Washington DC Parking: 2 hour parking rules, zone free parking, and general DC parking rules

Parking in DC is neither cheap nor easy. Few are willing to pay the $25/day to park a vehicle in DC. If you'll need to play in this game, its better to know the rules and techniquest to park smart, and work with the system. This blog is a survival guide to DC parking. 

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Washington DC parking can be broken down into the following categories: 

Zoned Residential Parking:

  • Ticket: 2 or 1 hour parking/no zone sticker ticket: $25 

  • Rules: If you don't have a zone sticker for that parking zone, don't park here beyond the time limit indicated on the sign. You must leave the zone after fulfiling the time limit. Moving your car across the street (likely the same zone) or to another parking spot is not sufficient to avoid a ticket.

In order to ensure that DC residents living in highly congested areas of the city are provided a parking spot close to their area of residence, the District has created a series of Parking Zones throughout the city. Residents in these zones are provided (at a high co$t) zone stickers that they must display in their vehicles, therefore indicating that they do not have to abide by the zone time limit restrictions. DC parking zones are generally designated by a number (Zone 1 - Duponte, White House area, Georgetown, Zone 1A - Adams Morgan, Columia Heights) and are indicated in street parking signs. Although zoned parking allows any car to park in that zone, the rules generally dictate a limited time frame that spans from 2 to 1 hour time limit.

Although these zones are generally enforced less frequently than parking metered streets, they are definately not something to play around with. DC ticketing officers are vigilant and numerous.
If you are in downtown DC area such as Georgetown, Duponte Circle or pretty much anywhere in the DC North West area, the residential parking is "Zoned." A zoned parking area generally means that those vehicles that do not have "zone permits" stickers on their vehicles can only park for a restricted time period. Generally this time period is 2 hours.

Enforcement: It comes in waves! DC parking enforcement tends to enforce zoned parking by moving officers to one part of town every week and ticketing vehicles back-to-back. This penalizes violaters with back to back violations and therefore disuades them from attemtping to do long term parking in zone parking. However, it is tough to enforce thousands of vehicles and check their parking time every two hours.

Parking Example: You arrive, pull in to a two hour spot. It is 12 noon. You move your car across the street at 2PM to avoid a ticket/the rule of 2 hour parking. This does not work. You cannot remain in the same zone for more than two hours. Best action is to move it to another street. The parking officers most likely pass by a street at say 12 P, and then return to harvest their tickets after two hours. Your odds of not getting a ticket are better if you move to another street, even though it may be in the same zone.

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Metered Parking:

Ticket: Expired meter ticket $25
Rules: Meters generally consume about $2/hr and are strongly enforced. Avoid parking in blue color meters that are indicated as handicaped spots. Also, metered parking is not allowed if you can locate a sign nearby indicating that the spot does not permit rush-hour parking, which would likely mean your vehicle gets towed.

Generally Washington DC parking meter are about $2/hr. Parking meter time limts should be taken seriously since meters are enforced routinely. Generally, meters are not enforced on Sundays or US Government holidays. Some meters are enforced on Saturdays, while others are not. Read all signage on the meter  and nearby your spot carefully. A common mistake occurs when the meter stickers read that you need to pay for parking from Mon-Fri 7 AM - 6:30 PM, however a nearby sign might tell you that parking from Mon-Fri 7 AM - 9 AM is not permited due to rush hour.

Parking Garage: 

Hotel garage parking in Washington DC is very expensive, about $35 a night. Take a look at nearby garages in the area. These spots generally offer garage parking for about 10-15 dollars a day + about $10 more for the night. Many garages exist in downtown DC.


Parking can be arranged through Craigslist parking (Craigslist Parking) or a nearby building. Many buildings advertise residential or employee parking spot rental on signs by their garages. Try

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Yes, although hard to believe, you can park in DC for free. No zone permits, quarters or moving your car for 2-hour zone limits.

A select few spots exist in DC that are unmarked, no signs regulating their space. These generally are located next to new structures, such as a new hotel or building. One such example is a string of spots around 14th and P street NW, next to Whole Foods. Another is the intersection of 14th and N st, NW. The west side of this intersection has a row of about 15 spots that are unregulated and free! There are numerous parking spots that are located in unmarked regions of the street. There are many more parkings spots like this all over the city. Alternatively, you could drive nearly outside the city to an un-restricted neighborhood, such as Nevada Avenue, just north of Rock Creek Park.

The best thing you can do to secure one of these free parking spots is to ask a street parking officer. They are usually carrying a hand held machine and may be riding a Segway scooter. They are very nice if you ask and they may let you know where such free spots exist. These free oases are regulated by weekly street cleaning, but that is generally a 1:30 or 2 hour block of time that parking is restricted.

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