Longtime residents fear D.C. government will push their cars off the streets

Robert Thomson
Columnist March 8, 2013

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am one of the longtime D.C. residents who fears the squeeze being put on those of us who have cars. In the 25-plus years I have owned my condo in the 16th and U streets area, it has become progressively more difficult to park, given the increasing nightlife in the area, unbridled development, institution of meter fees on Saturdays and elimination of parking spaces to create bike lanes.

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

I just finished 11 years at a nonprofit organization that promotes energy efficiency, including use of public transit and bikes, and by no means use my 17-year-old car daily.

I prefer to walk to work. I am happy to take the bus. The mileage on my car — fewer than 58,000 miles — speaks for itself. I would be willing to pay more than the current $35 for my residential parking permit — up to a point.

But I do need to have a safe, legal parking spot within a reasonable distance of my building when I use the car. I shop for only me and my husband, but I regularly fill the trunk with six to eight bags — much more than I could carry home at one time.

I shop at multiple grocery stores in D.C., not all of which are within walking distance or have convenient access to transit. There is no library within walking distance.

It seems that the mayor and other officials are not in the real world when they talk about people not needing cars.

We need enhanced residential parking during the evenings and on weekends, when the worst crunch occurs, not just weekdays. I hope you will continue supporting those of us who use our cars very little but do need them and need a place to park them.

— Ronnie J. Kweller, the District

Planners today say the planners of the past erred in molding cities to accommodate private cars. They’re probably right. Still, that doesn’t inspire much confidence in planners.

As the D.C. government builds the transportation system of tomorrow, with more transit, more car-sharing, more bike lanes, more walkable streets and less room for private cars, it’s fine to plan for hundreds of thousands of newcomers who will ensure the city lives on and prospers. But the government also needs to consider the people who stuck with the District for decades, through good and bad times.

They understand and appreciate the concept of mobility. Like Kweller, they want to have choices about getting around, and one of those choices may be a private car to haul groceries or take them where transit won’t go.

In December, I heard them make their case in a meeting with Angelo Rao, chief of the District Department of Transportation’s parking program. Among other things, they raised concerns about loosening the city’s requirements that apartments provide off-street parking, about street parking during church services, about parking congestion on neighborhood streets near Metro stations and about removal of parking spaces to create bike lanes.

Now the transportation department has published a Parking Action Agenda designed to shape the future of street use. The report starts by acknowledging that “parking issues have been flash points of tension between neighborhood residents and neighborhood institutions, between business owners and adjacent communities, and around new development.”

The program sets goals for 2013: Evaluate ways to update the residential permit parking program, create a new, more flexible visitor parking pass program, enhance parking opportunities for people with limited mobility, increase online parking services, improve turnover for on-street parking in congested areas and communicate better with the public.

This is a good year for the public to communicate back.

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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