The City Hall Notebook column in today's District Weekly, which is printed in advance, incorrectly describes mayoral candidate Patricia Roberts Harris' position on no-fault insurance. An aide to Harris said she favors legislation that would require city motorists to have no-fault insurance.
In the past few months, the raging siren and flashing red light stopping traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue SE has become a familiar sound as Mayor Marion Barry, in his chauffeur-driven limousine, clears a lane so he can speed downtown.
"I don't like to use it, but I've got to," explained Barry, who said he uses the siren two to three mornings a week. "I'd quit it if it wasn't for our schedule. The schedule is suicidal. Everyone wants the mayor to come to their event . . . we've invitations to everything and I have to say yes even when I want to say no."
Barry said he uses the siren because traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue is regularly backed up in the morning. But when the mayor's chauffeur turns the siren on, it further jams traffic on the part of Pennsylvania Avenue that leads to the Southeast Freeway.
Former mayor Walter Washington used the siren and flashing light only once in a nonemergency situation--to get out of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium after a Redskins football game. The next day, the media reported the unfavorable comments from people left in the trail of Washington's siren. Washington did not use his official privilege again.
No-fault insurance and traffic snarls have become issues in the city's mayoral campaign recently. Motorists are concerned about candidates' positions on a bill before the City Council that would require drivers to have "no-fault" liability insurance. Council members John Ray (D-At-large) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) are against no-fault insurance. Incumbent Barry said he was inclined to support no-fault. Council member Betty Ann Kane is a strong supporter of the council's bill. Patricia Roberts Harris, the former Carter cabinet secretary, said she is for mandatory insurance for all city drivers but she has yet to take a position on no-fault insurance.
But insurance is not the only campaign issue of driving concern.
When Kane spoke at the D.C. Area Truckers Association and the National Capital Transportation Federation, she said potholes, bridges in need of repairs and badly timed traffic lights were costing companies money. She charged that the city has been putting most of its transportion funds into Metro subway transit, and that the city needed to invest more funds in repairing the streets.
Jarvis said residents along 16th Street have complained bitterly to her that their street has become a "freeway" since the city's Department of Transportation changed 13th Street from a major commuter traffic corridor to a residential street.
Jarvis said that residents of her ward also are upset about the left-turn lanes that the transportation department has installed in the middle lane of upper 16th Street. That portion of 16th Street NW is scheduled to be rebuilt in November. The construction, according to DOT Director Tom M. Downs, will take two years and limit 16th Street to only two lanes in the direction of rush-hour traffic and one lane the other way.
Ray said his office constantly receives complaints about Reno Road NW. Last week 200 residents in the Reno Road area attended a public hearing about the proposed road changes at Wilson High School.
Currently, Reno Road has two lanes outbound and one lane heading downtown. Previously, the middle lane changed direction--inbound in the morning rush hour and outbound at night. Ray said that residents of sidestreets off Reno Road complain of an increase in traffic since the lane change. A final decision on the street will be made in two months.
"People who live on a street view it as an extension of their front yard," said Downs. "The people who drive the road to work or to the grocery store view it as their street. It becomes a battle to the death of perceived property rights. Reno Road is the most controversial and emotional issue I've seen since I've been here."
But while there are specific complaints about specific streets, there are also general complaints. Edward Darden of First Street NW writes to a reporter: "As a motorist and automobile owner, I am frequently annoyed by the seeming war against automobiles waged by the D.C. Department of Transportation. . . . Where does the money from parking fines, towing, registration fees, etc. go? How does the motorist benefit?"
The city is enforcing parking rules more strenuously. In the past five years it has hired a staff of 55 to write parking tickets, increased the cost of parking on meters and installed additional meters. For example, in 1978, the city collected $2.8 million in parking meter fees but in 1981 the total was up to $6.3 million. The money goes into the city's general fund, and not to the Department of Transportation's treasury.
"While the parking program is often criticized as a revenue generator," said Downs, "I try to remind everyone of the double-parking and the triple-parking we had here a few years ago. We don't have that anymore."