If you'd like to bump your blood pressure to a superhuman high, try to find a place to park on Capitol Hill. It doesn't matter what time it is or what day it is. Parking on the Hill is Mission Impossible.
On a good day, you'll find a space eight blocks from where you want to be -- and it'll take you 10 minutes to shoehorn your way into it. On a bad day, you'll be like Charlie on the MTA -- circling the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress as your youth fades into distant memory (along with any chance to make your appointment on time).
Capitol Hill Parking Blight is that rare Washington commodity. It affects everyone, regardless of name, rank or serial number. And lately, around Fifth and A Streets NE, it has begun to affect City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large).
Kane lives near that corner, and parks at that corner. Her neighbors have always been glad about the former. Lately, though, they're becoming unhappy about the latter.
Residents of the neighborhood have been calling me for weeks to complain that Kane always parks her car between the last legal space and the corner -- and that the D.C. cops never give her a ticket. Kane's car is easy to spot, of course. It carries CITY COUNCIL tags. Her neighbors say those plates might as well read COPS: HANDS OFF.
To her credit, Kane does not deny breaking the law. "Parking around there is tight for everyone," she said. "Anyone who comes home late at night has difficulty parking. If I have to, I will park like this. Once in a while, I guess everyone has to park that way."
However, Kane says she gets tickets regularly. "I just got a ticket the other day," she said. "I get tickets all the time, and I pay for them." Asked if she parks illegally all the time, Kane said, "Heavens, no. I couldn't afford it."
It's hard to blame Kane (or anyone else) for placing convenience ahead of the letter of the law, especially when it comes to parking on the Hill. When you've had a 16-hour day, as Kane often does, who wants to make it 16 1/2 by hunting for a legal space?
But Kane seems to be treating her tickets as if they're rent, not as if they're a penalty. Of all people, a public official should realize that it's illegal to park too close to the corner because it's dangerous to do so.
Emergency vehicles need that room to turn. Pedestrians of all ages and sizes need a clear view of oncoming traffic. Keeping the corner clear at all times is basic safety.
And getting a ticket is more than bad luck. It's a message that you've done something you shouldn't do again. Next time she's paying a ticket, Betty Ann Kane ought to think as hard about that as she thinks about being minus $10.