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Tom Craig picks up "angry driver" mantle from Weiss

Have the Washington Post's editors already reassigned Eric Weiss's responsibilities? Just one day after we broke the news that Weiss was leaving the Post, fellow metro reporter Tim Craig took the old, already-reported story of DC's planned increase in ticket enforcement and bust out with a full-throated blast of Entitled Driving Journalist Syndrome.


Photo by Daquella manera.

Is Craig vying for Weiss's "war on drivers" beat? Or do the Post's editors want to make very clear that, despite Weiss's departure, they have not wavered in their belief that no government nor person may stand in the way of their inalienable right to drive into DC from their suburban homes and park wherever they want, whether a legal space or not?

In classic Weiss style, the lede cites suburban drivers who just can't stand the fact that DC's government doesn't put their needs first, even when they break the law:

Maricruz MaGowan, an economist who lives in Bethesda and works downtown, considers the District's aggressive parking enforcement program a hidden commuter tax. "They target drivers from Maryland and Virginia. If they need the money, enact a tax on drivers who use the streets, but do it openly. This is ridiculous."

... Over the next year, hundreds of thousands of commuters and D.C. residents could experience similar frustrations as the city prepares for a major expansion in its parking enforcement.

Officials at AAA Mid-Atlantic, who deem the District the most "motorist-unfriendly city" in the nation, are critical of the new enforcement efforts. ... "This is part and parcel a war on the motorist," said John Townsend, a AAA spokesman. "It's a sneak tax and a sneak attack on motorists and tourists. ... They are trying to make the District a car-free zone."

Craig has even outdone his predecessors. Not only does he incorporate the "war on drivers" frame, mixing in the "tax" hysteria, but he breaks out the ridiculous assertion that we've started hearing from opponents of reducing parking minimums or performance parking: that DC's policy aims to eliminate cars completely.

Of course, neither Craig nor Townsend explain how forcing drivers to obey laws is secret evidence that the city wants to wipe them from the city. I don't seem to remember any Washington Post article talking about bicycle ticketing on New Hampshire Avenue which claims DC is trying to eliminate bicycling, for example. If any of you ever get a ticket for "jaywalking," make sure to call up Craig and encourage him to write that article saying that DC is engaging in a "war on people" in hopes of removing all pedestrians.

Councilmember Jim Graham was unfazed, telling Craig, "Cars are not a threatened species anywhere in the world, and certainly not here." He called the "war on drivers" concept "absurd" and explained that he was happy to "take the heat" to pay for the important programs retained in the DC budget. It's too bad the Post's slanted reporting makes him feel like enforcing the law is "heat" at all. Drivers ought to be praising the Council for more enforcement, since it benefits everyone.

MaGowan (who, ironically, works for the EPA) was upset that DC gave her a ticket for parking during a rush hour period. I've driven during rush hour, and one of the more annoying aspects is when two or three lanes have to funnel down because one single driver left their car on a road with a rush hour restriction. When that happens, the capacity of the road loses an entire lane. If we tolerate that, we might as well remove the restriction and let people park there at any time.

I'm sure Craig could find a few drivers to quote who are annoyed at other drivers who don't move their cars, and glad to see enforcement to keep things moving. But that didn't fit the anti-government frame Craig, Townsend, and/or the Post's editors wanted to push. But Tim, if you change your mind, give me a call for a quote. Meanwhile, welcome to the beat.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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David, I don't know how you can claim that this guy Tom Craig (whom I have never heard of before) is picking up the "angry driver mantle." You cite as evidence that he quoted people who are against increased ticketing (MaGowan and the AAA person)--but then you yourself quoted his quotation of someone who supports it (Graham). You failed to mention that he also cited others who are in favor of more ticketing, one of whom said, "People need to learn to use public transportation."

Reporting on a common and strongly held viewpoint is not the same as espousing it. The fact that DC is going to have more ticketing is news, and the fact that a lot of people oppose this--and that some don't--is also news.

by JB on May 22, 2009 3:42 pm • linkreport

"In classic Weiss style, the lede cites suburban drivers who just can't stand the fact that DC's government doesn't put their needs first, even when they break the law"

First off, if these drivers were actually arguing thus, then it would be part of the news.

But they're not; the person quoted simply said they suspect DC is not enforcing the law without bias. That's a fair complaint. Is it accurate? I have no idea. But if it is true, then complaining about it is not tantamount to wanting one's own needs to be put first--just not last.

The thing is, I'm not even sure where I stand on this issue. I generally am for strict enforcement of laws--but there are so many that the police ignore.

For example, the speed limit: It would be great, in my view, if law enforcment across the nation decided that on a particular date, the speed limit would be the actual top limit of how fast you can go, publicized the impending reintroduction of this enforcment, and then all did it. It would save gasoline, cut pollution, and save lives.

I think what these people are objecting to is really the idea of being singled out, that the system favors some above others; that there has been no fair warning after years of lax enforcement; and that the motivation is not the public good but simply more money for the DC government, which seems bafflingly incapable of doing anything at all other than redecorate its own offices and keep thousands of incompetents employed.

by JB on May 22, 2009 3:51 pm • linkreport

Suburbanites are all tough-on-crime unless the crime is something that they themselves commit on a routine basis.

Of course, I'm going by David's post. I didn't read the article and JB may have a point.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 22, 2009 4:06 pm • linkreport

Suburbanites are all tough-on-crime unless the crime is something that they themselves commit on a routine basis.

Suburbanites don't like gangs of black guys ransacking stores in broad daylight.

Obviously you see this the same as traffic infractions.

Now you know why middle-class families avoid DC like the plague.

by MPC on May 22, 2009 4:13 pm • linkreport

Isn't it rather rich that the woman complaining about getting a ticket (for leaving her car on a city street all day while she was at work) lives in Bethesda (which has a metro station) and works at the EPA which has a metro station directly underneath the building?

by Steve on May 22, 2009 5:02 pm • linkreport

And she works at EPA, which, if I am not mistaken, is an agency of the federal government charged with PROTECTING the environment!

Many years ago, in a small Midwestern city, I was a "parking enforcement officer." The money sucked, checking meters to see which ones were frozen at 6am when its still dark out and 5 below is no fun, and the way some people would react to a parking ticket (which in those days carried a fine starting at $5) was eye-opening to say the least. For example...offering me a Nazi salute after I just wrote a ticket for an expired meter.

But what was most interesting about the job was the number of complaints I would get each day from drivers who felt we weren't writing enough tickets. It seems everyone wants a place to park, but nobody wants any enforcement of the very rules that ensure there is some turnover of parking spaces.

As for targeting one type of car, or driver, or state, or whatever. It doesn't happen. Doing this day after day, shift after shift, the cars, people, insults, etc all sort of run together. I did my job as I was told, never took anything personal, and really didn't care enough to actually go out of may and start singling out people.

As for Ms. EPA from Bethesda, she is what we used to call a "regular." Some people either simply don't get it, or perhaps simply don't care. You end up ticketing these same cars every day. One guy would always park in a loading zone, $20 per ticket, per day, even though there was a pay-lot that charged half of that for a day's parking about 100 feet down the block.

by tivonia on May 22, 2009 5:21 pm • linkreport

For the EPA lady, how could she park all day on the street? Is she feeding the meter - itself an infraction?

by Wayan on May 22, 2009 6:02 pm • linkreport

I read the article, and it sounded like people are so worried about a ticket. The solution is easy: If you can't read the signs, park in a deck and pay market rate. Isn't the DCUSA one almost always empty?

by Erik on May 22, 2009 10:02 pm • linkreport

David, you're starting to sound like the right-wingers who constantly complain about liberal bias in the MSM. They look for quotes (often taken out of context) to support pre-conceived notions of bias, then create a rant on the perceived biases of the reporter. The sense of persecution snowballs, and pretty soon, anything less than full-throated support of their views it taken as a prejudice against them.

Sound familiar? It should - "Or do the Post's editors want to make very clear that, despite Weiss's departure, they have not wavered in their belief that no government nor person may stand in the way of their inalienable right to drive into DC from their suburban homes and park wherever they want, whether a legal space or not?"

Look, the purpose of this site is to promote transit - we get it. No one's saying you have to be impartial. But once you start with the "if you're not for us, you're against us" tirades - especially with respect to people who report what others say - you're dangerously close to becoming a fanatic. And they're always less effective than rational people, if only because others the only people who listen to fanatics are those that already agree with them.

You're better than that.

by dcd on May 23, 2009 8:59 am • linkreport

Last Monday I left a rental car in a residential 2 hour zone near my apartment for two hours then moved it across the street for the next two hours. When I came back to return it, there was a ticket for the time period over which I had moved it. Maryland plates were on the car.

My point is that there were empty spaces in the early afternoon that were filled circa 5 o'clock by my neighbors, who are clearly driving to work. The bogus ticketing policy is actually affecting non-car-owners like me while protecting permit buying "city dwellers" who still live a suburban lifestyle.

by full time DC bicyclist on May 23, 2009 10:56 am • linkreport

yes, there should be a tax, a commuter income tax and/or a fee like London to drive in the central city. Congress won't allow either or even a toll on the bridges.

few of us who live in the central core live any sort of suburban lifestyle. we learn to park by the tough rules as they are enforced. and we try to provide for as much suburban visitor parking as we can- at $2 per hour.

by Tom Coumaris on May 23, 2009 11:40 am • linkreport

The funny thing here is that aggressive ticketing for rush hour parking violations is actually a car-friendly policy-- because it helps to ensure that extra lanes are actually available for peak-hour commuting.

by Josh B on May 23, 2009 1:04 pm • linkreport

one thing that surprised me in the story was that over 30% of tickets are to DC plates. while the story tried to make this evidence of anti-suburban bias the fact is DC has less than 10% of registered autos in the metro area and certainly DC residents learn fast the hard way about ignoring or not understanding the strict rules.

as multi-space meters come in for visitor parking there are plenty of empty spaces available (for $2/hr) so that drivers don't have to take risky parking.

by Tom Coumaris on May 23, 2009 2:52 pm • linkreport

No one's saying you have to be impartial. But once you start with the "if you're not for us, you're against us" tirades
I never really wanted to come out and say it like this, but with regard to other topics, I have felt similarly as this post-er about this site from time to time, and I've mentioned to the creator never to take my participation as an endorsement of his opinion(s).

by Jazzy on May 24, 2009 7:20 am • linkreport

"Last Monday I left a rental car in a residential 2 hour zone near my apartment for two hours then moved it across the street for the next two hours. When I came back to return it, there was a ticket for the time period over which I had moved it. Maryland plates were on the car."

The 2 hour exemption is per day for the zone. I.e., you could have left it where it was ... moving it across the street didn't buy you anything unless it was a different zone. Also, you could have parked 2 hours in the moring, and when you returned in the afternoon to park in the same zone would have been liable to receive a ticket for exceeding your 2 hours per day in a zone.

DC doesn't do a good job of letting these little details know. One that really get me is that within your own zone (assuming you have a residential parking sticker), you're allowed to park in certain no-parking areas such as in loading zones and closer to the corner than the No Parking sign permits (provided you are no closer than 15 ft from the intersection.) This was one of former Councilmember Schwartz' ideas for expanding parking "at night when these spaces can help provide more safe parking near one's residence" (not an exact quote ... but she said something like that some 8 yrs ago when the 'non-enforcement' of the parking regs for these areas was passed.). Originally these parking reg exemptions only applied at night. Eventually, these parking reg exemptions got extended 24/7. We still don't have signage for it because, as one DDOT rep once explained it to me, "it's not that the parking regs themselves got changed, just that they don't get enforced ... so, we don't do signage to reflect it." (I think we should call that "DC Govt. 'logic').

Another not widely known parking reg is that you may park no closer than 5 ft to an alley or driveway opening. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone park right to the edge of an alley or driveway, have their passenger get out look to look, and hear the passenger report back "you're fine, you're not blocking the alley". Of course they are, since a driver needs visibility and turning radius when exiting an alley or driveway. And of course these guys are subject to ticketing.

The District needs to do a better job with its signage. Period. Even the bike paths aren't well marked. Half the drivers drive with one wheel on them.

by Lance on May 24, 2009 8:56 am • linkreport

Thanks Lance for explaining that. I had thought about it after being ticketed, but as I read the signs over and over I still couldn't believe the ambiguous language really meant two hours per day. In fact I don't think the word "day" even appears. Hell, it could be two hours per week if they decided. I guess it saves money on signs.

by full time bike guy on May 24, 2009 9:24 am • linkreport

As someone who used to give out parking tickets in college, I'm always pretty wary of any sort of signage/meter ambiguity. If it's unclear whether I can park in an area, I don't. I usually opt to pay the extra money and use a parking garage or lot. It's just the cost of doing business downtown. My problem with meters is that it seems like half the ones I use are either broken or give incorrect time. The computerized ones with printed receipts seem to work pretty well, but even some of those have "BROKEN" signs on them sometimes.

If DC residents want to make the town more car-unfriendly, that's their perogative. I just take my money elsewhere. It's their local government that they voted for, and they get the government they deserve. Particularly Jim Graham, who also seems to think that getting rid of Jumbo Slice pizza will solve urban crime.

by monkeyrotica on May 26, 2009 8:33 am • linkreport

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