By Scott MacFarlane and Rick Yarborough | NBC Washington
More than 400 vehicles have been towed since January on a small stretch of road in southwest D.C. to clear space for a popular food truck zone.
The large-scale vehicle sweeps near the intersection of Maryland Avenue and 7th Street in Southwest represent almost half of all tows of vehicles from food truck zones citywide, according to a review by the News4 I-Team. The parking problems and widespread towing are part of a stressful and dizzying sequence of events each morning on the street near Federal Aviation Administration headquarters, according to local workers and undercover camera footage recorded by the I-Team.
The city’s establishment of a food truck zone has created new parking restrictions near L’Enfant Plaza, an area frequently used for parking by federal workers and tourists. Parking is prohibited along most of the roadway between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. But federal employees told the I-Team parking restriction signs are confusing and are posted too far from the street meters.
Becky Lugardo, who works in an office near the street, said she’s seen a series of vehicles towed on a daily basis in recent weeks.
“I don’t feel what’s happening is fair to the people who are coming into town to spend their money,” Lugardo said.
Many of them appear to be tourists, she said.
I-Team cameras recorded video of tow trucks circling the block and moving into position to remove cars as soon as parking attendants wrote citations for the cars illegally parked.
Food truck operators said there are other problems plaguing the Maryland Avenue food truck zone. Trucks compete with each other for the most desirable location along the strip, jockeying aggressively with each other near the curb, according to “Kabob Square” truck manager Sam Wanis. He said food trucks aren’t permitted to park in the space until 10:30 a.m., leading to aggressive driving by the truck drivers in the moments after. He said he’s witnessed five accidents in which food trucks collide with each other in the past month. I-Team cameras captured video of a close call in which a food truck nearly collided with the driver of a compact car while parallel parking at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Pedestrians are at risk in the process, Wanis said.
“If one of the people crossing here isn’t looking, this is going to be a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.
Despite the widespread towing of vehicles, Wanis and other food truck operators lose spaces on the street during the lunch hour to government vehicles, Wanis said. Wanis and one D.C. parking attendant said the city will not ticket or tow federal government vehicles, even if illegally parked in the food truck zone. Wanis, several other food truck operators and a parking attendant saw a white minivan licensed to the Smithsonian Institution illegally parked along Maryland Avenue Tuesday afternoon. The van displaced one of the licensed food trucks. The driver of the van, who wouldn’t return to remove the vehicle until midday, declined to answer questions from the I-Team. She was wearing a Smithsonian security uniform.
“Employees using a Smithsonian vehicle must obey the posted parking signs,” A Smithsonian spokeswoman said in a statement to the I-Team. “Since parking is not prohibited from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., (Smithsonian) vehicles should not park in the food truck zone during those posted hours.”
D.C. consumer officials said permits for food trucks to park along Maryland Avenue SW cost $150 per month.
Total number of vehicles towed from vendor stand parking spaces from January 1 to May 15, according to the D.C. Department of Public Works:
- January: 230
- March: 211
- April: 226
- May: 92
- Total: 939
- Maryland Avenue towed vehicles from vendor stand Jan. 1 through May 15: 306
- 7th Street SW towed vehicles from vendor stand Jan. 1 – May 15: 123