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Visitor parking passes won't go citywide, yet

The District's pilot program of visitor parking passes recently expanded to Ward 1 and the Howard Theatre area of Ward 6, but contrary to some recent press reports, it isn't yet expanding the program citywide. DDOT is, however, currently studying what to do for the long term with visitor parking and other parking policy questions.

Photo by DennisSylvesterHurd on Flickr.

A few years ago, DDOT tried a pilot program where residents of a few wards, where on-street parking is generally plentiful, get permanent placards that let visitors park during the day in Resident Permit Parking (RPP) zones. The pilot has never become permanent, and DDOT officials have long said they want to study other long-term approaches before establishing a final program or taking it citywide.

Recent legislation expanded the program to Ward 1 (Columbia Heights, U Street, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant), and DDOT issued a rulemaking giving them the authority to set up some kind of citywide program. "This authority is important," said spokesman John Lisle, "as DDOT is initiating a comprehensive parking policy review." The rulemaking led to some mistaken press reports which claimed the pass program was rolling out across the city. Lisle said, "Nothing has been decided at this time."

Residents who want to weigh in on visitor parking, and other parking issues, can participate in DDOT's policy review at 1 of 5 Parking Think Tanks or through an online survey.

Lisle noted that placards in DDOT's pilot are one of many potential approaches to visitor parking. Some cities provide residents a book of day passes, half-day passes or hour passes to give to visitors. Other jurisdictions provide placards that are good for 2 weeks or a month. Sometimes, the passes and placards are free; sometimes only the first several are free; and sometimes each pass costs money.

In the District, all residents can currently get free 2-week visitor passes, one at a time without limit, from their local police station. In addition, residents of Wards 3, 4 and 5, along with portions of Wards 1 and 6, receive year-long visitor parking placards.

This placard system has some pitfalls, especially in areas with higher parking demand. Giving many more privileges to park in crowded areas makes it harder for those already parking there to find spaces. Some people who get placards don't need them for themselves, and may either give or surreptitiously sell them to commuters or other people who aren't exactly visiting. DDOT officials monitor sites like Craigslist for placards for sale, but can't stop more private transactions.

In the lower-density wards where the pilot started, this doesn't harm existing parkers much and the black market demand for placards may be small, but in busier areas like Wards 1, 2 and 6, there is more incentive to abuse placards, with more deleterious effects. Meanwhile, places like Ward 2 have more bountiful garage parking and more plentiful transit, either of which commuters should use instead of parking on residential streets.

Clearly, the District needs a coherent citywide visitor parking program that will take into account the lessons of the placard pilot, as well as practices in other jurisdictions and, of course, public input. Towards that end, earlier this year, DDOT hired its first parking manager, Angelo Rao, to guide the formulation of parking policies that meet the particular needs of DC and its many neighborhoods.

Just expanding the program isn't the answer. In Ward 2 (downtown, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Dupont, Logan), commuters currently pay hundreds of dollars per month to park in garages near jobs. If DDOT made Ward 2 visitor placards widely available, this could lead to a black market for the Ward 2 visitor parking placards. A flood of visitors with free placards and commuters with illegally-purchased placards parking on Ward 2 streets would make it much harder for actual residents to park near their homes.

Give DDOT your parking ideas by attending one of the Think Tanks or filling out the survey. They have two Think Tanks scheduled in wards 7 and 8 on September 19 and 20, and promise to announce more soon in the northern and western portions of the District.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 


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If you have a DC Tagged vehicle you can use these visitor passes instead of obtaining an RPP. You will not get a ticket during RPP hours and there will be no ROSA enforcement overnight.

The program is wide open to abuse and the city has no way of preventing this.

by Devoe on Sep 4, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

My car-free family in Ward 3 never received one of those year-long visitor parking placards. I guess if you don't have a car registered with DDOT, it's up to you to call them and in order to get a placard. None of our visitors has a need for this, so it's not a concern for me, but I just thought it was interesting that have a D.C. driver's license isn't enough to get you a placard.

by Sandy on Sep 4, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

It is scandalous that there's no annual cap on visitor parking passes for any individual vehicle. Not only does this policy intensify parking pressure in certain areas (especially near Metro), it also runs completely counter to the District's supposed goal of reducing the volume of vehicles coming into DC each day.

by 20002ist on Sep 4, 2012 1:59 pm • linkreport

I live in Ward 1 and also haven't received the visitor parking pass. I wonder if it's because I don't have a car registered in D.C., and therefore don't have an RPP sticker.

by Gavin on Sep 4, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

The whole guest permit thing seems like overkill. I never found it too terribly inconvenient to get a guest permit from the police station. Most complaints from people unhappy with the current system came from the fact that there are some people (contractors, electricians, plumbers, home health aids, etc.) whose jobs required them to drive and that those people were negatively affected by residential parking restrictions.

To me, it seems like a better a solution would be to simply issue citywide parking permits to those types of business that are already licensed in the District. Are you a licensed plumber in the District? Great. You get a parking permit for your company vehicles. Are you a licensed home health aid? Great. You get a parking permit, etc. That seems like a much easier solution than trying to mail out thousands of "visitor passes" which have a much higher potential for abuse.

by Adam L on Sep 4, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

Our household received a visitor parking pass a month or so ago, but we don't own a vehicle or park on our RPP street. I was wondering if we would get one even if we didn't own a car and was happy to see we did.

We don't use it a lot, or plan on it, but already it's been useful for two situations: out-of-town guests staying with us for a few days, and once for a Zipcar we were loading during RPP enforcement hours.

Ward-specific info on the rollout is here, I think:

I recall getting a letter mailed to us in advance of the VPP pass saying we would be getting one and to contact DDOT if we didn't. There is a phone number to call in the link I provided.

by Brooke on Sep 4, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

I live one block off H Street NE and our block has tried for 2 years to get DDOT to make parking across the street from us (on the back side of a DC rec center) signed RPP. Right now, this side of the block (maybe 20 spaces) has no signage at all. So, go figure, MD commuters fill it up everyday.

DDOT simply refuses to sign it RPP (or some equivalent)despite our petitions, pushing from our ANC member, and prodding by our Councilman's staff. They won't lift a finger to make it easier for actual DC residents to park near their homes. I think there are a lot of places like this throughout the city that could help relieve some of the parking pressure, but good luck getting DDOT to act.

DDOT needs to think visitors passes through very carefully, it seems ripe for real abuse. +1 on the licensed contractor permit...seems like something worth exploring.

by 9th and G on Sep 4, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

I would like to see the annual visitor passes replaced by books of daily passes, with scratch off dots or some sort of single-use feature.

Issue each household 10-15/year. Extra books of 10-15 can be obtained at the police station for free, but only with proof of ID and logging to counter abuse.

Daily passes would be much harder to abuse, especially at low rates (is anyone going to go to the police station daily to feed sales? Sure, but not too many, and address/ID logging could help combat that.). And it would avoid the problem of having a visitor leave with your pass accidentally.

by ah on Sep 4, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

I like the idea of visitor pass coupon books and many cities do this.

There will have to be a provision for people (like me) who rent cars extremely often though.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 4, 2012 9:01 pm • linkreport

For those who rent a lot maybe also have an on-line service or even the present police station pass but with no immediate renewals for the same plate number.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 4, 2012 9:49 pm • linkreport

The visitor-pass system in Mount Pleasant, now in its third year, has been enormously popular. Every household gets one pass, whether they own a car or not. The principal use of the passes is for household help, contractors, and after-school day care personnel. Homeowners aren't willing to go to the police station every two weeks to fetch temporary passes for these daily users.

Abuse has been minimal, and there's been no flood of cars newly parked in the neighborhood, courtesy of visitor passes. The people using the visitor passes are those who would be here anyway.

The success of the program in Mount Pleasant led to its extension to the rest of Ward 1, and the consideration of making the program citywide.

by Jack on Sep 5, 2012 8:43 am • linkreport

In my proposed coupon book model, a frequent user would simply be asked to explain. A renter could provide rental receipts.

BTW, why shouldn't a car renter have to pay for parking like everyone else?

by ah on Sep 5, 2012 8:48 am • linkreport

We have something similar down in ANC 6D in SW, near the baseball stadium. It's worked well except you generally have to contact the city each year to get your new pass - they don't seem to consistently mail them out to each household each year. The good news is that the guy in DDOT is very responsive, if you email him about it (if you call him, good luck, but he's great via email).

by Moose on Sep 5, 2012 9:44 am • linkreport

Alas, the concepts "MPD" and "logging" -- at least, consistent logging that can be easily checked later -- are completely incompatible. If you ask for a visitor pass at 1D, they (are supposed to, but often don't) write it down in a big paper logbook. Good luck trying to use this Dickensian system of records to cross-check/prevetn abuse.

by 20002ist on Sep 5, 2012 10:11 am • linkreport

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