If Removing On-Street Parking Spaces Also Removed an Open-Air Drug Market, Would That Be a Fair Trade?

The 600 block of Newton Place, NW, has been a difficult street for many years. It is narrow. It does not have street trees. And, it has had an on-again, off-again history of open-air drug dealing. We all know that crime is a complicated thing to solve. Clearly, the police play a role, and continue to do so on Newton Place. Social Services also play a key role and we are increasingly identifying public safety issues that are better suited for agencies geared toward addressing addiction and homelessness, as examples.

But what about planning and design? The short answer is yes. Poorly planned roads, streets, and infrastructure can similarly invite criminal activity or at least provide a desirable environment for it.

The 600 block of Newton Place is one area that I believe rises to this threshold.

One recent Saturday as I was walking down the block, I noticed that a brand new Audi A6 was parked on the block, about mid block, with out to District tags. As I was walking, another vehicle with out of District tags parked on the block. The new driver got out of their car and walked up to the Audi where the two then proceeded to conduct a drug transaction. This was shortly before noon.

It got me thinking — if the on-street parking on the block is being used as part of an active drug market, is it serving the community? Moreover, would there be a significant hardship to the neighbors if much of the on-street parking was removed? Even more, if the parking could be removed, could a portion of it be repurposed for street trees on a block where no street trees currently exist.

The overview below shows the area in question. Today, Newton Place is one-way eastbound. There is no parking on the north side of the street and 22 parking spaces on the south side of the street.

(Overview of the 600 block of Newton Place, NW. The red arrow indicates off-street parking currently unused.)

Of the 22 parking spaces currently on Newton Place, I would recommend keeping the five between Georgia Avenue and the entrance to the alley. These support the Ward 1 Senior Wellness Center and the businesses on Georgia Avenue. Also, any resident can park in them afterhours for free. Lastly, as trash and recycling is collected in alleys in Ward 1, keeping the street in its current configuration up to the alley entrance would not create a new hardship for these core city services.

This would leave 17 parking spaces that could potentially be removed. In walking the alleys both north and south of Newton Place, with few exceptions each property has access to off-street parking. Much of it is used, though some of it isn’t. In one case, the apartment building at 636 Newton Place appears to have room for 4 or 5 parking spaces, but the area is fenced off and currently unavailable. This wouldn’t have to stay this way.

(Parking area at the rear of 646 Newton Place, NW, that is currently fenced off.)

In reviewing the current inventory of current and potential alley parking for the properties along Newton Place, about 10 new spaces could be accommodated without significant hardship — this means that the net loss of parking would be 7 spaces.

The question becomes, would losing 7 spaces overall on Newton Place be an agreeable trade off if it also removed the opportunity for out of District vehicles to park there and conduct their drug business on a daily basis?

As a potential bonus, presuming there were wide support for decreasing on-street parking on Newton Place, a portion of the former parking area could be repurposed for about 8 new street trees (see image below).

(Could a portion of the parking on Newton Place be repurposed for new trees?)

As stated at the beginning of this post, Newton is a narrow street currently consisting of one travel lane and one lane of parking. The average width of an American car is 6 feet, meaning that if just 3 feet of the street formerly dedicated to parking were repurposed for a line of street trees, the travel lane would increase in width by 3 feet. The overall result could be a street with less crime, a safer street for travelers, and a more beautiful street with the addition of a tree canopy.

Explore posts in the same categories: DDOT, Public Safety, Streets and Trees, streetscape

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12 Comments on “If Removing On-Street Parking Spaces Also Removed an Open-Air Drug Market, Would That Be a Fair Trade?”

  1. ParkViewer Says:

    a thousand times yes!

  2. J Says:

    Just curious, did you speak to anyone living on the street about what they think are the problems?

    • Kent Says:

      I’ve spoken to a few residents informally, but there has not been a community meeting focused on this topic yet. If there is interest in this idea, I’d like to host a meeting with all of the neighbors where DDOT comes out to discuss the pros and cons. That is an essential step at the beginning of any successful process.

  3. A Says:

    There were several older residents on the street (corner of 6th and Newton) that had a generational presence and obvious respect from the community. They moved out this fall (not certain of the reason why) and without them things have escalated. Previously, it was very obvious that the people hanging out were mostly from the community and invested in the area.

    Now, the out of state plates are from as far away as Pennsylvania. The transactions (generally there are more than one occurring at any given time) block the street entirely and cause traffic to back up to Georgia Ave. And, the open air dealing has expanded onto 6th street and the 500 block of Newton, often times within a stones throw of Bruce Monroe Elementary School.

    These trees sound great, but how does this address the problem today or the underlying issues of why people make this lifestyle choice. Or the gentrification that makes it un-stainable for the people who have built the community to stay?

    Completely agree with J – has anyone talked to the people who live here?

  4. B Says:

    Very much agree with this course of action physically, but without addressing the underlying causes, the drug dealing will just move into the alleys, where it already occurs to some degree. The intermittently-abandoned out-of-state SUVs with expired plates that often are left on this block for weeks at a time without receiving tickets also troll the alleys in a couple-block radius from this block. Beautifying the 600 block of Newton would be great, but the police need to crack down on this absurd level of illegal activity occurring in plain sight.

    And it has gotten much worse lately. I’ve biked and walked down this block for the last 7 years on a near-daily basis, and normally pretty much everyone would say hi, and I would too. Lately angry people I don’t recognize, who seem to be high, have run into the street and taken swings at me as I’ve biked past, and my neighbor reports that other people have punched his car multiple times as he’s driven on this block.

    • PPOW Says:

      Have you let BrianneNadeu know this? She fights against the police at every step. Makes it difficult for them to do their jobs.

      • I have. And I’ve reported these specific vehicles to the police and to 311. 311 always closes my request by saying the vehicle isn’t there, even when I can see what it is. One of the main offenders is Virginia 5938BBK. I encourage all neighbors to report this vehicle for its many illegal acts whenever you see it.

  5. TOLLI Says:

    A million times yes! Although it’s sad our city just lets these dealers operate unimpeded. The drug markets seem to have more rights than a normal business!

  6. neb Says:

    Great suggestion. I think it should be wider discussion involving DDOT, as well as DOEE and DPR even. The design could also bring in stormwater issues, and public space use. I think you’re on track with suggesting the trees on one side, but I would go with something like a shared street with alternating tree boxes and parking spaces on both sides, with a chicane-like design. May be also good to put a raised ped crossing at georgia avenue, additional traffic calming measures, etc. You can see an example here: https://globaldesigningcities.org/publication/global-street-design-guide/streets/shared-streets/residential-shared-streets/example-1-9-m/

  7. Mike Williams Says:

    I live on the 600 block of Newton PL NW, and while limited parking in the area is already a minor issue, especially on street sweeping days, I would happily give up some parking if it could make the street safer. Trees would be a nice touch. It’s worth noting that I avoid parking on the 600 block where I live, because the high number of drug dealers and people that don’t even live nearby hanging out and having block parties every day has contributed to more cars being broken into, people using cars as benches/tables, and drug customers hitting cars when they’re rushing away after their purchases are complete. On the night of Friday 4/26, there was a loud car crash followed by 5-7 gunshots. I didn’t go out to the street to look because I didn’t want to get shot. Customers that don’t rush off just park at the intersection of 6th and Newton and consume in their vehicles.

    I believe the silver Audi A6 with temporary dealer tags from MD that Kent mentioned belongs to a drug boss or supplier, and it comes by multiple times every day. The drug dealers don’t live on the block and may commute from other neighborhoods in DC, MD and VA. With no consequences for openly selling heroin, meth and possibly other hard drugs, the block is a valuable piece of drug retailing real estate. A drug gang has taken over the front porch of 621 Newton PL, where suppossedly a family with a special needs child lives, and the dealers camp out on it all day and late into every night. Can you imagine living in a home where a drug gang has taken over your front porch? It looks like additional drug gangs have joined the block in the last few weeks, as there is a second one on 6th St NW between Newton and Otis, and a third one on Newton near the intersection with 6th St.

    The daily block parties are epic, and not in a good way. On any random night, for example last Monday night, there can be over 100 people on the block fighting, yelling, blasting loud music, breaking glass, throwing trash everywhere, breaking into parked cars, and harassing drivers that aren’t there to buy drugs. The crowd often spills over to 6th St NW and Otis. The license plates of the people that show up to join the party are usually from MD.

    I’ve witnessed the drug gangs harass vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and I believe many residents have resorted to using the alley between Newton and Otis to exit/enter their homes, because they don’t want to get attacked or even worse shot in front of their homes.

    I want to be clear that I have no problem with people who live on the block or their friends and relatives hanging out, but I do have a problem when the block has been taken over by people that may not even live in the district. These people have made us feel unsafe on our own block, and the powers-that-be in the city seem more concerned such trivial things as championing a cell phone store’s right to play loud music outdoors. Is there a way for us that live on the block to get a tax discount since the police barely police it, parking enforcement doesn’t enforce parking, trash pickup often doesn’t happen, and mail often doesn’t get delivered?

  8. J.C. Says:

    I live one block away and share the sentiment of many residents. I *fully support* this idea Kent.

  9. BG Says:

    Would an easier intermediate step be to just make parking on this block Zone 1 Residents Only? Most of the vehicles associated with the open-air drug market have Virginia plates. But then again, Parking Enforcement seems to scared to work on this block, often letting out-of-state vehicles sit for weeks without consequence.

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