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Gray isn't actually wrong on parking complaints

Vince Gray has made some urbanists nervous with statements criticizing recent meter fee increases and about rolling back later parking meter hours. Actually, he's correct in recognizing the problems with recent parking policy changes, even if his recommendations don't yet include some of the nuances and language that would satisfy parking experts.

Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

What are the problems? Gray has said he's hearing from small businesses that recent meter increases are keeping customers away. He's also hearing from residents that the requirement to pay at meters into the evening is forcing people to leave restaurants in the middle of the meal to add quarters, or to decide to skip dessert entirely to the detriment of the restaurant.

These are fair criticisms. The last few round of parking rate increases were applied across the board in many neighborhoods without real regard for occupancy levels. The Mayor's recommendation to raise rates to $3 an hour across most of Ward 2 was the worst, equally hitting areas where meters are nearly impossible to find at busy times, like M Street in Georgetown or U Street, and areas that aren't really so full, as well as charging the same at low-demand midday times as the busiest Saturday nights.

Also, meters that require eight quarters for an hour are a huge hassle. Just look at the way people of all stripes complain about "7½ minutes for a quarter" but would find a $2 an hour parking garage an amazing steal. But having to keep stacks of quarters is a huge deterrent. To their credit, DDOT is aggressively testing new meter technology including credit card meters, pay by phone and pay by text message, but these aren't yet available everywhere.

The problem is that parking changes are coming through the budget process instead of a more thoughtful DDOT parking policy analysis. They therefore appear to be chosen based on the revenue they would raise instead of whether they would better manage scarce curbside spaces or not.

But meanwhile, when DDOT does do a more detailed analysis, it's been extremely gun-shy about making even the most evident changes. That's created the paradoxical situation where in the zones the Council set up for parking experimentation, parking policy has stayed static for two years, while in all the other areas, it's been changing rapidly.

Gray is right that the Fenty administration's handling of parking has been poor, and created problems for some people. A policy that increases overall welfare but makes some people's lives much more unpleasant is a political nonstarter.

Which is why, in a rare moment, I agree with Lance:

Now if DDOT had only waited to (gradually) raise the rates until after they'd already installed credit card accepting machines, there would have been hardly a complaint about higher fees. But of course, handling it in this way would have required some planning ... which as evidenced by the bikelanes and the streetcars, is not DDOT's strong point.
I don't think there's been a problem with the planning for the H Street streetcar line, but sometimes there has been on bike lanes, and certainly on parking. If there's one area where DDOT's current quick-moving but less-planned approach doesn't really fit the need, it's on parking.

Parking is complex and sensitive for a lot of residents. There are ways to make residents' lives better and help businesses too. But a one-size-fits-all approach is definitely not that way.

In downtown areas, there are plenty of people parking, many of whom park in off-street garages or valets for much higher rates. Therefore, the best policy approach is to keep charging late into the night, but to first install technology that lets people pay by credit card and add time by cell phone or text, or even better, pay when their car leaves (such as by license plate detection), just as a garage does.

In other neighborhoods, most likely daytime rates are too high, so lower the rates except on weekend nights. Or, if all spaces aren't filling up even on weekends, lower those rates too. The real problem in many other neighborhoods, like mine, is that all the free RPP spaces get filled up by diners or employees. Therefore, DC should use pay by phone or other technologies to charge non-residents, again as long as the technology makes it easy to extend time without going back to the car.

In short, rates should go down in some places and at some times, but possibly up in some places and at some times. To do that, and to build support, DDOT needs to talk with residents and businesses and craft a suitable policy that avoids major flaws like the feeding-the-meter issue and avoids overcharging.

DC needs a plan—yes, a plan—to roll out parking improvements in areas where they will do the most good and build strong support. Pasadena's performance parking was a smash hit with residents and businesses, and built support for more parking innovations. Performance parking has brought in revenue to the ballpark neighborhood, which is a key way performance parking builds support, but none in Columbia Heights because the rates were never adjusted.

DC's performance parking pilot could have demonstrated how DDOT can sensitively adjust parking prices and craft other parking rules to increase turnover without causing damage, but instead, it ended up demonstrating how DDOT isn't currently able to manage parking very effectively or very thoughtfully.

Unfortunately, we're worse off now than two years ago in terms of parking, except around the ballpark. More residents are upset about parking meter rate changes and there isn't a great success story to point to. No wonder people like Vince Gray are talking about rolling back the meter changes. They haven't worked.

The irony is that despite Gray coming off as "appealing to the car lobby," he's actually right. The bigger irony is that he's right and Fenty is wrong on this particular issue. He just hasn't (yet) become an expert on parking policy.

My hope is that, if elected Mayor, after reappointing Gabe Klein he'd ask Gabe to hire that parking czar he'd been talking about, who start meeting with businesses and neighborhoods to craft a thoughtful plan to actually fix parking. It should absolutely address the very valid complaints Gray was relaying, but can raise some money for alternatives to driving and increase turnover to help businesses at the same time.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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What a bunch of guff. You want everything at once. That's politics, not reality. Not how it works in the real world Mr. Alpert. I'll take Dr. Shoup's word, which is correct, DC is leading the country in parking policy and technology. GGW is getting more out of touch and whiny by the week it seems.

by pdouglas on Sep 9, 2010 12:28 pm • linkreport

Many who live in walkable, transit-accessible parts of the city, yet hold on to a car-oriented paradigm, don't realize how easy and inexpensive it is to get around without a car.

Vince Gray told me personally that he thinks we need to get people out of their cars. Should he be elected, I hope that his administration, while effectively managing the parking situation as it is, continues to encourage a longer-term paradigm shift away from the assumption that the car is always the most convenient way to get around -- and that there will always be inexpensive parking somewhere close to your destination.

Instead of complaining about higher parking rates driving away customers, businesses should instead encourage customers to walk, bike or use transit -- and perhaps even offer discounts or freebies to those who do.

by Malcolm Kenton on Sep 9, 2010 12:29 pm • linkreport

Gabe Klein talked about this in an interview and said that the original performance parking zones were flawed in their conception and execution. I believe he said he wanted to take the technology in a whole new direction and have real performance parking citywide. I applaud this approach, and the pilots. Makes sense to me and my coworkers.

by downtownparker on Sep 9, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

Has there been anything Gray has said or done that would make us think he has a more nuanced position on parking?

by Steven Yates on Sep 9, 2010 12:40 pm • linkreport

You lost me at:To their credit, DDOT is aggressively testing new meter technology including credit card meters, pay by phone and pay by text message, but these aren't yet available everywhere.

These technologies do not need to be tested. They have been tested, and implemented all over the world. It is known what works and what does not.

The same goes for the bike lanes. Why is DDOT testing anything at all? Just take the rulebook from a place that has good bike lanes and copy-paste (with some intelligence).

All this testing is a waste of time and money.

by Jasper on Sep 9, 2010 12:43 pm • linkreport

Sigh. David, I get it. Gray looks like he is going to win and you're in a box.

1. You really, really like "being at the table", getting to talk to the right people, and have "influence".
2. For this to continue you have to go with the election flow as the polls seem to be showing. Ergo, you need to at the very least do no endorsement...but a "nixon goes to China" Gray endorsement opens those doors baby!
3. However, doing so loses a big chunk of the urbanists who don't buy Gray's tofu camapign of "I agree with everything the person I'm talking to believes...even if it directly contradicts the last person I was talking to that I completely agree with". And your influence dies if that happens.

Thus the "I talked to Gray and I think he will be with us" series of posts. It ain't gonna work. Just do the Gray endorsement already and let the chips fall where they may.

by John on Sep 9, 2010 12:49 pm • linkreport

@John 12:49 - thank you for your comment. Your comment states how I feel more succinctly than I could have articulated it.

by Paul S on Sep 9, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

Well this is just getting silly. As far as I can see the only things Gray has said about parking is that the meter rates are outrageous, and that there shouldn't be extended meter hours in high demand areas. How you've decided this means he's for performance parking, and that if we had credit card meters and more fine grained pricing none of this would be a problem is beyond me. Quite frankly, it looks to me like you've been badly co-opted, and that's a shame.

Also, I don't know why on earth you think Gray would reappoint Gabe Klein. Gray claims he's pro-streetcar, and it's just that the thing has been badly planned. Why would he then decide to keep the guy who's responsible for the streetcar planning?

by jcm on Sep 9, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

I don't get the logic of this never-ending series, unless it's to keep a seat at the table.

Basically, "Gray is ok" even though he will not keep Gabe Klein, isn't likely to keep the streetcars, and isn't going to be full fledged Smart Grower.

Does not compute.

by Fritz on Sep 9, 2010 1:09 pm • linkreport

What the hell has gotten into you? Embarrassing.

by Josh B on Sep 9, 2010 1:10 pm • linkreport

@Jasper - I completely agree with your comment about applying data already available.

by Bianchi on Sep 9, 2010 1:18 pm • linkreport

Or, if all spaces aren't filling up even on weekends, lower those rates too. The real problem in many other neighborhoods, like mine, is that all the free RPP spaces get filled up by diners or employee"

Funny, I thought we were trying to attract diners.

And exactly how are employees going to get home when the restaurants close after the buses/rail shuts down?

Maybe we should mandate parking garage spaces need to be sold with every residence in crowded areas. That would solve the RPP problem...

by charlie on Sep 9, 2010 1:31 pm • linkreport

What makes you think that ddot plans-less? I know Karina Ricks, and Harriet Tregoning who works closely with DDOT on many efforts. They are nationally respected, and I would imagine are offended at your notions.

by dcplanner on Sep 9, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport

@David I don't think there's been a problem with the planning for the H Street streetcar line.

well ... if you view it as 'planning for the H Street streetcar line', then no ... it's progressed quickly ... BUT if you view it as 'planning for a $1.5 billion, 37 mile system', then the expediencies taken to just 'get the H Street streetcar line out there' will come back to haunt and hurt 'the system'. Must we now buy the same type of vehicles for all other lines that will one day connect to this line? And since these vehicles can't be retrofitted to go 'wireless', what does that mean in how the District will move toward the goal of going entirely wireless as technology permits it? Ditto, does rushing to put the H Street line where it is lay future problems out for us in that the owners of the area under the H St Bridge have made clear that it'll be many years and many dollars before this line can use eminent domain to force its way across their property to connect with Metro, MARC, etc. at Union Station ... or even connect to future streetcar lines ... ? The 'system' is thus far not planned and building a part of it (any part of it) before the basics of the entire system have been planned out is ... well, just bad planning.

by Lance on Sep 9, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

What was it Gray called parking rates in the city -- 'outrageous'?

There are lots of things in DC that are outrageous, like the lack of bike lanes and lack of decent transit service, but car parking rates are not one of them.

Oh, Fenty applied a blanket parking rate increase? 'Outrageous!' exclaims the man seeking higher office. What will rich people do??!! Poor poor rich people! It's Armageddon for the rich people of DC!

Where is the outrage with regards to lack of bike facilities and transit service? This is how working-class people want and need to get around -- they don't have the choice to pay $3/hr for car parking, and $2+ per gallon of gas, and $10,000/yr overall for the cost of owning a car. And they don't have $5/day to pay for meager and humiliating transit service that doesn't offer even the minimal amount of service that would be required to allow them to improve their station in life.

Let's all direct our outrage at things that actually deserve it.

by Peter Smith on Sep 9, 2010 1:41 pm • linkreport

Feel free to disagree with my arguments, but I'm getting tired of the comments claiming I'm being disingenuous. This is just a variant of the "you're new to DC so you don't know anything" argument, but now that that hasn't worked, people are on to the "you are just trying to curry favor with politicans" argument.

I'm just trying to call it as I see it. If your mind is made up, great, please vote for whomever you support, but mine is not. When I say positive things about someone, whether Wells, Gray or Graham, it's not because I want access (I have good access to people who I've constantly criticized), but maybe because I see things differently than you do.

by David Alpert on Sep 9, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

@dave; I said before I wasn't a fan of the idea of you endorsing candidates. That being said, the endorsements you wrote were excellent.

I think part of the problem here is you are sharing TOO much of your mindstream with us; if you endorsed someone first then did an article like this it would be more acceptable. Timing is everything.

Note to Mr. Gray's campaign: Put him on a bike. That would get people a lot less scared. Note to Mr. Fenty: buy a real car.

by charlie on Sep 9, 2010 1:58 pm • linkreport

I'm glad to see that the vitriolic, kneejerk, reactionary comments, which make no effort to dispute the actual logic of their object, flow just as easily towards David as they do towards a few of us mere readers who deign to disagree with something, on occasion.

I'll say one thing, you're a consistent pack of wolves: if it's critical of DDOT or Fenty, or if it isn't designed specifically to make life more difficult for people in cars, then OFF WITH THEIR HEADS.

by Jamie on Sep 9, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

@ Jamie; because far too many people see their transportation choice as identity, instead of just as a way to get around.

I can't wait to bring back horses into the city!

by charlie on Sep 9, 2010 2:12 pm • linkreport

David: you should reread your posts. They are pretty opinionated, and moreso than based on facts. I think if you were more dispassionate, you would get less of a passionate response. You normally do. Its directly correlated, don't take offense.

by bob T on Sep 9, 2010 2:15 pm • linkreport

Alpert --

I'm convinced that you're a moron. DDOT did plan. Did you ever take a moment to vet the budget before you drafted this blog? Did you know that Council stripped in excess of $4M from the budget which was directed to performance parking?? That's what this Council does. They'll remove the funding to support the infrastructure and tell the Mayor to 'figure it out'. Then they'll talk to misinformed folks like yourself and tell you that the Government is going about it irresponsibly.

The increase in parking fees have only been implemented in zones where they've installed the new meters.

I'll go on the record again and say that your blog is half-factual and is becoming way too political. Have you asked Gray how he plans to get people out of their cars, reduce parking meter increases and still maintain revenue?

If you really cared, you would run for something. Shadow Senator, ANC, anything. At least that way you can be held accountable for all the garbage that comes out of your mouth!

Educate yourself...

by Maximillan on Sep 9, 2010 2:22 pm • linkreport

Feel free to disagree with my arguments, but I'm getting tired of the comments claiming I'm being disingenuous.

i have to agree with this -- I don't know the mind of Greater Greater Alpert better than I know anyone else's, but his writing seems to me to be genuine.

I've been thinking of coming to his defense for a while -- I thought the whining would stop, but it hasn't. I didn't do it, in part, b/c I've been chopping down the racism/sexism trees lately, and didn't want to be too much of a bore -- well, time's up, people who leave boorish comments! :)

Also, as a non-resident of DC, I figured voters/people there (in DC) deserved a bit more leeway in getting out their angst at The All-Powerful One, Supreme Leader of GGW, THE DA OF THE DISTRICT, but I just don't find the charges credible.

So, David, about the weekly paid guest column...

by Peter Smith on Sep 9, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport


Your comment has clearly crossed the line of acceptable comments on our site with its use of ad hominem attacks and name calling. I will delete any future comments by you that stoop to this level.

And yes, I have asked Gray the question you asked. He has said he would build bike lanes and bus lanes and fund Metro. However, when I report things like that, people say that he's just telling special interest groups what they want to hear. So do you want to hear what he says he'll do or not?

by David Alpert on Sep 9, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

@Maximillian "The increase in parking fees have only been implemented in zones where they've installed the new meters."

The parking fees increased everywhere. I am looking at a parking meter that can only be paid for using quarters. Are you really asserting that all parking meters have been replaced with kiosks or credit-card accepting models in this city? Do you even live here?

Or maybe you actually meant to say the premium demand zone? No, sorry, that is also not true. I parked near the mall a couple weeks ago in the evening, where it's 2 bucks an hour and goes until 10:30. There was definitely a parking meter there. The kind that only takes quarters. Well, the kind that would have taken quarters had it worked.

by Jamie on Sep 9, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

"And yes, I have asked Gray the question you asked. He has said he would build bike lanes and bus lanes and fund Metro."

David, those are platitudes and not a plan. When I look at things Gray has actually done, I see that he has characterized pro-cyclist planners as potheads, cut streetcar funding in the dead of night, and brought members of the Committee of 100 on board as senior staffers. That's Gray's real record, and you shouldn't be so easily fooled.

If Gray is really serious about pushing smart growth where's the detailed smart growth policy paper on his website? It doesn't exist.

by Phil on Sep 9, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

Without the nuance, though, isn't Gray's comment that parking rates are too high just as incorrect as is DDOT's across-the-board rate increase? Why is DDOT wrong for making an across-the-board rate increase and Gray right for making an across-the-board statement that the rates are too high?

by Ken Archer on Sep 9, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport


In the interest of full disclosure, will you be pursuing a job within Gray's administration if he is elected? Stroup and a few others have speculated on this...

by andrew on Sep 9, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

If you are interested in platitudes, be sure to check out Fenty's 2006 campaign web site, too! Dude, it's a campaign.

As far as Gray's record, you are seriously mischaracterizing the events, but believe what you want to believe.

For comparison, here's some fun Fenty quotes:

"I donÂ’t know the details of any scheduling."

2010 budget - "$2.6 million in disposable bag fee revenue to pay for street sweeping programs to keep litter out of the river"

Nickels (on Fenty): "the letter of the law has not been violated."

More Nickles - "It was an effort to keep people that didn't belong in Trinidad from driving into Trinidad," Mr. Nickles said. "That is not unlawful; it is not unconstitutional; and that's the end of it." Oopsie!!

"Can you tell me who you're meeting in New York, what the business is?" [Mark Segraves]. "No," Adrian Fenty.

"I've got a staff who could sit down and look at it and say, "I think we have a problem here."" - Adrian Fenty, regarding the fact that nobody knew which roads would be closed for the 2007 DC Marathon, in which he participated

"I'm not interested in talking about the baseball ticket story with you" - Adrian Fenty

There are so many more...

by Jamie on Sep 9, 2010 2:54 pm • linkreport

I think everyone is avoiding the elephant here.

Fenty HAD to raise parking fees to meet a budget deficit -- because he won't raise taxes.

Increasing taxes on those making over $100K or taxing more expensive houses is a no brainer, albeit very unpopular with Fenty's base.

by charlie on Sep 9, 2010 3:02 pm • linkreport

@Jamie: Drifting offtopic, but what's wrong with using the bag fee revenue to pay for street sweeping? If you spend any time around the Anacostia, you'll realize that the vast majority of the river's pollution comes from runoff after storms. Drive down to the riverfront after a torrential downpour, and witness the sea of styrofoam cups on the surface. Pollution from industrial dumping is long gone, and most of the crap in the river gets washed off of the streets, and diverted into the river through the combined sewer overflow.

Until the underlying infrastructure issues are fixed (raw sewage also gets dumped in the river during storms), this seems like an acceptable measure to mitigate pollution of the river.

Plastic bags also make up a considerable portion of the river's trash pollution. Reducing the number of those in circulation has already had a tremendous effect. As far as I'm concerned, the bag tax has been a slam-dunk success by this metric alone.

by andrew on Sep 9, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

"what's wrong with using the bag fee revenue to pay for street sweeping?"

Because, we've always paid for street sweeping out of the general fund. This is a new tax, and it was sold entirely on the premise that it was supposed to be an earmark for actual river cleanup. This is a bogus way of eliminating the earmark, which is what we were told the money would be used for.

I'm not disputing that street sweeping may have some impact on bags in the river, but this is like taking an earmark for eduction, throwing it in the general fund, and saying "paying for crossing signals to assist children in getting safely to school."

by Jamie on Sep 9, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

Is there any reason I'm missing as to why people can't feed the meter with their smartrip cards?
Does it have to do with the Smartrip benefit subsidy?

by PJ on Sep 9, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

@ andrew; someone who finally understands how plastic bags end up in the river. Although you misunderstand the damage. The plastic bags get into the storm sewers and block them, so when it rains they have to be all dumped into the river. So it isn't about the Anacostia at all -- it is about how to fix the problems of storm sewers.

by charlie on Sep 9, 2010 3:21 pm • linkreport

"And yes, I have asked Gray the question you asked. He has said he would build bike lanes and bus lanes and fund Metro."

David, did he go into more detail than this? If he did, I would be interested in hearing more, maybe I missed the post where you covered this. But if in a sit down interview this is the best he can come up with then that should signal he doesn't know wat he'd do really.

Fund Metro. What does that mean? In what way? Extend hours? decrease time between trains?

And even though this has become an old attack at this point: Dropping funding for the streetcars is an odd way to get people out of their cars.

by BWarn on Sep 9, 2010 3:37 pm • linkreport

@ David Alpert You ought to review your coverage of the election before you accuse your readers of being unfair. As best as I can can tell, your campaign coverage consisted of the following posts:



  • Two entirely uncritical posts from the Gray blogger summit that read like a campaing ad.

  • A five part series of entirely uncritical posts that read like a campaign ad.

  • Gray is Greener

  • This post titled "Gray isn't actually wrong on parking complaints" that doesn't actually address what Gray said.

Pointing out that your coverage has been one sided isn't the "you're new to DC" argument. It's entirely accurate.

It's your prerogative to write what you like, and support the candidates you like. It's your blog, and you generally do a great job with it. But don't be surprised that your readers will wonder why your coverage has been so one sided. It doesn't read like a guy trying to make up his mind. It reads like a guy selling a candidate.

by jcm on Sep 9, 2010 3:39 pm • linkreport

Speaking as someone who intends to vote Fenty and finds no compelling reason to view Gray with smart growth optimism, I must also speak out against the more vitriolic commenters who have decided to trash David and everything he types just because of his take on Gray's positions. David built GGW into a first-rate community and has given us a spectacular educational resource and meeting ground on smart growth and urbanism in the DC area. Although I am personally skeptical of his recently published viewpoints on the consequences of the impending mayoral election (mainly because I don't think Gray's streetcar funding debacle was a fluke), David should be able to express his thought process in an atmosphere of mutual respect and intellectual discussion of our expectations for DC governance and the fate of progressive urbanism. I doubt that the individuals excessively bashing David are running attractive web communities to foster anything as constructive as what he has built. There's an important difference between expressing disappointment or disagreement with David's posts versus slandering the messenger with no regard for the facts or reasoning he presents.

by Jeb on Sep 9, 2010 3:44 pm • linkreport

There's an important difference between expressing disappointment or disagreement with David's posts versus slandering the messenger with no regard for the facts or reasoning he presents.

Follow-up to my own post: I should have illustrated this contrast by pointing to jcm and Bwarn as examples of the former and pdouglas, Josh B, and Maximillan as examples of the latter

by Jeb on Sep 9, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

@DavidAlpert - The danger to taking a position on elected officials is that people will criticize you for it.

The bigger danger in doing this ongoing, Hamlet-like series on voting for Vince Gray is that people will catch inconsistencies and point them out forcefully, especially because this election is so close.

My biggest source of confusion is the illogic of some of your arguments/assumptions: Gray will keep Rhee; Gray will keep Gabe Klein; Gray is totally a Smart Growth advocate; Gray will support the streetcar plan; Gray won't use budget gimmicks to balance next year's budget; etc.

This is your website and you can run it as you see fit and ban whomever you want. But in this political season, you can't get defensive when people point out perceived inconsistencies in your posts.

by Fritz on Sep 9, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

Unlike on the Federal level, local tax authorities must be mindful of the taxes that are levied in nearby jurisdictions. If Fenty or Gray raise the taxes on the "wealthy" minority because it's popular among the "non-wealthy" majority, the minority will simply move to almost urban areas like Bethesda or Clarendon where taxes are less of a burden. For a good example at what happens to a real estate market when the city's property taxes are significantly higher than it's suburban neighbors look at Pittsburgh, where the city has enjoyed a renaissance in everything but property ownership.

by keithdc on Sep 9, 2010 4:14 pm • linkreport

Gosh, if only Vince Grey supported this parking plan, it would surely win GGW's seal of approval!

by MarkInDC on Sep 9, 2010 4:15 pm • linkreport

@ Alpert: So let me get this straight? If I express my opinion about you and your baseless opinions, then I get removed from you comment list? So you can criticize, but won't tolerate being criticized? How about you vet both your candidates before you start your 'soft' endorsements?

@Jamie: As I mentioned in my previous post, the Mayor provided the funding for the parking meters to coincide with the increased fees, but Council removed the funding from the budget. Essentially, leaving a half-filled pot of dollars to implement the premium demand zone parking. Parking rates are on par with comparable jurisdictions. Aren't we a growing city that has to accomodate thousands (if not millions) of cars a day?

Fenty isn't perfect, but he has the thick skin to move this city forward. If you think for a second that Gray will be able to fulfill all the promises that he's made, then you're in for a huge disappointment. I don't for once second beleive that he's going to: decrese parking fees, build bike lanes, fund metro with more money (from what source, I have no clue), hire teachers, empower teachers and police unions while simultaneously firing the respective directors, increase taxi meter fares amongst a host of other items.

If you believe all of that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I'd like to sell you...

by Maximillian on Sep 9, 2010 4:32 pm • linkreport

Maximillian: It's simple. If you call me a "moron", you get banned. If you say "I think you're wrong and here's why," you don't. That hasn't been too complicated for other commenters.

by David Alpert on Sep 9, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

@Maximillian, I don't know what you think you're responding to, but the only comment I made that was directed at you was to dispute your "facts" about how the current rate increases have been implemented.

For the purposes of our discussion, I really couldn't care less what the excuses are for the completely haphazard system we have right now, or the history of premium demand zone parking in DC. That might be an interesting conversation, but it's not the one we are having.

Here's what you said, again, that I took issue with, which was the centerpiece of your really rude criticism of this post:

"The increase in parking fees have only been implemented in zones where they've installed the new meters."

As I said, this is patently untrue. If you'd care to dispute that, I can easily provide you with pictures of coin operated meters in DC that cost $2 an hour.

by Jamie on Sep 9, 2010 4:43 pm • linkreport


John and some of the other commenters make a good point. While I've followed GGW for too long to believe that you really are jumping on the bandwagon or being soft to gain access, many of the recent posts certainly *seem* that way. Maybe we've been spoiled, but we've all been used to a deeply analytical, evidence-based approach to policy. Now we're hearing that Gray is a smart guy that you'd like to have a beer with, who should be trusted despite his suspicious on-the-record statements?

I'd add to that GGW's total lack of substantive coverage on Senator Michael D. Brown. I've checked the archives, and the only ink I've seen on him is about how he's not Michael A. Brown. It's as if you dismiss him out of hand -- and that impression was furthered during the TV debates, when you framed the streetcar question in such a way as to preclude Senator Brown from talking. Again, I know there's no reason for you to actually be biased, but it ends up seeming that way.

by tom veil on Sep 9, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

And just to clarify David's point, calling anyone a moron will result in a warning and then deletion of future comments in violation. Continued attacks may result in a ban.

So, it's not just calling David or any of the contributors names. It also applies to calling fellow commenters or others names or making ad hominem attacks.

Thank you for understanding.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 9, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

@ keithdc; umm, taxes in DC are considerably higher already. And you have what next year is going to be a billion dollar deficit. And no reserve left. There isn't much choice, and the only question is tax the rich -- and the wealthy, which is different -- or continue to have your max rate kick in a very low levels.

by charlie on Sep 9, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

@Jeb: +1

@Maximillian: You're not banned. David said, "I will delete any future comments by you that stoop to this level." That means he'll delete comments that resort to ad hominem attacks. Calling someone a moron isn't productive (and shows an extraordinary lack of manners, but that's a different topic).

by dcd on Sep 9, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

@David: I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. But if you can opine that one candidate is 'smarter' than the other. And that one candidate's cardboard box cut out would suffice in lieu of the executive, then I have every right to critique you. That being said, I think its clear that a number of readers (including me) think that you're just in the tank for the front runner and that bothers me, especially when you eminate this information as if it were the gospel. I again implore you to take some responsibility and run for office since you feel as if you're this catalyst of change!

@Jamie: To further clarify, there are payment options at all locations that have increased parkimg meter fares. Whether its pay by phone and or text message, debit cards at the meter, etc. The point is, that there is a plan to support the increased fees through more modern infrastructure. Now you may not be happy with the increased fees. If you're not, then don't drive. Ride your bike, take the Metro, take the Circulator, take Metro bus. Your next best option is to park in a parking garage (which is still significantly higher). My overall point to you and to Alpert, is that you should do your homework before you start complaining.

This city is markedly better than it EVER was. You can't expect to have an increased quality of life and not have to assume some of the costs associated with increasing that quality. And some empty suit telling me what I want to hear is not who I want representing this city...

by Maximillian on Sep 9, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

@Maximillian, I'm still thinking you must be responding to someone else. Where in this thread did I complain about the rates?

As I said, for the third time, I am disputing the factuality of your basic assertion: that there are options for payment at all "premium demand zones."

Pay by phone covers exactly 700 of DC's 13,000 parking meters. Do you really think none of the rest are in the "premium demand zone," which is, actually, quite extensive?

by Jamie on Sep 9, 2010 5:24 pm • linkreport

@ charlie For a family making $150, DC's total tax burden is about the same as the surrounding VA counties, and lower than the surrounding MD counties. You can see a comparison here.

Also, it'd be nice to see a citation for your projected $1B shortfall. I can't find a source, and that would be much larger than I'd expect.

by jcm on Sep 9, 2010 5:31 pm • linkreport

The rates got jacked up because the city blew its budget on shiny new toys for Fenty's ribbon cuttings, and Fenty said he wouldn't raise taxes. They had to raise fees in a heartbeat, but had no time to phase it in properly.

by mtp on Sep 9, 2010 6:00 pm • linkreport

Do DC meters not take dollar coins? Because that solves the quarter problem real fast.

When I have to drive to san francisco, I go to the bank and buy a roll of dollar coins.

It's a much better solution than credit card readers, which most people forget means 4% of revenue goes to the credit card company.

by JJJJJ on Sep 9, 2010 6:00 pm • linkreport

Neither candidate is an expert on parking policy, nor has either held himself out as one. So rather than trying to read tea leaves, perhaps writers and commenters on this blog should devote their time to a) educating both candidates, and the eventual victor, about what progressive parking policy looks like; and b) advocating for it.

In the above spirit, take a look at this, from Hayward, CA: (huge PDF, unfortunately)

Although this plan describes existing conditions that are awfully suburban, and an existing parking policy to match, this Bay Area 'burb has managed to commission and adopt a comprehensive parking/TDM strategy that leapfrogs anything produced in DC.

Nothing prevents us from doing the same here, except the failure to establish parking policy as a priority.

by Transportation Geek on Sep 9, 2010 7:53 pm • linkreport

Let me pile on. David's ambition, lack of judgment, and backpedaling have all been found it, and reinforced with more voices than usual. After weeks of dithering, but leaning more Fenty than Gray, I did the early voting and voted for Fenty. The City paper endorsement of him pretty much sums up my decisive if less than enthusiastic choice. If Gray shapes up the way I think he will, David will want to start a new and anonymous blog.

by Rich on Sep 9, 2010 10:22 pm • linkreport

@David: Okay, I'll give you the point of putting motivations into play that I obviously can't know. Fair enough. I apologize for overstating the case.

But equally fairly, other have also noted the tone of these Mayoral posts, and they don't read as "undecided" or "working it out". They read like a series of "look, I'm sure he's not bad, let me lead into why I'm not going to endorse or endorse Gray".

And that actually would be fine as well...if they were your usual fact based arguments. But they aren't. The basically seem to boil down to apologia for _actions_ based on _statements_. "Hey, so what if he has some Committee of 100 types on staff, and the streetcars got killed. He says it was rogue staffers. Sure...they're still in senior level positions with no ramifications for their action. But he _says_ he's all for street cars. Case closed!"

Or in this one. His history of actions is all "cheap car travel", and his response to the parking issue isn't nuanced (which he claims is his strong suit) like a statement that we should _adjust_ the policy now that we know the patterns. It's "rollback baby", but he _says_ he really, really, is for performance parking. Case closed!

You get my point. You keep taking statement that directly contradict actions as being valid on their face. You can't keep doing that and expect to have credibility here.

by John on Sep 9, 2010 10:42 pm • linkreport

So ... David sits down and opens up his thoughts to his bloggers ... and gives his honest opinion the candidates and the state of the initiatives he'd like to see, i.e., he's given his'mea culpa' if you will in regards to people and places he previously gave almost uncondtional supprt to now that he realizes a lot of it was illusionary smarthgrowth progress ... and this is how they react? Did they really care about his opinions before hand? Or was it just convenient that his opinions tended to give support to their views? Do they really want what's best for DC ... or just to be vindicated in their views? The many who posted about expressing indignation that he's continued to 'say it as he sees it' (even if he sees it differently now) owe David a sincere apology. It's one thing to oppose his beliefs and views as I have done frequently, but it's completely a different thing to denigrate someone who's views haven't progressed in the same direction as your own. Maybe he's just seen the error of his (previous) ways ... ?

by Lance on Sep 9, 2010 11:57 pm • linkreport

The rates got jacked up because the city blew its budget on shiny new toys for Fenty's ribbon cuttings, and Fenty said he wouldn't raise taxes.

Inorite? How dare the city build infrastructure!

I'll say it again: it's taken decades to get streetcars back in this city, and Gray thinks that isn't slow enough. I understand that, say, a Silicon Valley millionaire might be more familiar with the stylings of a death-by-process Gavin Newsom wannabe, but what we need is an Antonio Villaraigosa. Is there anyone who can work faster than Fenty? I'd like to believe so, but I know it's not Gray.

by J.D. Hammond on Sep 10, 2010 1:27 am • linkreport

I take a different perspective here. I think, if you look at the way the Mayor has circumvented the city council on contracts over $1 Million, (hence ILLEGAL) and then you see the back-peddling vis a vis Bill Slover, who was at one time the Mayor's appointee to chair the Housing Authority - Slover refused to certify the contracts and was removed within 4 hours - the Mayor's response to this nonsense doesn't pass the giggle test, then you can see why many voters are willing to go with Gray.

He isn't a perfect candidate, but anyone willing to do a little research into the gross mismanagement occurring into the Fenty Administration will see that it is Fenty who is engaging in Barry style cronyism and it is Fenty who is spending down the city's cash reserves to the extent that a Control Board will be back in our future.

Sure, Fenty is "getting things done". But at what expense?

And where David comes in, knowing how bad the city finances have deteriorated, he has taken the time to engage Gray to determine if a Mayor Gray will in fact cause the city to backslide on policies of importance to readers of this blog.

In my opinion, I think Gray will be fine on transportation, planning, sustainability and the other issues of "good urbanism". He has stated as much. However, these are not the only areas of importance to most DC Voters. The bigger question is, how much are readers of this blog willing to let Adrian Fenty rape the finances of the city?

Let's not set the bar so low in terms of expectations for our elected officials.

by William on Sep 10, 2010 6:18 am • linkreport

@JCM; you are comparing apples and oranges.

You are looking at families making $150; The VA figures are inflated for cars -- you DON'T have to own a luxury car, and there are a lot of other errors.

And my basic point is taxes in DC need to go up. If you believe what you wrote, then you are admitting there is plenty of room to go up before people start to move.

At the last budget talks, I remember a figure of 650 million being tossed around, with fears of 800 million for 2010. I suspect things have not gotten better because parking/fines were supposed to be a major part of this year's budget and the higher ones are not generating revenue. There has been some aggressive movement on real estate taxes this year, and the housing market may be turning around, but I think realizing thing are getting worse (and WMATA will want more blood next year) is a starting point for realizing how screwed DC is.

As I said, I think Dave could save himself a lot of negative blowback by endorsing first then doing these articles, rather than this way. His commitment to transparency is painful. And I try to hang out here to learn, not to vent, and in that sense these have been valuable.

by charlie on Sep 10, 2010 9:05 am • linkreport

I agree that taxes need to go up. My concern is not simply that we've overspent in the last few years (which we have), but that many of the initiatives that are so often cited as primary reasons for supporting the current administration also have unknown, unbudgeted and substantial future costs. The streetcars alone are predicted to be 1.5 billion, and in reality, it will probably be double that by the time it's done.

Then you have operational and maintenance costs, as well as maintenance for all the investments we've made in infrastructure - schools, parks, and so on. These are costs that did not exist or will be substantially higher than before - as is evident by the state of affairs that we were in.

Finally, banking on rising real estate taxes is a huge mistake. The economy and the real estate market could well stay flat for years to come, and it's extremely unlikely we'll see any kind of growth like we did in the decade prior to the crash. At best we can expect 1 or 2 percent per year for some time to come. But whatever your opinion on the economy, it is a huge wildcard - we should be planning for the worst, not staking our future on best-case scenarios for the economy.

by Jamie on Sep 10, 2010 9:26 am • linkreport

I'm not comparing apples and oranges, I'm comparing total tax burdens. Your contention that "taxes in DC are considerably higher already" is a commonly held myth. Obviously, you're not required to own a luxury car, but the idea is to compare typical families' total burden. If we want to buy a condo, we look at PITI + condo fee when we shop, not just PITI. For most families, it works out about the same in the end.

I actually agree with you that there's some room to raise the top income tax rate in DC without causing some sort of mass migration, and I'd support it if I were asked, even though it would most likely hit me. I certainly wouldn't move to the burbs if my DC income tax went up a bit.

by jcm on Sep 10, 2010 9:28 am • linkreport

@ jcm; umm, you do know when you move to Mclean you don't live in a condo? And I'm sorry, the document you cited is BS. The example are cherry picked to make it look as if DC isn't heavily taxed. Now, the reality is Maryland is almost as bad, but guess, what, Montgomery county works and their school system is good.

And of course the real scam for DC is to impose top income rates at 40K.

@Jamie; always useful to remember that DC spends its money on people, not on infrastructure projects. And when I say tinker with commercial real estate, it is the valuation process -- not with the rates.

Another factor on the upcoming budget crisis is the final removal of stimulus money.

On budget reasons alone Fenty should be impeached.

by charlie on Sep 10, 2010 9:41 am • linkreport

@ charlie Instead of just asserting something is a cherry-picked worst case, you should offer some proof. Of course, after making up the budget shortfall number and presenting it as fact it won't surprise me when you fail to do so. And way to miss the point on the condo fee analogy.

by jcm on Sep 10, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

@jcm, while I agree with the general methodology that should be used to compare tax burdens, it's important to note that the median income in DC is the highest in the nation. By a lot.

DC's 61K is 48% higher than Virginia's 41K and 32% higher than Maryland's.

DC has high income tax rates and low property tax rates. This balances things out for people who own property of substantial value - which is, primarily, higher income people.

But for poorer people, they will see on average far less benefit from the property tax rates, being renters more often, and they will also not see much benefit compared to Virginia since the automobile rate wouldn't affect them much either way.

The methodology of that report is flawed in a lot of ways, but the most glaring is the inclusion of an average real estate tax burden at all income levels. Households earning 50K a year are very unlikely to own their home. That makes the picture far worse at lower income levels.

by Jamie on Sep 10, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

@Jamie That's a good point regarding the 50K level. I don't see how a $50K household could own a home in DC or the close in suburbs. Without firing up turbo tax, I can't tell what the effect of changing that level to a renter does to the total tax calculation (the mortgage interest deduction makes a naive calculation impossible), and doing taxes once a year is plenty for me.

The median income question, though, is deceptive. The surrounding suburbs all have significantly higher median incomes than DC, due to the relative lack of poor people.

by jcm on Sep 10, 2010 10:06 am • linkreport

That's a good point, too - and Arlington and Alexandria are both among the 20 highest income areas in the US according to Wiki, 96K and 85K respectively.

Of course medians don't speak to the income gap, which is probably substantially higher in DC than in surrounding counties.

At the end of the day, though, it seems pretty clear that the tax burden in DC is substantially weighted in favor of higher-income households, since its principal benefits come from low property tax rates.

This benefit would probably taper off at very high incomes, though, since DC's highest income tax rate affects everyone earning over 40K. And it's much higher than VA or MD. But for the majority of middle class families earning, say, 50K-100K, and not as likely to own property or expensive cars, it would be a lot worse in DC.

by Jamie on Sep 10, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

@Jamie, jcm: You have to be careful on the property tax assumptions here. One of the big "gentrification" complaints is that we "upscale" scum move in, the values jump as people bid up the prices, the tax goes up accordingly and long term residents get clobbered, forcing them to sell. This is why there are baseline exemptions to the tax entirely, and some other options.

Remember, it wasn't that long ago that Columbia Heights was a literal pit (Metro dig) where you could buy a house for $100K. So there are/were people there who make relatively little, but own property, even though now it's what my friends call "New Clarendon".

by John on Sep 10, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

@ Jamie; exactly right. DC needs a large uptick in residential real estate taxes and also moving the level where the highest income tax kicks in to 65K. A secondary tax on incomes over 250K might also work, although depending on what the feds do that might be too much.

More taxing wealth, less taxing income.

by charlie on Sep 10, 2010 10:51 am • linkreport

One of the big "gentrification" complaints is that we "upscale" scum move in, the values jump as people bid up the prices, the tax goes up accordingly and long term residents get clobbered, forcing them to sell.

With the incredibly generous Homestead exemptions DC gives, has this ever actually happened? It seems the more common dynamic is that the perfidious "newcomers" are looking to avoid a soul-crushing commute, and offer the "old timers" $500k for a house on which they owe $150k. The "old timers" take the $350k cash, and skip towards the exits, moving to either Atlanta or the suburbs.

Generally, it's the renters who get screwed as rising housing prices bring rents up with them.

by oboe on Sep 10, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

@oboe: Both things are true. I don't have time to look up the specific exemption levels, but let's use CH as an example. You have an elderly person or couple who bought in around 1970 something for what was a trivial amount of money around say, 13th & Gerard. As the costs were dirt cheap (look at some of the present prices on the other side of the Anacostia to see you can still buy DC housing stock at firesale prices) they weren't money people at all. Now they are living on a fixed income that ain't much.

But their $57K home is now accessed at ~$600K, which is think is a few $100K over the exemption (feel free to correct if I'm wrong here). The tax on that is a _major_ hit for their income level, while they can make $$$ bailing. They might just want to stay until they pass, but the hit flips the equation so they bail.

Also, another thing to remember is that it isn't just renter that get screwed. A jack of the property tax also in an effective "raising of the bar" to who moves from renter to buyer. Jack the rate, you jack the monthly cost, and raise the income level needed to purchase. Unintentionally, in attempting to soak the wealthy, you hose the people in the middle who want to buy. Targeted policy is tricky that way.

In econ it's known as "perverse effects", where you think you are addressing one issue only to cause another. That's why I commented that economic policy is like wallpaper, you push down a bubble and a new one pops up a foot way.

by John on Sep 10, 2010 11:27 am • linkreport

John, your analysis is incorrect. First, their $57K 1970 house worth a lot more than $57K when gentrification began. Second, it's not going to be worth $600K overnight. Finally, there is a limit of 10% increase each year for taxable value.

You are further assuming that these people are completely unable to avail themselves of access to that equity. If they have 100% equity in their house, they can easily borrow, say, $20K which will cover their increase in property taxes for a decade.

Finally, reality does not bear out your hypothesis: that people will choose to move because their property values increase, and it's easier for them to move than to pay the taxes. A recent study proves this: poorer people are less likely to leave their homes in gentrifying neighborhoods, than they are to move in non-gentrifying neighborhoods.

Not unsurprisingly, poor people would rather live in a nicer neighborhood, too. So, if your choice was to live in your current neighborhood, which has improved, and pay the taxes that come along with that, or cash out and move somewhere worse/less expensive, which would you do?

Isn't it a lot easier to come up with a couple hundred bucks a month to enjoy your now-better neighborhood, than it is to move to another crappy neighborhood, and buy another crappy house that will cost you a lot more than you paid for your current house in 1970, too? You'll end up with a lower net value, and a worse neighborhood, or you'll end up in a house of equal value and presumably a neighborhood of equal quality. But you had to move, pay the transaction costs, and uproot your life, which presumably is a high cost to most people for no net gain. It doesn't make sense.

by Jamie on Sep 10, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

But their $57K home is now accessed at ~$600K, which is think is a few $100K over the exemption (feel free to correct if I'm wrong here).

I'm not a real estate lawyer (!), but I'm unfamiliar with this $500k "cap" you seem to be talking about.

Just quickly, I found this:

"The Homestead Exemption gives the homeowner two (2) important benefits: (1) $67,500.00 is deducted from the assessed value of the residence for purposes of calculating property taxes; and (2) the tax rate applies to the assessment is the lowest tax rate imposed by the D.C. government ($0.85 per $100). "

Also, I believe there is a second generous exemption for senior citizens and the disabled, right? Again, just to be clear, I have no idea what I'm talking about... ;)

by oboe on Sep 10, 2010 2:25 pm • linkreport

William, if your "different perspective" was in response to my comment, it underscores the focus of Gray supporters on process as something more important than results (i.e. harping on the "ILLEGAL"ity of various contracts rather than the fact that something was built).

Again, this has nothing to do with DC's need for someone who works faster on infrastructure than Fenty, not Gray.

by J.D. Hammond on Sep 10, 2010 3:14 pm • linkreport

"process as something more important than results"

To be fair, you should at least say that we think process is "as important as" results. There are plenty of horrific historical events which are the result of the opinion that the ends justify the means, such as Tuskegee.

I am certainly in no way comparing Fenty's administration to egregious human rights violations, but the point is, it is very easy to give examples where almost nobody would agree that the results are more important than the process. So, as a fundamental mindset, you can't just universally say it's the right one. It isn't always.

In the case of Fenty, many of us think that it is actually important to act in a legal, aboveboard, even-handed, sustainable, and financially responsible way, when governing a city. We do, actually, believe that there can be grave harm done as a result of sidestepping these expectations, which can in the long term seriously jeopardize any so-called results you see in the short term.

Of course, as I've said before, I don't put much stock in the "results" we've seen so far anyway.

by Jamie on Sep 10, 2010 3:27 pm • linkreport

You know who else ignored process? Now I'm not saying Fenty's Hitler.

I'm just sayin'.

by oboe on Sep 10, 2010 3:35 pm • linkreport

Trying to shut down this thread with Godwin? Nice try.

Hitler was actually a great politician, nothing at all like Fenty. See, Hitler got everyone to buy into his madness, he was immensely popular! Until the LSD was flushed from the water supply in Germany, anyway.

Fenty is more like Kim Jong Il, who I think is the new Hitler anyway.

by Jamie on Sep 10, 2010 3:44 pm • linkreport

On the other hand, Fenty is the better painter. He count paint an entire apartment in one afternoon! TWO COATS!

by oboe on Sep 10, 2010 6:06 pm • linkreport

I'll be glad when election season is over.

The reason why I'm not voting for Fenty is that he's effectively alienated half of the city, and because he's jeopardized progress by allowing quality-of-life issues to become a wedge between communities.

Gray won't be perfect, but his desire to include everyone in the decision-making process ought to help defuse some of the tensions that have built up in the last decade or so. We need less hostility, more buy-in. Less "They are doing x and y to Us" and more "We would like to see x and y quality-of-life improvements in our neighborhood." We'll never get that kind of buy-in under Fenty.

by Matt W on Sep 10, 2010 9:12 pm • linkreport

As a follow-on to my post from this morning, there are a couple of blog entries:

Do those who continue to support Fenty think this behavior is appropriate, and if so, do you think it deserves another four years?

by William on Sep 10, 2010 10:14 pm • linkreport

Jamie just invoked the automatic ruling of Godwin's law. The thread is now dead.

by copperred on Sep 10, 2010 11:43 pm • linkreport

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