The Washington Post

D.C. Council poised to halt ‘red-top’ parking meters

Disabled drivers don’t want to pay for street parking, and politicians are listening. (Michael Williamson/The Washington Post)

As noted here last week, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) is moving forward with an emergency bill that would preserve the status quo for disabled drivers.Currently, with a valid placard, they can park at any city meter gratis for twice the posted time limit.

The city transportation department moved last month to ax free parking for placard holders but started painting nearly one in 10 city meters with a red top, reserving those spaces for the disabled only. But Bowser said last week she heard major pushback from her constituents, and now she has D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown in her corner. He’s co-introducing the bill to be offered at tomorrow’s legislative meeting.

My colleague Tim Craig has surveyed a few other members. None he’s spoken to today wants to move full steam ahead with the red-top program as presently conceived. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) would scrap the whole thing; Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) would like to see further study and public outreach before any changes are made and would support an emergency bill providing for that.

Only three additional votes are needed to put the new meter regime on hold. But Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is standing by transportation director Terry Bellamy and his initiative, which reserves city spaces for the disabled for the first time.

”Although we understand that they want to be able to park for free — as, frankly, does everyone in D.C., disabled or not — the law doesn’t permit it,” said Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, who added that he is “confident” that the new system would “reasonably accommodate the legitimate needs of those with disabilities while cutting down on the rampant abuse and fraudulent use of parking placards.”

”If Council member Bowser wishes to change the law to authorize free parking for those with disabilities and has a plan to cut down on the abuse — and fraudulent use — of parking placards, we look forward to working with her,” Ribeiro said.

The transportation department has already spent an indeterminate amount implementing the new system. Already, 400 new red-topped meters costing $500 apiece have been placed on city streets, said spokesman John Lisle; an additional 1,100 meters are in the process of being painted red.

In other council business set to come up tomorrow, members will likely vote on a controversial spending package that has been the subject of much wrangling with Gray. Wilson Building aides said the matter is still under negotiation, but any deal will be all but certain to include about $300,000 to fund the Ward 5 special election scheduled for May 15 to replace Harry Thomas Jr., who resigned in January.

According to a draft agenda, the council will also take emergency votes on whether to extend the statute of limitations on wrongful death torts and finalize advisory neighborhood commission boundaries.

Also set for a vote is a bill that would empower a three-member commission — to include Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) and two mayoral appointees — to make plans and solicit donations for Emancipation Day celebrations on April 16, the holiday’s 150th anniversary. Orange is also seeking $500,000 in city funds for the festivities.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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