District puts another parking program on hold

Robert Thomson
Columnist September 28, 2013

During my online chat Monday, a D.C. resident expecting visitors in early October asked what to do about the impending expiration of visitor parking passes.

People with similar concerns had been reading this for quite a few weeks on the District Department of Transportation Web site: “The current pass expires September 30, 2013, and unlike previous years DDOT is no longer automatically mailing the pass to residents. Instead, residents will be required to apply for the pass through a simplified, user-friendly method.”

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

For many, the timing was getting tight. Meanwhile, the D.C. Council heard other concerns about the new program, which council members deemed not so simple. Emergency legislation put it on hold.

Current passes will remain valid through December. Meanwhile, new annual passes will be mailed out, just as before.

The free passes go to residents in congested parts of the city that require Residential Parking Permits to stay more than two hours. A resident’s guest can place the permit on the dashboard.

A visitor pass can be abused in various ways. A resident could sell it to someone who lives outside the zone. Tightening up the program was supposed to be part of a broad revision of the District’s street parking system.

Reggie Sanders, spokesman for DDOT, said the department had developed a program to keep better track of the permits. Instead of waiting for the pass in the mail, residents would have to register for it.

The redesigned pass would contain an identifying code. If residents believed that a pass was being abused, they could contact city officials, who would trace it to the registered owner. Sanders said DDOT still hopes to implement the program but will work with the D.C. Council.

The council didn’t like the idea of replacing the automatic mailing of passes with what it called a “clumsy, one-size-fits-all policy.” Some people who wanted the passes would be inconvenienced by the need to apply. In some communities, council members said, the issuance of passes could overburden blocks where parking is already scarce.

Tightening up the parking system is a good idea, and DDOT spent a lot of time exploring strategies. But when it comes to implementation, the city stumbles.

Curious visitors still note the red-top meters on downtown streets. These were supposed to be part of a more equitable system to allow parking for people who have disabilities. The council heard concerns about that program, as well, and put it on hold in March 2012.

This is not a good pattern. The city’s parking problems are real and proposed solutions go in the right direction, but then the public raises concerns about the details that go unresolved.

Circling back

A roundabout, the modern version of a traffic circle, is better at moving vehicles than a traditional intersection with a traffic signal — as long as drivers follow the rules about speeds and right of way.

What are the odds? Apparently, they weren’t good enough at the junction of two major routes in Loudoun County, where the Virginia Department of Transportation installed a roundabout four years ago. Drivers are going too fast and there are too many crashes, VDOT said.

By Thanksgiving, VDOT plans to make $300,000 worth of modifications to the roundabout where routes 50 and 15 intersect in Gilbert’s Corner. Crews will adjust the curb lines and pavement markings so that drivers will have a single lane on all approaches. Currently, there are two lanes along the north-south Route 15 approach. VDOT officials hope this will reduce speeds and driver confusion. They said a traffic study showed the roundabout could handle this traffic pattern with only a slight delay at peak periods.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

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