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My Two Cents: Avoid The Parking Lot Blues

By Joseph Hawkins

Wednesday - 10/23/2013, 11:35am  ET

My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

Joseph HawkinsImagine the following poll question: “On a scale of 0 to 10 (with a 0 being no pain and a 10 being severe pain) rate parking in downtown Bethesda.”

If we could capture poll results in real time — as drivers parked and exited cars, I’m certain results would have most drivers picking perhaps a 4- or 5-point rating. Parking in downtown Bethesda is not painless; however, the “myth” bouncing around in most drivers’ heads of total parking gridlock just isn’t true.

For me, downtown Bethesda parking is more a challenge than a pain. Bethesda parking also is about knowing the parking landscape and using that knowledge to make wise parking decisions.  And if you keep reading, I’m giving away a picture clue to my all-time favorite free parking spot in downtown Bethesda. That’s right, free!

Dividing downtown Bethesda into a north side and a south side — using Old Georgetown Road as the dividing line between the two sides, let’s chat a little about the parking lot landscape. (And I’m ignoring street meter parking. If you find a meter space in front of the Apple Store on a busy Saturday, that’s not really good planning. That’s just the parking gods looking after you.)

North Side of Old Georgetown

In my opinion, parking in the north side of downtown Bethesda is easy. The parking landscape is dominated by public garages offering drivers lots of choices.

When on the north side of Old Georgetown, I tend to avoid the Cordell-St. Elmo Garage (4935 St Elmo Ave.), also known as the Woodmont Triangle Garage, simply because it seems as though nine out of 10 drivers searching for a north side space pick this public garage over others.

But two blocks to the north of this over-used garage is the Auburn-Del Ray Garage (4910 Auburn Ave.), with twice as many public spaces (747 spaces versus 327 spaces). So, when going out to dinner on Cordell Avenue, I’ll park in the Auburn-Del Ray Garage as my first choice simply because I think it is fairly stress-free. Rarely must I drive past the first floor.

Also two blocks to the south of the Cordell-St. Elmo Garage is the Woodmont Corner Garage (7739 Woodmont Ave.), with almost 800 parking spaces. Parking here is a little more hectic than the Auburn-Del Ray Garage, but, in general, I have never experienced problems.

This garage and other downtown Bethesda public garages — most serving the north side — are mapped here.  And if you’re into using technology to assist your parking space hunt, see this previous Bethesda Now piece. There is nothing wrong with technology helping out.

South Side of Old Georgetown

Parking in the south side of downtown Bethesda is more challenging.  The challenge certainly is associated with Bethesda Row’s success, two movie theaters, Barnes and Noble, the Apple Store, the popularity of the Crescent Trail, and lot of restaurants.  Nonetheless, with a little forethought before heading out, one still can find adequate parking available in both public and private garages.

Like the Cordell-St. Elmo Garage on the north side of Old Georgetown, the Bethesda Avenue-Elm Street Garage seems as though it is nearly everybody’s first and only choice for parking on the south side of town.

If not in a hurry, I’ll drive through this garage, but I rarely if ever allow myself to drive above the second level. The higher you go in this garage the more chaos you’ll encounter. I don’t know what it is about this garage, but I swear it brings out the beast in most drivers.

When I’m not rushed, I’ll use the Metropolitan Garage (7601Woodmont Ave.) or the Waverly Garage (7401 Waverly St.) over the Bethesda Avenue-Elm Street Garage.  I also find the Farm Women’s Market (4655 Willow Lane) surface parking lot a greatly under-utilized option.  These public parking options require a little extra walking if Bethesda Row is your destination, but drivers will encounter a lot fewer headaches.

If walking is not your thing, think about utilizing private garages. In my opinion, the private parking rates are not outrageous and, depending on the destination, parking might either be free or seriously discounted.

If you’re headed to the movies — Regal Cinemas or Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema — a good option is to just pull into the Landmark underground garage at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue.  The garage entrance is the driveway between the Food Wine & Co. restaurant and United Bank (7250 Wisconsin Ave.).

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