The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about RPP


Fears over parking are threatening a new bus service in Richmond

Richmond is getting a new bus rapid transit system, but one neighborhood group is against the project because it will mean some lost parking spaces. But the new line won't even run through their neighborhood, and there's plenty of parking in the city already.

Broad Street today. Image by Jeff Auth on Wikipedia Commons.

The Bus Rapid Transit project is called the Pulse, and it will connect the city's east and west ends along Broad Street, one of Richmond main avenues. In some sections, the line will run in its own lanes along Broad Street's median. One of these sections borders a neighborhood in Richmond known as the Fan.

Work on the Pulse will definitely mean cutting parking on Broad Street, some of it for construction and some of it permanently. The Fan District Association says it's already hard enough to find parking in the neighborhood and that the Pulse would only make it harder. The group recently sent a letter to the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) saying it's opposed to the project.

Blame bad parking management, not transit, for parking trouble

It may be harder to park in the Fan in the future, but the Pulse won't be to blame if that happens. Lots of people park on the street because parking there is usually convenient and cheap, or even free. In most cities, parking is drastically underpriced given how valuable the space spots take up is.

This is especially true for Fan District residents since the city introduced a permit parking progam (which is similar to DC's) where residents can park wherever they want for twenty five dollars per year, per car. That's an incredibly low price for parking in an otherwise high-demand area, which it incentivizes people to park there rather than somewhere else.

For those concerned about the availability of street parking in the Fan, stopping the Pulse would actually be counterproductive because the service will give people an alternative to driving. It'd be smarter to focus efforts on finding ways manage street parking in a way that matches the demand for it.

This is how Broad Street might look once the Pulse arrives. Rendering from GRTC.

This could include things like limiting the number of passes per household, expanding permit-only hours, or raising the price of a permit so that a parking spot isn't nearly free. Combined with new transit, solutions like those could alleviate some of the parking pressure that's there today.

These kinds of measures would also keep the neighborhood from having to rely on nearby streets for relief from parking pressure. They'd solve the problem directly, by making sure people who really needed parking in the Fan had it available to them, rather than by trying make it easy to park in other areas.

Richmond is primed to be less car-dependent

Richmond has a lot of similarities to DC. It has a number of historic neighborhoods where buildings don't have dedicated parking and residents and visitors alike have grown to rely on street parking in front of or near their homes. In downtown Richmond, large spaces are devoted to parking, and elevated highways have created some huge barriers between neighborhoods.

Despite it being fairly dense and urban, large parts of Richmond are car-dependent. In the Fan, parking pressures have grown as the neighborhood has gentrified and new businesses and residents have moved in.

Also like DC, though, much of Richmond is perfectly suited for car-lite or car-free lifestyles. And more transit, like the Pulse, could make it easier for Richmonders to use a carless often.

It's almost understandable why residents would be wary of any proposal that, on the surface, seems like it could make it harder to park than it already is. But blocking better transit would ensure that the problem remains. One neighborhood's fear over parking shouldn't stop an entire city's plan for running more smoothly.


DC residents may be willing to pay more for parking

A new survey from DDOT suggests many DC residents are willing to support more expensive residential street parking if it makes finding a spot near their home easier.

Photo by Populuxe on Flickr.

Many agree that DC's Resident Parking Permit (RPP) program isn't meeting the city's needs, and should be be updated. But conventional wisdom holds that most substantive changes, especially raising the price of a permit, would stall once voters got wind of them.

But maybe not.

DDOT's Curbside Parking Management study polled residents about how they feel about curbside parking.

The study asked if residents would prefer to pay more for a parking spot near their house, or drive longer searching for a different spot. 63% of residents said that they would prefer paying a little more for the ability to park closer to their home, compared to only 14% who'd rather deal with a longer walk.

This data challenges the conventional wisdom that local politicians should avoid significant changes to RPP out of fear of voter backlash. People rarely like the prospect of a price increase, and fears over parking can stall even the most minor of projects, after all.

But the data says otherwise. Residents do recognize that supply and demand affects parking just like any other good.

On the other hand, survey results are just general. We don't know how popular or unpopular any specific proposal would be. Some residents may change their mind when faced with an actual price hike. Or perhaps the minority opposing change might be so vocal that they overwhelm the majority.

Who knows.

But if this survey is accurate, there's more support for higher prices on DC parking spots than many believed. Perhaps politicians and other decision-makers should be a little more willing to tip-toe into this issue.


Logan Circle could have a solution to visitor parking woes

In neighborhoods with streets restricted to resident-only parking, how can visitors and household workers park when they need to? The Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2F) recently endorsed giving residents a "coupon book" of passes to give visitors.

Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

This is the best solution for areas of DC where parking is tight. Logan Circle joined the growing number of neighborhoods where one side of every street is reserved for residents only. This makes parking much more available for residents, possibly at the expense of local businesses and houses of worship.

But this arrangement also creates its own problem: if a family member is visiting by car, or a home health worker needs to drive in to care for a resident, what do they do?

In some other neighborhoods, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) mailed out placards, one per household, which the resident can give to the visitor to display on the dashboard. But for neighborhoods like Logan Circle, this would represent an enormous temptation: if you don't need your pass, sell it to someone who works downtown and they can suddenly park in residential zones.

That is why ANCs in Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, NoMA/H Street, and other mixed-use neighborhoods vehemently objected when DDOT tried last fall to expand the visitor placard system citywide. Earlier this month, Logan's ANC instead endorsed the idea of a booklet, where people get a limited number of passes:

Commissioner Cain moved that the ANC endorse a Visitor Parking Program for all residents living within the boundaries of ANC 2F and at a Resident Parking Permit (RPP) eligible address. The proposed program shall consist of a coupon booklet containing 10 individual coupons for temporary visitor parking. Each coupon shall be valid for seven (7) days and may not be reused. Residents must opt in to the program. Each program participant may receive one coupon booklet per year (through the end of FY14). The motion was seconded and approved by the Commission (7-1).
This is a much better idea than the all-year visitor pass. Over a year ago, DDOT parking manager Angelo Rao said he thought the city should set up some kind of visitor pass system, and he was under the gun to implement something by fall 2013. For whatever reasons, which almost surely include internal agency policies and bureaucratic inertia, instead nothing happened. Maybe now there can be some momentum for a real solution.

There are still some questions to work out and some ways to improve the plan.

This proposal would make passes each good for one week. That's not so bad, though it would make more sense for passes to work for a single day, and simply offer more passes. Some people have a housecleaner who comes once a week all year. Under this plan, they would get 50 days' worth of passes, but couldn't use them once a week for 50 weeks. Why not? How about a book of 50 day passes instead of 10 week passes?

One big question: what do people do if they need more passes? Some people might get passes from their neighbors, but it also would make sense to let people purchase more booklets. The rate can be low enough that it's not extremely expensive, but high enough that it keeps the numbers of cars parking in the neighborhood from overwhelming the resident-only space, and also deters a resident from selling booklets to a commuter.

The ANC did not work out a way to get more passes; Matt Raymond, a member of the ANC, said that they, Councilmember Jack Evans, and DDOT have to work out details like this.

Another question is who gets the passes. Do people with cars and people without cars alike get them? Does a household with 2 drivers get the same number as an apartment of a single person? What about basement rental units? What about illegal basement rental units?

Raymond said the commission was split on this issue, and said, "When we discussed restricting it to Ward 2 permit holders, we admitted it was somewhat arbitrary, but there was sentiment (I among those who felt this way) that there needed to be some way to restrict them rather than a no-holds-barred approach."

"Ward 2 permit holders" are people who have a car registered with a residential parking permit in the area. That is probably not a good criterion, because a person who has no car will have visitors just as much as a person who has a car. On the other hand, it's a dense neighborhood with a lot of people, and ten week-long parking passes for every person could bring in a lot of cars.

If people can buy more coupons, then one good way to deal with this is over time to lower the number of passes in the first, free book, while letting people buy more. That would discourage over-use, and DDOT could adjust the size of the initial book and the price for more until the demand doesn't overwhelm the neighborhood supply of spaces.

Will this program (or an even better day pass version with the chance to buy more books) become reality, and even expand to other mixed-use neighborhoods? DDOT has had a years-long track record of promising to do something about parking and then failing.

Walt Cain, another ANC 2F commissioner, said, "My understanding is that the new crew at DDOT is not in favor of visitor parking generally, so it will likely be an uphill battle to actually get the program put in place."

DC Councilmember Mary Cheh's Committee on Transportation and the Environment is holding a hearing on parking Wednesday, January 29 at 11 am. Perhaps this, and the opportunity to apply it to more neighborhoods, will come up for discussion then.


Enough broken promises from DDOT

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) promised to complete a number of important projects by now or by the end of this year. Quick quiz: Can you identify which of these have met or will meet the promised deadline?

Photo by Len Matthews on Flickr.

  • Start streetcar service on H Street NE-Benning Road by the end of the year.
  • Devise a better system for handling visitor parking passes and residential permit parking.
  • Start building a separated bike lane (or "cycletrack") on M Street NW.
  • Expand Capital Bikeshare to twice its original size.
  • Make pedestrian safety improvements to Maryland Avenue NE.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of a new median on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park.

The answer: None of the above. DDOT has delayed or given up on all of these promises.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.


Survey suggests DC residents are open to parking reform

DC residents say they rely on street parking, don't have a lot of competition for street parking, and are open to reduced parking requirements, according to the results of a recent survey from Councilmember Anita Bonds.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

On Tuesday, Bonds released the results of her survey about parking in DC. Respondents answered questions about how many cars they owned if they owned any, their experiences finding street parking, and their opinions on proposed changes to the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) and Visitor Parking Permit (VPP) system.

Some of the results are a little surprising, while others seem to confirm suspicions about street parking in the District. But we still have a very incomplete picture of DC residents' experiences with parking.

One question asked how many cars are in your household. 51% of respondents said they had only one car, while 25% had two cars and 18% of respondents do not own a car at all. This suggests car owners were disproportionately represented in the survey, because the number of car free households in DC is closer to one-third.

Since the survey was mainly about parking permits, it makes sense that someone who is car-free wouldn't fill it out. But the council should also try to learn about how car-free individuals feel about parking, since it's part of an overall traffic policy that affects everyone.

It appears that changes to on-street parking will affect a lot of people. Over 70% of respondents said that they either solely rely on street parking or a mix of private and street parking. Half said they have permit parking on both sides of their street, while one-third said they don't have permit parking on their street at all.

However, respondents don't consider parking availability a major issue. More than half of the respondents said that they "rarely" or "never" feel that "businesses, corner markets, churches, or other non-profits interfere with [the] ability to find adequate street parking" near their homes. 28% said that they "sometimes" feel that it happens, while only 13% said it "always" happens. It would be interesting to know where the respondents who said "rarely" or "sometimes" live, and if they're concentrated in certain parts of the city.

Results on the Visitor Parking Program (VPP) are more mixed. Half of respondents said they had used VPP in the past six months, and 57% received their pass in the mail instead of going to the police station to pick it up, as was the case before. 70% said that they would prefer continuing to pick up their passes in the same manner. This suggests that the city should give people lots of different options for getting visitor permits.

Respondents disagreed on whether the city should eliminate parking minimums, but are interested in the idea. The Office of Planning originally proposed removing parking requirements throughout DC, but will only recommend doing so downtown. At least a third of city residents support the idea outright, while 25% are still unsure, but say they could be open to it.

The survey doesn't tell us everything. Many of the questions rely on feelings instead of more quantifiable measures. We also don't know how many people took the survey. I've asked Bonds' office what that number is, but they haven't responded. Since the survey was taken only by people who chose to, there's a self-selection bias, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, the survey shows that residents' opinions on parking are fairly mixed, and that they may be open to changes. It indicates the potential for greater support for serious parking reform, which conventional wisdom says would face significant political obstacles at the DC Council. With this in mind, it's time to collect even more detailed and rigorous information about how and where DC residents park their cars.


For parking reform, ask better questions

As the District debates changing the way it distributes parking permits, Councilmember Anita Bonds is surveying DC residents about their experiences with on-street parking. But if we really want to understand how parking works, the Council needs to ask the right questions.

Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Previously, District residents could purchase ward-restricted residential parking permits (RPPs) to park on their street and automatically receive visitor parking permits (VPPs) for their guests. The city was going to require residents to apply for a VPP, but after public outcry, the DC Council decided to keep the existing arrangement.

While it's good to know what people think about the current parking program, it's important that a poll strive to be very clear about it's aims while avoiding unnecessary or potentially misleading questions. Bonds' survey conflates issues about parking in general with the specifics of the current permitting process.

The poll begins by asking whether you live in a single-family house or an apartment, how many automobiles are in your household, and whether you own a bike, scooter, or motorbike. The questions also ask if you use on-street parking and if the street you live on has ward-restricted parking. These are good questions to ask to begin to learn how many people would be affected by any changes to on-street parking.

Then the survey begins asking broader questions about parking. Question 7 asks if the respondent "feels" that "businesses, corner markets, churches, or other non-profits interfere with your ability to find adequate street parking near your home?"

The way someone feels about parking isn't an objective measurement. Feelings can mean many things to many people, and can be interpreted differently by each survey taker. Someone may be okay with parking 2 or 3 blocks away from their home, while another person may feel like that anytime they have to park in front of their neighbor's door instead of their own is asking too much.

Question 6 asks if respondents feel that there is enough parking for them and their neighbors on their block. But "enough" parking means different things to different people? It's hard to know what the value of parking is unless we have a quantifiable standard. A good follow up question would be to ask someone to estimate how far they park from their house 75% of time.

While businesses, corner markets, churches, and other non-profits may take up a lot of parking, they also aren't the only things that affect parking on a block. Your neighbors obviously affect your parking as well. The survey should ask respondents how many garages are on their block, whether they normally see the same cars day after day, or if their neighbors have alternative parking arrangements. These questions help create a more complete picture and allow us to understand what factors influence the way people "feel" about their parking situation.

The next few questions focus on the specifics of VPP and whether survey takers have used the current system. It's important to know what people think of the current system before taking any changes into account.

Question 14 simply asks if respondents believe in eliminating parking minimums in new developments. There are two issues with this. One is that the broad question of how to allocate street parking in the District is totally separate from how the city should handle VPP. And second, the proposal to eliminate parking minimums in new development is now limited to downtown. The Office of Planning (OP) has backed off eliminating parking minimums outside of the downtown area.

This question can lead people to assume that there is a policy in the works that doesn't actually exist. Bonds may be better served by having a separate poll about RPP as a whole or simply taking time to explain that different solutions may exist for resident and visitor parking.

While the survey is about the availability of parking in different neighborhoods, the survey totally ignores the price of parking, which has a huge impact on its availability. Right now, the price of a RPP is just $35 a year. That covers the administrative costs of the program, but it doesn't reflect the value of the land a parking space consumes or the external impacts on that block, the city, and the region as a whole.

Bonds or anyone else on the council shouldn't ignore this element. Most people wouldn't like the prospect of paying more for something, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have to pay a fair price for parking.

However, there is one question that the survey gets right. The final question allows survey takers to say whatever they wish about any parking issue in the District. So if you do support the elimination of parking minimums for new development, or believe that residential and visitor parking permits should be overhauled, you can let Councilmember Bonds know.


Most Ward 2 neighborhoods oppose visitor parking passes

Most of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in DC's Ward 2 have passed resolutions saying they don't want a free visitor parking placard program in their neighborhoods. The commissions went on record on this issue up to a year ago, but last week, transportation officials announced that they'll expand the program citywide anyway.

DDOT decided not to listen. Photo by sokabs on Flickr.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans also opposes the plan. He citing the opposition of "most of the ANCs" in his ward, while saying he only has gotten a few messages from constituents who support the program.

Georgetown's ANC hasn't passed such a resolution, but that doesn't mean they support it, either. Its chair, Ron Lewis, told residents and the media that "this came as a total surprise to us." Lewis has been working for years with Georgetown residents and DDOT parking planners to find agreement on a set of parking proposals that everyone would support.

Shortly before DDOT's announcement, the agency's planners in charge of parking, Damon Harvey and Angelo Rao, left or were fired. Harvey and Rao had led two parking town halls in Georgetown and dozens of meetings of an ad hoc Georgetown Parking Working Group made up of residents and business representatives. I was involved in these meetings, and all parties felt that the group was very close to a set of consensus proposals after years of negotiation.

Free visitor parking passes for all Georgetown RPP holders was never a serious proposal in these discussions, and community leaders communicated concerns about expanding these passes into Georgetown several times.

We've been here before

Last year, a similar process played out. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez told reporters that the agency intended to expand the trial citywide. In response, ANCs throughout Ward 2 passed resolutions opposing the idea and sent the resolutions to DDOT.

For example, here is Dupont's ANC 2B resolution from last October.

DDOT ultimately pulled back and did not expand the program to these neighborhoods in 2012. Rao promised to devise a replacement system before this fall. However, with no new program on the horizon, DDOT announced it would offer visitor passes to all neighborhoods by October 1 and proposed regulations making that possible.

You can provide feedback on DDOT's expansion of the visitor parking program through the mandated 30-day comment period for all such regulations. To tell the agency how you feel about their regulations expanding free visitor parking placards citywide, email before September 8.


Dutch auctions could improve parking permits in DC

Nothing in urban life seems to be as contentious as on-street parking in DC. One answer may be a Dutch auction, which allows residents to set the price of parking, making parking more responsive to demand.

Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

In DC, residential parking permits (RPPs) are sold to residents well below market rates, meaning people have an incentive to use more space than they may need. This restricts the supply of parking for everyone. And the city isn't making any more on-street parking spaces.

Unlike standard, or English, auctions, in a Dutch auction, prices start high and drop over time. When the price reaches a level that you are willing to pay, you submit your bid and the auction ends. In a modified Dutch auction, the auction doesn't end until the last item sells. At that point, anyone who bid higher than the lowest bid will get a refund for the difference.

Northwestern University uses this kind of auction for its Purple Pricing basketball ticket scheme. Like residential parking spaces, basketball tickets are generally similar, but certain kinds of both are worth more than others.

In Purple Pricing, sports fans visit a website or call a hotline to learn the current selling price for tickets. This price may decline as the game date approaches, but it will never increase. If the price goes down after you buy tickets, you'll receive a refund for the difference. This prevents fans from holding out until the last minute to buy tickets because they'll get the best price no matter what.

A parking auction could work similarly. DDOT would determine the number of parking spaces to be auctioned in each RPP zone. The agency could maintain the current, albeit flawed zones or adjust them. The important part is determining how many "items" each auction will have. The DC DMV would hold an auction with everyone living in a particular RPP zone who has a registered vehicle.

Auctions could open at the start of each year for new parking passes that take effect a month or two later. Initial prices for an RPP would be much higher than the expected final price, and they would lower by a certain amount each day. The DMV would also announce each day how many permits remain.

Let's say that on April 1, the price of a Ward 1 RPP is set at $500. To some people, $500 would be totally worth it and they would submit their bids. Or maybe they're willing to pay whatever the final price is and they want to get their bids in early to ensure that they will get a pass. But it's highly unlikely that the RPPs would sell out at that price.

On April 2nd, the price would drop to $400. Again, more people place bids, but there would still be plenty of permits left. By April 15th, the price goes down to $50, at which point the permits sell out. Since $50 is the clearing price, anyone who paid more than that would receive a refund for the difference.

Since each parking zone would have its own auction, the price of a parking permit would vary based on resident demand. It's likely that demand for parking in dense Ward 1 is higher than it might be in, say, suburban parts of Ward 5. So for places where demand isn't as high, DC could establish the current $35 price as a "floor" to ensure that price doesn't fall below that amount.

Unlike the current system, which issues passes for a flat fee regardless of demand, a Dutch auction accomplishes two things. It recognizes that parking permits have different values in different zones. And it allows resident demand for parking to set prices.

Since the Dutch auction would happen yearly, prices would fluctuate based on that year's demand for residential parking permits. If fewer people wish to park on the street in a certain part of DC, prices would drop. If more residents want to park their cars on the street, prices would rise. Allowing an auction to set the prices also helps depoliticize the parking process, taking price-setting authority away from politicians and bureaucrats.

What about residents who move into the District after the yearly auction takes place? If there aren't any more spaces, the DMV could simply forbid them from parking on the street. Or if there are any remaining RPPs, they could sell them. Residents frequently sell their cars, move out of the District or to another ward, so it's likely that some come available throughout the year.

A Dutch auction raises issues about equity, particularly for low-income residents who may not be able to afford permits or elderly or handicapped residents who may rely on access to a car. DC could provide some a tax credit based on income, age or disability to subsidize the cost of parking permits.

The current approach to RPPs, in which anyone can get one for a small, flat fee, is inefficient and inflexible. It also fails to recognize the finite amount of on-street parking spaces in DC. Holding a yearly Dutch auction for RPPs allows residents to decide how much on-street parking is worth to them, making more space available to everyone.


DC visitor parking pass program lurches citywide

DC's program of handing out free visitor parking passes will expand citywide, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced today. This isn't, however, the result of thoughtful planning about how to fix problems with parking. Instead, the agency is slouching toward a messy parking policy because it can't manage to develop a good one.

Residents in all neighborhoods, provided they live on a block with residential permit parking (RPP), will soon be able to go to a website to request a visitor placard. The resident can hand that placard, good for one year, to anyone, who can then display it in a car and park for free, for an unlimited length of time, within the immediate area.

DDOT has had such a system for several years in lower-density wards 3 and 4, plus the ballpark area of Ward 6, and more recently in Wards 1 and 5 and the Howard Theatre area of Ward 6. Meanwhile, other neighborhoods in DC, including my own Dupont Circle, opposed applying the same program to their areas.

A year ago, when DDOT last renewed and expanded the program, officials promised to put in place a more permanent system that was better tailored to neighborhoods' varied needs. Quite simply, they failed. In fact, DDOT's two parking managers, Angelo Rao and Damon Harvey, recently left the agency, and some people familiar with the situation say they were fired. Update: I was able to confirm that Harvey chose to leave DDOT (he now works fo ParkMobile in Atlanta), while Rao did not.

Rao told communities he knew he was under a deadline to find a better system by this fall; instead, he created none. The "parking think tanks" Rao and Harvey ran last winter, where residents weighed in about parking problems, have come to naught.

New program makes small tweaks, but could invite abuse

In prior years, DDOT mailed out (often with great fanfare in the press) placards to every household in the affected areas. This year, DDOT will require residents to affirmatively ask for a placard via a website. They'll still be free and easy to get, but perhaps it will cut down on the number of placards out there.

The big question is whether people in the new neighborhoods will give away or sell their placards not to their own visitors, but to people who are commuting to an area. The whole point of the RPP program is to prevent commuters from parking on neighborhood streets.

With the program citywide, it will now encompass neighborhoods with large numbers of offices and residents, such as Georgetown, Logan Circle, and Mount Vernon Triangle. At a parking meeting, commissioners from Dupont Circle's ANC 2B asked Harvey not to expand visitor passes to the neighborhood. Their fear was that it would lead to commuters parking on neighborhood streets, for free, all day.

My own neighbor, for instance, rents out a parking space behind his house to a commuter. Will people start selling their placards? Will that worsen the parking crunch? Will it undercut my neighbor's ability to rent out his space?

Mount Pleasant ANC commissioner Jack McKay wrote in an email, "The purpose of RPP is simply to prevent commuters from using neighborhood streets as free all-day parking lots. So long as residents don't hand their visitor passes over to neighborhood business employees, that purpose remains met. ... Mount Pleasant has had visitor parking passes since 2008. Abuse has been insignificant, and residents, many of whom who depend on household help and child care workers and day-nurse care, love the program."

Harvey often claimed that he hadn't seen much abuse, and said he monitored sites like Craigslist to stop people selling their placards. But will the temptation be too great in a neighborhood like Dupont, compared to Mount Pleasant, which doesn't have large office buildings? (Plus, now that Harvey's gone, will anyone be watching?)

Twitter user @pavethewhales wrote, "My block has guest passes, and they are horribly abused. Out of state cars parking every day. ... Without tying permits to individual homes, [there will be] no accountability whatsoever."

If it becomes harder and harder to park in mixed-use areas, that might lead residents to request the other recent, haphazard parking change: dedicated resident-only parking on one side of every street. That might seem like a reasonable approach, but then will parking become too difficult for short-term visitors to local businesses? And what about residents who need to have more than one visitor at a time?

We need a better solution

Rao promised to develop a more sensible approach by this fall. He wasn't the first. DDOT has only been mailing out visitor passes for a few years. When they started in Ward 4 and then Ward 3, officials at the time said this was an interim step, and they would replace it with a better program soon. But year after year, the agency has failed to fix this, and instead, has extended and expanded it more and more.

DDOT's then-Director Gabe Klein suggested hiring a "parking czar" back in 2010. It took until 2012 to get one hired, Rao, but then Director Terry Bellamy moved parking out of the policy group and into the traffic operations group. Rao told me that bureaucratic struggles between operations and policy made it much more difficult for him to develop any kind of comprehensive strategy.

A good solution would likely incorporate some kind of pricing signal. In neighborhoods with low parking demand, like DC's lowest-density areas away from neighborhood corridors, likely there is no reason to charge much for parking (and, in fact, perhaps not even a reason to limit parking to residents at all). In the highest-demand areas like Dupont Circle, meanwhile, placards shouldn't be free.

One approach would be to set a price for the annual placard. A better approach would give people a "coupon booklet" of passes, each good for one day, that the resident can give to visitors. It would help keep a lid on overuse, and would also let a resident offer parking to 2, 3, or 10 people in the same day, if that's necessary.

Anyone who uses up the booklet could buy a new one at some price—in low-demand areas, maybe a token administrative fee, and in high-demand areas, a higher amount that keeps a match between supply and demand.

Or maybe there are other good answers. What's for sure is that we won't reach a good policy by doing nothing, having individual councilmembers legislate changes for their wards, and slapping larger and larger band-aids on the problem.

Meanwhile, the more people get free passes, the harder it will be to build support for a better solution. Free passes help some people and hurt others. Those helped will fight fiercely not to lose the privilege or have to start paying, and can drown out those who benefit from a superior policy. Had DDOT set up a reasonable pricing-based system years ago, it would have been a lot easier. Is it even possible now?

Instead of moving forward, we're still back at square one. There's no public plan, not even anybody publicly in charge of parking, and an "interim" program metastasizes for another year.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City