Taking the confusion out of D.C. parking rules

Robert Thomson
Columnist November 20, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a native Washingtonian, a Maryland resident, and I usually take the Metro when I go to the District.

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

On a Saturday night, I used my car to attend a benefit at the Washington Hilton on 16th Street NW, intending to park at a self-service garage on I Street. I arrived at 6:15 p.m., and to my surprise, there were metered spaces available on 16th Street close to the hotel, so I parked on the street.

I read the two-hour parking (7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday) sign with the “no time limit parking” (6:30 to 10 p.m.) Monday through Saturday. I fed the meter for 15 minutes’ worth of time to get me to 6:30 p.m. I interpreted the sign to mean that I did not have to feed the meter after 6:30 p.m., because there was no time limit.

At 7:58 p.m., I was given a $25 ticket for an expired meter. When I saw the ticket on the windshield, I reread the signs and went over to the meter.

To my surprise, there was a red sticker on the back of the meter that stated you still had to pay after 6:30 p.m. The way the sign is worded gives the impression that you can park free after 6:30 p.m., but that’s not so.

Well, D.C., you got me. Fool me once, shame on you — there won’t be a “fool me twice.”

Stephen King,

Potomac

DG: It has been a while since we discussed this District parking issue, and I think it’s very easy for a driver to misunderstand the signs. So let’s review this complicated piece of parking history.

The District tightened its parking meter rules back in 2010, extending enforcement of two-hour time limits into the night Mondays through Saturdays in the busiest commercial areas.

The District Department of Transportation wanted to encourage turnover at those meters to limit congestion in the commercial areas. That’s a common technique among urban transportation departments.

But many people protested. If you’re at a Saturday night event, you don’t want to leave the party or the show after two hours to avoid a ticket.

So then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty modified the policy for parking in what are known as the premium demand zones. He said that drivers would have to pay into the nighttime but that the two-hour time limit would be lifted.

Many drivers misunderstood the lifting of the time limit to include lifting of the requirement to pay. That wasn’t the case. You still have to pay for the time you’re at the meter until 10 p.m.

People are almost always in a hurry when they pull up to a meter. And it takes time to get all those quarters in. But painful as it is, make sure to read the street signs and the meter signs. When you’re done with them, you’ll be ready to take on “War and Peace.”

Station plaza

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Will the plan to improve vehicular traffic around Union Station be completed by the tercentennial in 2076?

It seems as though the area in front of the station is a continual shambles. Then again, perhaps this is an apt welcome for visitors to the nation’s capital.

Harvey Solomon,

Takoma Park

DG: It just seems like forever because Columbus Plaza and the part of Massachusetts Avenue in front of Union Station have been a mess for so long.

If you can think of a government agency, it’s probably got some claim to Union Station and its environs. So I think it’s commendable that the District Department of Transportation took the lead in managing the much-needed rehabilitation of that area, which not only looked awful but also scared many drivers and pedestrians who have to navigate through there every day.

During construction, which began in September 2011, it’s still been a mess for travelers, whether foot or in cars. What I notice in particular is the traffic backup on the left side of the eastbound lanes of Massachusetts Avenue to enter the plaza.

DDOT said it would be an 18-month project, and it’s scheduled to be done in late winter. The result should be more attractive and should make the flow of traffic in, out and around the plaza more rational.

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