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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Students share favorite driving, parking practice spots

Cars+whiz+towards+the+Connecticut+Avenue+exit+on+495+East%2C+with+speeds+generally+ranging+anywhere+from+40-80+mph.
Liam Barrett
Cars whiz towards the Connecticut Avenue exit on 495 East, with speeds generally ranging anywhere from 40-80 mph.
Parking practice locations
The Total Wine Headquarters parking lot sits empty, dotted with a few dormant street lights.
The Total Wine Headquarters parking lot sits empty, dotted with a few dormant street lights. (Liam Barrett)
Total Wine Headquarters Parking Lot

For students who just got their Learner’s Permit, it’s sometimes best to start with an open, quiet location. Fortunately, such a place is right next door to W.J. 

“The Total Wine & More company headquarters parking lot is completely empty, and it’s just down the street, so that’s where I go,” junior Jael Smith said.

According to Smith, the parking lot is almost always deserted, and that was confirmed when I went there. There are two levels, and although they're both quite large, each is designed for different skill levels. The top level is very open with almost no obstructions and visible parking lines, and is great if it’s your first time parking. The bottom level has divider walls and supporting columns, making it a bit more challenging.

There’s also a loop around the building that can help you get used to the fundamentals of driving, but I’d only recommend this place to people who have never driven before. The parking lot is located just behind 6600 Rockledge Drive and is accessible most easily via the Rock Spring Drive entrance.

Despite it being a Sunday, with most students relaxing at home, some cars are still parked in the WJ parking lot. Nevertheless, there were plenty of empty spots to practice parking.
Despite it being a Sunday, with most students relaxing at home, some cars are still parked in the WJ parking lot. Nevertheless, there were plenty of empty spots to practice parking. (Liam Barrett)
WJ Lot

Another helpful practice spot is at WJ itself. “The WJ parking lot is actually a great place because if you end up wanting to get a parking permit your senior year, you’ll be an expert at parking in that parking lot,” senior Mallory Striplin said.

The parking lot is accessible to anyone on the weekends, which is generally preferred because there are fewer cars and thus less risk of crashing. 

“It’s really great for practicing both pulling in and backing in because the parking spaces are relatively wide, so when you’re first starting out it’s not like you have to fit into these tiny shoebox spaces,” Striplin said.

When I tried parking there, the parking spaces definitely felt bigger than your average spaces, making it perfect for people who aren’t too confident yet. It could give you unrealistic expectations about parking in other places, though, so it shouldn’t be your only practice spot. Nevertheless, it’s close by, isn’t too busy on weekends and overall is a great way for drivers of every skill level, but especially the less experienced, to prepare for a senior permit.

The parking lot is located at 6400 Rock Spring Drive.

The Wildwood Parking Lot is almost always extremely busy, making it potentially stressful for inexperienced drivers.
The Wildwood Parking Lot is almost always extremely busy, making it potentially stressful for inexperienced drivers. (Liam Barrett)
Wildwood Manor Parking Lot

The Wildwood Manor parking lot is for those looking to get used to parking and driving in cramped, busy conditions. “Those parking spots can be really good practice for being really aware when you’re backing out or pulling out because other people are going to be driving behind you,” Striplin said.

It can be scary to drive with so many cars around you, but Smith’s advice is to not stress too much and give it a shot once you think you’re ready. “I would say just trust yourself, you know? Because if you overthink it, you’re not going to do it,” Smith said.

However, I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive around Wildwood as a beginner. When I went there, the front parking lot was extremely crowded as usual, and it could put a lot of stress on a new driver. Practice driving and parking at less busy places first, then work your way up to it.

“No ego driving: just like no ego lifting, no ego driving,” Striplin said.

However, Wildwood does have a secondary parking lot behind it that’s often much quieter and is a good middle ground. The parking lot is located at 10241 Old Georgetown Road.

Cars drive towards Rockville and Gaithersburg on the Rockville Pike.
Cars drive towards Rockville and Gaithersburg on the Rockville Pike. (Liam Barrett)
355 Rockville Pike

For those who want to get better at driving on fast roads but don’t feel comfortable going on the highway yet, there are plenty of options. “For non-highway driving, I would say 355 Rockville Pike is a great road,” Striplin said.

355 Rockville Pike isn’t quite as fast as a highway but still boasts respectable speed limits, making it great for those who have recently mastered quiet suburban streets and are ready for the next level. “It’s a well-populated road, and then it can also give you practice with that post-work rush hour time driving, where you have to get used to being patient and just sitting in your car for who knows how long [and] not being tempted to go on your phone,” Striplin said.

Sophomore Jose Marroquin agreed it was a good road to start on. “It trains you to handle traffic better,” Marroquin said.

When I drove on it, it seemed exactly like Striplin and Marroquin described: medium speed, a decent number of cars around you and overall a good road for intermediate drivers.

Cars whiz towards the Connecticut Avenue exit on 495 East, with speeds generally ranging anywhere from 40-80 mph.
Cars whiz towards the Connecticut Avenue exit on 495 East, with speeds generally ranging anywhere from 40-80 mph. (Liam Barrett)
495 East

While highway driving isn’t tested on the provisional license exam, it’s an essential skill that can greatly decrease the time needed to get to a destination. It’s generally a good idea to try driving on the highway at least a few times before your driving test. “You should probably get on the highway as soon as possible because you want to get more experience on the highway because it’s a different type of driving than a parking lot or on a street,” sophomore Francisco Navas Porras said.

Not all highways are built equal, however. “I would say the best highway to practice on is 495 East, just because those are the most sane drivers and it’s the most well lit in my opinion,” Striplin said.

Striplin also believes that beyond its good road quality and reasonable drivers, 495 East is a good starting road for drivers to learn the skills needed to drive on the highway. “There are a lot of lanes and the lanes are wide so it’s really easy to navigate if you also want to practice lane changes,” Striplin said.

When I drove on 495 East, it was my first time driving on the highway, and it went very well. The drivers did in fact seem sane, and I had no problems switching lanes when necessary. It should be noted that some cars were traveling at speeds that I would estimate to be around 80 mph or even faster, so drivers should get comfortable with roads such as 355 Rockville Pike before getting on 495 East.

Advice

Other places that were recommended include the Bolger Center, downtown Bethesda and Montgomery College for parking, as well as Old Georgetown Road and the I-91 highway for driving. Walt Whitman High School was also noted as being a good place for both.

“Walt Whitman’s parking lot is normally empty on the weekends and there’s a lot of turns and weird things with signs and stuff, so that’s where I’ve practiced a couple of times,” Navas Porras said.

Marroquin urged drivers not to be discouraged if they were nervous about learning how to drive. “If you’re scared to get behind the wheel, it’s normal… just remember to be in control and always make sure to evaluate before you do anything at the wheel,” Marroquin said.

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Navas Porras also had some advice for how new drivers should allocate their time. “Once you start driving, I’d say go on the parking lot a little: maybe two hours of parking lot driving. Then, drive on the road – not like the highway yet – get like five hours on the road, and then I’d say go on the highway,” Navas Porras said. Nevertheless, each driver is unique, so take your time and do what you’re comfortable with.

Both Smith and Striplin shared some wisdom they’d acquired through trial and error. Smith addressed sophomores and juniors who had just recently started driving in particular: “There’s no shame in switching out with your parent… it’s not that embarrassing,” Smith said.

Additionally, Striplin advised drivers to keep in mind that their skills would eventually be judged in driving tests and that they should be conscious of any technique shortcuts they might be taking. “I would say start the good habits now, okay? So completely stop at all the stop signs, use your turning signal all the time, [and] don’t tailgate people,” Striplin said.

“If someone texts you, don’t worry about it. It’s going to be there when you… arrive. If you’re using GPS and you don’t have somewhere to put your phone… get one of the little things that can go in the CD holder [phone holders]… so you don’t have to hold it in your hand and be looking at it while you’re driving,” Striplin said.

Correspondingly, for those who have Spotify open at all times, Striplin recommends they prepare ahead of time. “It’s ok to listen to music while you drive, but have a playlist ready, don’t be on your phone changing the music while you’re driving,” Striplin said.

Overall, there are plenty of great spots to practice parking and driving in the Bethesda area for drivers of all skill levels, and this list shouldn’t be your only resource. Consider the places listed, try a few, then explore on your own and find what works best for you. Remember to always trust yourself, go at whatever pace you feel comfortable with and practice good habits.

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Liam Barrett, Podcast Editor
Junior Liam Barrett is the Podcast Editor for his first year on the Pitch, and hosts The Change-Up. Liam is also a member of the Mock Trial and the Morning Announcements teams, and his hobbies include reading and martial arts.
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