The scene was upper Connecticut Avenue, where apartment houses abound and parking spaces don't.

Mrs. Bennett Barnes of Charlottesville was visiting her mother, who lives up near Nebraska Avenue. There is no such thing as a residential parking program in Charlottesville, because there doesn't need to be. Down in that delightful Virginia town, suburban commuters wouldn't dream of swiping all the available spaces by 6:30 in the morning and keeping them until 6:30 at night.

But here, given half a chance, suburbanites used to, and suburbanites would again. So a few years ago, the D.C. government designated residential parking zones in neighborhoods where residents were having trouble finding spaces. The zones are marked with red-and-white signs, which say two-hour parking only.

But here's what the signs don't say:

They don't explain that, by Department of Transportation policy, "two-hour parking" means a limit of two hours anywhere within that residential zone, not just in one particular space. That's to guard against "space jumpers"--those cynical souls who would otherwise move their cars a few inches every hour and 59 minutes just to avoid a ticket.

Nor do the signs explain that non-residents can obtain a free temporary parking permit from any police station. The permit exempts you from the two-hour limit.

Mrs. Barnes fell afoul of both omissions. She didn't obtain a temporary permit because she didn't know she could or should. And after a little less than two hours, she moved her car to another space less than a block away--only to be given a ticket a few minutes later.

"I have paid my ten dollar fine," Mrs. Barnes writes, "but the whole thing seems to have an immature speed-trap mentality about it. There is no way I could have known" about either aspect of the rules, she pointed out, since the signs didn't explain them.

DOT director Thomas Downs said that his officers are especially alert to "space jumping" within a zone because that's the most frequent way in which the residential parking system is abused.

However, he acknowledged that not every "space jumper" has malice in mind. That is a "rebuttable presumption," Downs said--which sounds to these ears like District governmentese for: "If you had fought the ticket, Mrs. Barnes, you probably could have beaten it."

Even so, there would never have been an issue, or a ticket, if those red-and-white signs explained that "space jumping" within a zone is illegal, and that temporary permits are easily available.

How about breaking out the paint, DOT?