My husband and I live on a lovely tree-lined street in Mt. Pleasant where, even though it's in the middle of Washington, we never have trouble finding a place to park. When zoned residential parking signs appeared unannounced across the street last summer, no one paid much attention.
It was a shock when, on two separate February mornings, with no official announcement, we emerged to find parking tickets dotting the windshields of cars parked on both sides of the street. My husband, Bill, called the Department of Public Works to protest. As he was instructed, he mailed the tickets, with letters of appeal, to the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication.
After Bill's second protest, an inspector appeared with the ticketing officer to "clarify" the situation. According to city maps, our block is actually two blocks. The south side on which we live -- the 1800s -- is considered a separate block from the 1900s north side of the street. It is the 1900 block that is now zoned for residential parking. Even the ticketing officer hadn't known the difference. As they left, the inspector took a ticket on my car, which I had received while parked on my side of the street, and crumpled it up.
Zoned residential parking on one side of a half-filled street is an illogical application of a policy meant to ensure parking for local residents. But it seemed unlikely that we'd get the city to take down the signs for the other side of the street, so we applied for parking permits instead. We were told that since we don't live on the zoned side of the street, we couldn't get permits.
Then, thinking we could beat this Catch-22, we applied for zoned residential parking on our side. But this tactic failed because the 1800 block was not 70 percent full during business hours -- the requirement for zoned parking.
"If you can prove to me that the 1900 block met all the zoning requirements, I will park only on my side of the street or around the corner from now on," Bill wrote to the bureau in March.
Later that month, we received documents showing that the 1900 block had barely passed. We were faced with a ludicrous situation: it was illegal for us to park on our own block.
What happened next gave us a real glimpse of the Department of Public Works in action. In April, we received notices that the illegal ticket on my car and Bill's two tickets, still under appeal, had doubled. The computer at the Bureau of Parking automatically doubles tickets when they're unpaid after two weeks, even if they're under appeal. We now owed $150.
Both of our tags were due to expire in July. With an assurance from the inspector who rescinded my ticket that it would be removed from the computer, I sent in my registration fee without the parking fine. On July 3, I received my registration form back in the mail. "Ticket not clear" was written on it.
Bill, meanwhile, had been informed that his appeals had been denied. He had paid his tickets and tag renewal fee at the beginning of June. Three weeks later, two days before his old tags expired, his registration form was returned, along with a warning that his car was about to be booted for nonpayment of tickets. His check had been misplaced during an interoffice move, said an agent.
Bill was on his way out the door to spend the morning of June 30 at the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services -- the thought of which depressed him even more than trying to communicate intelligently with the D.C. government -- when the agent called to say she had found his check and would immediately remove his tickets and penalties from the computer. He would still have to come down in person to register, though, since his registration form wouldn't get through the mail in time.
After waiting in line for an hour and a half, he was told: "You can't register. You still owe for parking tickets issued in February."
We've spent nearly 40 hours dealing with various bureaus of the Department of Public Works. We've written five letters and placed 16 phone calls.
Last spring, when there was another flurry of ticketing, a neighbor asked if we had noticed the ridiculous zoned parking signs across the street. We glanced at our cars -- parked safely in front of our house -- and half-smiled, secure in the knowledge that our city's streets are under the capable administration of the Department of Public Works.
-- Juliet Bruce