Those hulking, behemoth motorcoach buses and Old Town Alexandria have long had a love/hate relationship. The love part is that they bring tourists to the City's businesses and historic sites. The hate part is coming face to face with one on streets designed more for horse drawn carriages than horse powered land yachts.
Compounding the hate part is where to park them while their passengers enjoy an overnight stay or just a day exploring Alexandria. It has long posed a problem for both the transportation companies and their drivers as well as City officials.
The overnight dilemma was solved last year when the City, in conjunction with the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association (ACVA), established that "all motorcoaches staying for a period of 24 hours or more are required to park at the George Washington Masonic Memorial." Now there is a concerted effort to have daytrip motorcoaches do the same.
Until recently the daytrippers were parking in the limited space available at Robinson Terminal, 500 block of North Union St., or wherever drivers could stash them until their passengers were ready to move on. This posed a problem to everyone concerned — motorcoach companies and drivers, City official and police, city residents, ACVA, and the Potomac Riverboat Company (PRC).
In the latter case, passengers were dropped off at the foot of King Street, by the Torpedo Factory Art Center, to board PRC boats for river cruises. Upon the boat's return the dance commenced in reverse. In the meantime driver and motorcoach sought sanctuary as available.
PRIOR TO THE Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project many motorcoaches parked under the bridge while waiting. Now that is no longer possible and will remain so after the project is complete due to Federal government security concerns triggered by the events of 9/11.
ACVA and the GW Masonic Memorial have recently reached an agreement to have the overnight agreement expanded to include parking for motorcoaches making day trips to Alexandria, according to Stephanie Brown, president and CEO, ACVA, and Charlotte Hall, vice president, PRC.
The only catch to the daytrip agreement is that it is not mandatory as is the overnight motorcoach parking requirement. That would take action by City Council and vigilant enforcement by the Police Department.
"We are very pleased that the George Washington Masonic Memorial has been able to extend its parking services to motorcoaches making daytrips to our City. This additional daytime service will help ease congestion during peak tourist season. This program will be convenient for motorcoaches to use and will benefit everyone — visitors and residents alike," Brown said.
As a prime mover in helping to develop a viable solution to the daytime motorcoach parking dilemma, Hall personally greets motorcoaches arriving at the foot of King Street to facilitate their trip to the Masonic Memorial. "Most drivers are absolutely delighted to have a safe, no hassle, convenient place to park while they wait," she said.
"I went to ACVA and the City and told them that my people don't stay overnight and parking at Robinson Terminals gets iffy in peak season. But, I also said that the fee had to be lowered to make it attractive to the motorcoach companies," Hall said.
OVERNIGHT PARKING PERMITS are $35 for up to 24 hours. The newly initiated daytime parking fee is $10 per day to park from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Permits must be obtained in advance from the Ramsey House Visitors Center. Applications will be accepted for "same day" requests by service providers, according to ACVA.
Hall has made it even easier for motorcoach drivers bringing customers to her cruise boats. "I will pick up the permits and give them directly to the drivers as they drop off their passengers. They can then go directly up King Street to the parking area without stopping at the Visitors Center," she said.
"We call ACVA and alert them to the number of buses coming in on a given day. We give them the tour operator's name as well as the bus the driver's name and cell phone number," Hall said.
"We get the permits, fill them out, hand them to the drivers and send them on their way to the Masonic Memorial with a map. We also call them when the boat is coming back in so there is no long waiting," Hall explained.
"We need to get this new program known throughout the business community so that daytrip buses dropping people off at Old Town restaurants and shops enjoy the same convenience and don't clog streets. So far it’s working like clockwork as far as I'm concerned. But, the real test will come next Spring when tourism picks up again," Hall said.
Permit applications may be submitted by service providers such as hotels, attractions, restaurants and others, or tour and motorcoach companies. The requesting business may apply for a permit online at www.funside.com or by phone at 800-388-9119. Applications may be paid for by credit card, check or cash, according to ACVA.
"The number and length of time for permits purchased by a company are limited only by the number of parking spaces available," said Lorraine Lloyd, vice president, ACVA Sales. Presently the Masonic Memorial has 24 motorcoach spaces, according to ACVA's program announcement.
Presently motorcoach parking is allowed in the following areas "for only as long as it takes to actually load and unload" passengers, according to ACVA. Due to the sensitivity of many Alexandria historic buildings, idling is not permitted when parked:
* Waterfront/Torpedo Factory Art Center: Unit block of King Street
* Market Square: Two space on King Street from the corner of Fairfax Street to the center of the square
* Gadsby's Tavern: Directly in front of the Tavern restaurant/museum
* Christ Church: 100 block of North Washington Street in front of the church except from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays when that area is part of the HOV lane for rush hour traffic
* The Lyceum: 200 block South Washington Street with the same HOV lane restrictions as Christ ChurchFriendship Firehouse: 100 block of South Alfred Street