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Posted at 02:48 PM ET, 05/14/2012

Cheh: D.C. parking may be subject of summit

Whether you’re a frustrated motorist, resident or business owner, you may soon get a chance to sound off about the future of how much, and at what cost, parking is available in the increasingly dense District.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said Monday she plans to convene a round table meeting or summit this summer to gather feedback on how policy makers should address the growing debate over parking.


Parking meters in the District. (Michael Williamson)
As part of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, the council is expected to give the Department of Transportation greater flexibility to implement so-called performance parking in certain neighborhoods. Modeled after similar initiatives in Capitol Hill and Columbia Heights, the program authorizes the Department of Transportation to increase meter rates to force more rapid turnover of vehicles in metered spaces.

The goal of the program is to ensure that no more than 85 percent of spaces in a targeted area remain occupied at a given time.

But Cheh, chairwoman of the Committee on Environment, Public Works and Transportation, said the city also needs a broader conversation about the city’s uneasy relationship with cars and trucks.

Over the past year, the council has faced some backlash over higher meter rates and extended meter hours as well as plans to reserve 8 percent of all meters for handicapped motorists. Conversely, some activists have argued the city should be charging higher fees for residential parking permits to try to force more residents to give up rarely used vehicles.

“All urban jurisdictions have these issues — too many cars and too few spaces,” Cheh said. “You have to manage it better…And I want to have some sort of roundtable to form an overarching vision for how it will all play out and let people weigh in.”

In recent months, District leaders have been generally pleased with their efforts to convince more residents to give up their cars for public transportation. In February, the Washington Examiner reported that the number of vehicles registered in the District has stayed around 275,000 for the past decade, even as the population grew by 40,000 residents.

City officials are also optimistic that Capital Bikeshare, the growing use of car-sharing services, and plans for a new, 37-mile street car system will continue to diminish vehicle usage.

Still, other data suggests the debate over parking will only intensify in the coming years.

In November, a report prepared for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found that the number of vehicles in the city and its suburbs had increased by 4 percent since 2008. And with thousands of new apartments and several large office and retail projects under construction, on-street parking could become tighter in some already congested neighborhoods in center city.

Earlier this month, Gray (D) set a long-term goal of adding 250,000 residents to the District over the next 20 years. But Gray envisions 75 percent of all trips will take place on foot, bicycle or by public transportation by 2032.

Irrespective of that goal, Cheh said more short-term planning is needed.

“We have this avalanche of people who come in every day as commuters,” Cheh said. “We can’t just look at ourselves…So many people (in the District) don’t even have a car. It’s not us. It’s the people coming into the District.”

Though the performance parking could result in higher meter rates in certain areas, Cheh said the council is increasingly concerned that too many fees have been increased in recent years.

Instead of taxing people out of their vehicles, Cheh said she hopes to explore new techniques for addressing the issue.

“Think about New York City and think about Paris,” Cheh said. “We are not as big as those places, but it’s huge for them to deal with cars, and they manage. You can only fit so much in a particular space, even if you have to manage it different and think about alternatives.”

By  |  02:48 PM ET, 05/14/2012

 
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