District residents can apply for free visitor parking passes

August 11, 2013

District residents living in the city’s densest and most parking-scarce neighborhoods will soon be able to apply for a free visitor parking pass, D.C. transportation officials announced last week. The surprise move has raised neighborhood concerns about possible abuse and further erosion of curbside parking for city residents.

In recent years, the District’s transportation department has mailed free passes to all households in some neighborhoods as a pilot project. Under the new program, households in all areas where residents are required to purchase a permit to park on the street will be eligible to request a free visitor pass. The free passes will not be sent to individual households unless a resident requests one.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the committee overseeing the transportation department, said she is pleased that passes are no longer being mailed en masse to residents. But she said she remains concerned that the free passes easily could be misused, noting, for example, that residents could try to sell the passes to commuters who want to park on residential-zoned streets during the workday.

“We were supposed to have an overarching, comprehensive plan about parking in general, of which the visitor parking passes were supposed to be a part,” Cheh said. “The whole thing was supposed to be thought through. That has not happened.”

Cheh said she had asked city transportation director Terry Bellamy to delay the expansion of the free parking passes during a recent meeting. “My concern was that we’re not ready to make this change, and the change we’re making doesn’t link up with . . . how we deal with parking in general,” she said.

A transportation department spokeswoman was not available Sunday to answer additional questions about the program or the direction of the agency’s parking policies.

The new passes will be valid from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2014, and are valid for use inside the boundaries of the advisory neighborhood commission in which the passholder resides. The department said in a Thursday release that further details on the application process will be released in coming weeks.

The department held a “parking summit” in December, preceded by a series of smaller community meetings to discuss how to change parking policies to balance the needs of residents who rely on curbside spaces for their own vehicles, businesses that want to ensure easy parking for their customers, and a general desire to keep street parking free or, at least, cheap.

One approach to visitor parking discussed in those meetings would have residents purchase individual daily passes or “coupon books” of daily passes rather than receiving a free yearly pass.

Cheryl Cort, of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a group that has pushed for higher prices for resident parking permits and supported a paid coupon system for visitor parking, said she was disappointed by the city’s new approach.

“In areas that already have a lot of competition for curb space, it’s probably not going to help sort that out,” said Cort, the coalition’s policy director. “It’s probably only going to add to the competition. It’s not going to make many people happier.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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