If finding a legal parking spot on the street in the District feels like an impossible task, consider this statistic: There are 175,000 more vehicles than on-street spaces in the city on a given day.
So it's no wonder that city transportation officials say that during peak hours, 30 percent of city traffic consists of drivers circling the block hunting for a spot.
At a D.C. Council hearing yesterday, transportation officials suggested a range of ideas to help ease the crunch, including higher meter and residential parking fees, metered loading zones and charges for guest parking passes in neighborhoods. Another idea was to make nonresidents pay for on-street parking in residential areas by installing multi-space meters like the ones recently put up in Georgetown.
Among council members and witnesses, the only consensus was that the city's parking system is broken and unable to accommodate the building boom going on in many of the city's crowded neighborhoods, such as Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan and the area around U Street NW.
D.C. Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini said the proposed increases in parking fees would encourage parking-space turnover. He said current meter rates are so low that they entice people to drive to congested areas.
"Low meter rates have unintended consequences, such as encouraging some people to feed meters, decreasing turnover, while encouraging others to drive around searching for those low-priced parking spaces even when they are all occupied, thereby exacerbating congestion," Tangherlini said. He added that incentives should be weighted toward encouraging transit use, carpooling and car-sharing.
Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), chairman of the panel, said that she lies awake at night thinking about ways to ease parking pain and that she was open to any and all ideas. "Parking is the bane of our residents' existence," she said.
Schwartz has introduced several parking-related bills this year, including one that would allow residents to park 25 feet from intersections, instead of the current limit of 40 feet. That could free up as many as four spaces per city block. She also has proposed extending a moratorium on tickets for overnight parking in loading zones and building entrances, letting it run from 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. The current moratorium begins at 10 p.m.
Tangherlini said he was concerned that allowing parking 25 feet from an intersection would reduce sightlines and have safety implications.
Schwartz said she would also consider ideas brought up yesterday by members of the public, including allowing residents to park on the street in front of their own driveways.
Another suggestion was to create smaller residential parking permit zones. Currently, the zones are the city's eight political wards.
Transportation officials are experimenting with parking rules customized for individual neighborhoods.
Around Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, residential parking rules have been enforced during Nationals games. Around MCI Center and in Georgetown, some meters are in operation from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. On certain blocks surrounding the Washington Convention Center, residential parking permit rules are in effect 24 hours a day. And some residents of some blocks in Georgetown and Adams Morgan have successfully petitioned to extend residential parking permit hours to 8:30 p.m. or even midnight, said Douglas E. Noble, associate director of the D.C. Department of Transportation.
Alan J. Roth, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, said the residential parking permit program needs to be overhauled. The permits allow residents to park on neighborhood streets during the day -- when there are often plenty of empty spaces -- but end in the evening, when spaces are scarcest and often taken up by suburban visitors. But he added that the current two-hour parking limit should be extended to three hours, to allow for a relaxed meal at a neighborhood restaurant.