In 1975 before coming to Washington from Texas, Bruce Broberg bought "one of those small, popular pick-up trucks, a Ford Courier . . . like the Chevrolet Luv." It had a camper on back but Broberg took it off because he thought it unsafe.
In the District, however, pick-up trucks without campers and vans without windows all around are considered commercial vehicles and cannot get permits to park more than two hours in any of the city's 11 new residential parking zones, which now include Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill.
Broberg, who works for a railroad agency and lives in a townhouse at 218 4th St. SE, says that, although he's never used his pick-up truck for commercial purposes, "I was given commercial tags and now I can't get a parking permit. I've simply been written out of my neighborhood . . . There's almost no off-street parking or parking lots on Capitol Hill and except for one half-block on Pennsylvania Avenue I can't park anywhere near my home."
Actually, Washington has had a law for years prohibiting the parking of commercial vehicles - including small trucks and vans - in residential zones at any time, unless the owner is doing work in the neighborhood. City officials say it has not seriously been enforced recently because of the increased popularity of vans and small trucks.
The new permit system, begun in some Washington neighborhoods last year, and extended to Capitol Hill, Georgetown and other intown residential areas earlier this month, "has brought this issue to the surface," said Noel Dawson, chief of the city's motor vehicle control division.
Broberg could solve his truck problem by moving to Virginia, where all vehicles weighing less than 7,500 pounds are registered as passenger cars, even if they are used for business; or to a Maryland suburb, where all trucks are deemed commercial vehicles but there are no parking bans. But, he says, "I don't want to move. I like it here. I like the neighborhood. But I do have to be able to park my car . . . truck."
Broberg has called several District City Council members, city department of transportation officials, the corporation counsel's office and many other city officials - "I want you to know I've been trying to work within the system," he said. He was told there are lots of van and pick-up truck owners in the same predicament, although nobody knows how many, and that the Council is now considering amendments to the law. "But none could go into effect before next spring, I was told."
Greg Swartz, legislative assistant to Councilman Jerry Moore's committee on transportation and the environment, said the committee hopes to consider changes in the law this week or next, but that pick-up trucks pose a problem he's not sure the city can solve.
"Vans, if they're used as passenger and not commercial vehicles, will be able to get a permit under the pending legislation," Swartz said, because vans with windows, seats or even beds are easy to identify as passenger vehicles. How to distinguish among open pick-up trucks "is not thought through yet . . . . We may go to affidavits from owners that they won't be used for commercial purposes, but we're also considering length or weight of a truck, like Virginia's system," Swartz said.
The District already "is trying to be as liberal as possible about vans and small trucks," said Dawson, by classifying pick-ups with permanent campers as passenger cars, as well as vans with "windows all around, seats, beds, bunks, tables and things like that."
Dawson said the city had one kind of affidavit system in the 1960s but dropped it as unworkable. "We had stamps showing trucks were for personal use only, but it gave police a problem giving parking tickets for one truck and not another just like it."
Maryland state motor vehicle officials said that Baltimore is probably the only jurisdiction in the state that prohibits trucks parking for more than four hours in residential neighborhoods. Trucks in Maryland are deemed trucks whether they have campers on them or not and vans are considered trucks unless they have windows all around; inside arrangement are considered irrelevant.
The kind of license plate given vans and small trucks affects where they can be driven as well as where they can park, since some states and cities prohibit trucks or commercial vehicles from certain parks and parkways.
Commercial trucks are prohibited from Washington's downtown Mall area as well as the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Baltimore Washington Parkway, except for those with special permits or on park business. Because of the increased use of vans and pick-up trucks as family vehicles, however, the U.S. Park Police now interpret the law to allow empty vans and small trucks or those transporting people on the parkways, said Park Police Inspector James C. Lindsay, "since they are commuting or touring and that's what our parkways are for."