park­ing in non-des­ig­nated spa­ces. Other vi­o­la­tions in­cluded dis­play­ing ex­pired li­cense plates or ex­pired safety in­spec­tions. Tick­ets come with a $50 fine. Cars parked in spots des­ig­nated for those with dis­abil­i­ties face a $500 fine.

Geiger said there is re­lief com­ing. The ex­pected open­ing of the sec­ond phase of the Sil­ver Line in 2020 will in­clude five new garages — tak­ing some of the pres­sure off Wiehle.

PHO­TOS BY SALWAN GE­ORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Though Metro rider­ship has de­creased, the Wiehle-Re­ston sta­tion’s garage has seen a rise in pa­tron­age, which some­times re­sults in il­le­gally parked cars.

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