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New Hampshire Estates, a post-World War II neighborhood that straddles the border between Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, has many of the classic amenities of suburbia: sturdy brick structures, compact patches of green lawn, a palpable sense of community. The neighborhood’s original architects, however, neglected one small thing: driveways.
The omission worked just fine when New Hampshire Estates was founded, circa 1950. There were only about 40 million cars on U.S. roads that year, and a front yard looked better with some colorful landscaping rather than a bulbous ’46 Chevy Fleetmaster parked on a slab of concrete.
These days, though, the multicar commuter households of New Hampshire Estates are struggling to cope with a shortage of curb space. The neighborhood, a maze of tract-housing duplexes, has seen enough car thefts and vehicle break-ins that residents put a premium on parking near their own front doors, to safeguard their wheels and themselves. Some homeowners have taken to putting in driveways; four new slabs have sprouted since June. The rest continue to fight for street parking, particularly late at night or on the weekends.
Those who can’t afford driveways of their own (permits can run up to $2,000 each) have borrowed a method from road-construction crews and residents of Boston’s North End: placing bright orange cones to claim their preferred stretches of public street space.
In the D.C. area, such measures have traditionally been reserved for blizzard conditions, when residents want to protect the fruits of their shoveling labors. But even on summer days, the 8400 blocks of 11th and 12th Avenues generally sport at least a half-dozen spots reserved with plastic dunce caps. If a spare cone can’t be secured, a lawn chair will do. Or an upside-down trash can.
One longtime resident, who prefers anonymity, fervently believes that the street space in front of his duplex belongs to him, exclusively reserved for one of his three vehicles. For years, he fumed at people who left their cars parked, for days on end, in his space. Finally, he bought a used van and beached it on the curb outside his front door. He rarely moves it.
This doesn’t do much to secure spots for his other two cars. “Mentally, it helps me that they don’t get away with [parking in front of my house],” he says. The man also places cones in front of the fire hydrant outside his home, to ensure that firefighters can have access.
Another 12th Avenue resident, Glen Mayers, says he prefers not to use objects to defend his own curb space from predatory parkers, though he’ll sometimes stake out his space with a recycling bin “if I have to run to the grocery store.” His reward for his restraint so far, he says, has been that someone recently left a black coupe in front of his duplex for two days straight. Clearly annoyed, Mayers says he’s resigned to the notion that this is a fact of life in New Hampshire Estates.
The Prince George’s County Police take essentially the same attitude toward the space defenders. Cpl. Robert Clark, spokesperson for the agency, says placing cones on public streets is illegal, but he, like two officers in the Hyattsville District 1 station, which serves the neighborhood, can’t name the specific traffic violations without looking them up.
Clark will not admit that officers look the other way when they see orange cones dotting New Hampshire Estates, but he does allow that “officers can exercise discretion on whether to issue a ticket.” CP