By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Sean Davis is fed up, and he's not going to take it anymore.
The Arlington resident has created a Web site that takes aim at county employees -- particularly those in parking enforcement -- whose vehicles are parked at expired meters, in no-parking zones and in areas that block traffic. He's encouraging other county residents to get involved, too, and is posting photographs that contributors send to his site: http://arlingtonparking.blogspot.com .
The site was launched two weeks ago as a public exhibit, a means to display and poke fun at what Davis calls the "law-breaking, jack-booted thugs who . . . regularly break the traffic laws they are supposed to enforce."
"It was born out of frustration," said Davis, 25. "We've got such a ridiculous parking crunch here . . . and it seems the county cares more about getting fines than finding solutions."
Davis has posted several color photos of the ubiquitous white county vehicles, each parked illegally or left unattended. He has posted at least one photo a day since Aug. 18 and includes information such as the date and time of the incident and the vehicle's tag number.
Most of the photographs posted so far have been taken in the Ballston and Courthouse neighborhoods, where there has been a boom in construction and development in recent years. Davis's biggest gripe is that instead of creating more parking, the county puts its resources into ticketing those who cannot find a legal spot, he said.
"It takes me 30, 40 minutes sometimes to find a parking space," said Davis, adding that he has received a few tickets in the four years he has lived in Arlington. "I'm happy to pay my tickets, but then it's frustrating to see these cars parked illegally without the officials anywhere to be found."
Reaction to the site has been mixed. Davis said he gets 10 to 20 e-mails daily from residents with the same complaints. "Keep up the great work! I will be ready to catch future abuses on my handy camera phone and will send them your way," wrote one county resident.
"You're somewhat insane with this," a visitor wrote last week. "There's no reason that a parking agent shouldn't be able to double-park when he or she is actually writing a ticket, as at least two of your posts in the past two days have shown. And 'jack-booted thugs' is a bit much."
County officials have also taken issue with Davis's assertions.
"The author of that blog makes a lot of allegations that are not based on the facts," said John Lisle, an Arlington police spokesman. "In reality, the procedures employed by our parking enforcement staff are very similar to those used in neighboring jurisdictions. Also, as some readers have already pointed, there are legitimate reasons why public service aides operate their vehicles the way they do."
Lisle said the majority of the county's public service aides don't use vehicles while enforcing parking regulations. Most are assigned to areas with a high concentration of parking meters and are on foot, he said. He said aides are "instructed to use their discretion as to where to park and to park legally when space is readily available."
"When the [aides] are enforcing a parking regulation, there are times when they may double-park. However, when they do so, they are instructed to activate the amber warning lights on their vehicles to alert oncoming traffic," Lisle said. "The [aides] are authorized by Virginia law to use those lights, and they are usually double-parked for a very short time, with minimal disruption to the normal traffic flow."
According to the county's Web site, the parking enforcement unit employs 29 public service aides who are responsible for enforcing Arlington's parking laws, including ticketing and booting illegally parked cars. They also remove abandoned vehicles and perform other duties, such as directing traffic during special events.
Davis complains on his blog that the county's traffic unit, which is responsible for the "safe . . . flow of traffic in the county," has only 11 officers. His blog also criticizes the county for having its parking enforcement officials drive pickup trucks, "gas-guzzling" vehicles that he said no doubt cost residents a lot of money.
Lisle said parking enforcement aides use pickup trucks because they carry several vehicle boots with them on their rounds. In addition, the fleet of 10 vehicles assigned to the unit includes two hybrid cars, he said.
Lisle said that many of the vehicles posted on Davis's site are not parking enforcement vehicles and that officers will ticket county vehicles parked illegally.
"We have and will continue to ticket county vehicles that are not legally parked, and supervisors advise their employees to park in legal spaces when conducting routine business," Lisle said. "We do not look the other way when county vehicles are parked illegally."
Peter Owen, an Arlington resident who chairs the county's Transportation Commission, said he learned about Davis's blog last week. He spent some time looking at the photos and reading Davis's narration and said he appreciates that residents are taking an interest in what their government is doing.
"The blog is helpfully forcing us to be thoughtful about the way our government operates," Owen said. "The questions of the mechanics of how traffic enforcement should be undertaken are good ones.
"I'm interested in the discussions we're going to have about this," he said.