Out in the neighborhoods, they love it. In the handful of areas where the city's all-day commuter parking ban went into effect in 1976, residents talk about the program with beatific smiles and only a few reservations.
In Friendship Heights in Northwest Washington, in an area near Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and in the Pleasant Park and Gateway areas of Northeast, the parking ordinance, when vigorously enforced, has radically reduced the number of cars parked on the streets and reduced heavy rush hour traffic.
It has, residents said again and again, turned streets from parking lots back into pleasant residential neighborhoods. The program, upheld last week by a Superior Court judge, is scheduled to be expanded to Georgetown, Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom and other neighborhoods.
But to the success of the commuter parking ban must be added these qualifications:
The ordinance needs constant, vigorous enforcement to be effective, according to residents. Because Maryland and Virginia have not agreed to reciprocity with the District on parking tickets, some commuters are willing to disregard both the parking regulations and tickets for violating them. However, cars that accumulate four parking ticket warrants may be booted by police. In areas where that has been done, residents said, commuters regard the regulations with new seriousness.
While the program has been successful in limiting commuter parking, it is not yet clear whether it has reduced actual commuter traffic in the city, one of the long range objectives. In some areas, when commuter parking has been limited in one block, cars have simply moved to the next. Now, though, residents in blocks adjacent to areas where the restrictions are already in effect will be able to limit parking on their streets as well.
Less pleased with the ordinance than the residents, may be the commuters, although the ordinance does require that the parking limitations be imposed only in areas served adequately by public transportation.
Under the plan, parking on residential streets is limited to two hours between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, except for residents who are supplied with windshield stickers for their cars. The stickers cost $5 a year with the funds used to help defray costs of administering the program.
The program had gone into effect in only four neighborhoods before a court injunction halted expansion of the parking limitations for about a year.
"The difference in having permit parking has been unbelievable," said Sam McDermott, who lives in one of those neighborhoods, Friendship Heights. McDermott lives in the 4500 block of Garrison Street NW between Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues. The commuters who parked in her neighborhood worked at GEICO, across Western Avenue in Maryland, she said.
"Before, we had commuters who would literally come down the street bumper to bumper," she said. "It was like looking for a place to park in a suburban shopping center parking lot at Christmas."
Under the parking permit program, according to preliminary figures compiled by the city's department of transportation, the total number of cars parked in the Friendship Heights restricted area has dropped from 1,140 in 1975 to 501 during a 1977 survey. The study shows a 93 per cent increase in the number of unoccupied legal parking spaces.
"If residential neighborhoods are going to survive, here and in other cities, you're going to have to make the neighborhoods attractive," McDermott said. "People don't find living in a parking not attractive."
Some, but not all of the houses in the area have off-street parking, McDermott said. But commuter parking in the neighborhood represented more than just an inconvenience to those who wanted to park in front of their homes, she said.
"The commuters would come early to get a place and would breakfast in this cars, throwing the remains in yards. If a car found a place two inches smaller, the driver would hammer his way in. There were times during the summer when the air was so bad that we had to close the windows upstairs in the bedrooms because of the fumes," she said.
Lillie S. Williams, who lives in the 200 block of 62 Street NE in the Pleasant Park area, said the probelm there had been commuters from Seat Pleasant, Landover, District Heights and other Maryland suburbs, who drove to the neighborhood, parked their cars and caught express buses downtown.
Most of the homes in the area where the prohibitions went into effect relied on on-street parking, she said. Before the ban, the streets were clogged from early morning to late evening by commuters' cars. With the ban, "it's beautiful. I'm so glad to have it," Williams said.
Enforcement has been good, according to Williams. "The police go up and down all day." Still, she said, there are occasional illegal parkers. "We have some of them now. I guess they're not familiar with the area and don't notice the signs.
"I called to a couple of ladies last week, who had parked their cars. One said, "Shoot, I'm late. I'll just get a ticket,'" said Williams.
Edward Feggans, former president of the Gateway Civic Association, said that enforcement in that area has lapsed while the injunction has been in effect. The area, on the edge of the National Arboretum, filed for parking restrictions to deal with streets clogged with the cars of Metrobus drivers who work out of a nearby terminal.
"If residents complain, they'll come ticket a car. If not, they don't ticket," Feggans said of police enforcement. "At one time it cleaned up the street beautifully. You could come home at anytime and find a place to park," he said. "Once the commuters realized the laxity of enforcement, they started creeping back," Feggans said.
With Metro about to begin shuttle bus service from nearby Fort Lincoln to the Rhode Island subway stop, the neighborhood may face an increased problem with commuters, Feggans speculated. "The civic association meets with the fifth district police regularly. You can be sure we're going to ask that it be policed more regularly," he said of the parking ordinance.
In the area near Walter Reed where the prohibitions have been implemented, enforcement has been good and so have been results, said several residents. "The program has made an immese difference," said Susan Kincade, who lives in the 1300 block of Floral. "The fourth district police have been enforcing it daily. They have one officer assigned to do our area, and he goes around faithfully every morning and evening and tickets frequently," she said.
"Especially at 5 p.m. I really notice the difference," said Kathy Rinzel, who lives in the 7500 block of 12th Street. "Before, everybody was running their exhaust, and that was usually when my children were out playing. I didn't like it at all," she said.
"Now it looks like a neighborhood again instead of a parking lot," she said.
"I'm delighted," said Evelyn M. Wrin about the Superior Court action that allows the program to be expanded to other parts of the city. Wrin lives in the 1300 block of Holly Street NW, a block where the program was scheduled to go into operation when the injunction blocked further action.
"I hope the Supreme Court will pay attention to this ruling and to the Massachusetts case," she said. The Supreme Court has been asked to review a Virginia Supreme Court ruling striking down a similar parking ordinance in an Arlington neighborhood. A similar parking ordinace has been upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, however.
Life is better with the ban, said Wrin, who has ben active in the Parkin' Coalition, an organization that has supported the program and hired lawyers to help defend it. "People say they have their neighborhoods back again," she said.