The D.C. Council is temporarily halting the District’s new red top meter program, a setback for Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s (D) effort to reserve more city meters for disabled drivers.
Under emergency legislation approved by the council, the Department of Transportation was directed to stop erecting the red meters and writing $250 tickets to non-disabled motorists who park at one. Motorists with disabled-parking placards will continue to be able to park at any city meter for free for up to double the maximum time, council members said.
The council will revisit the issue in 90 days after the Gray administration submits a detailed report on the new meters.
“This whole thing was difficult to understand, and we were not prepared,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who oversees transportation issues for the council. “There was not enough input. This legislation will say, as of now, ‘Don’t do anything else until we have a chance to evaluate.’ ”
Attorneys for the administration were reviewing the legislation Tuesday and could not immediately say whether the city would adhere to the council request that it stop issuing tickets to non-disabled motorists who park at a red meter. But the legislation represented a rare public rebuke of how the Department of Transportation under Gray has managed traffic and sought new policies designed to get more people out of cars.
Despite public praise for initiatives such as Capital Bikeshare and a new streetcar system, the agency has run into stiff opposition from some council members who fear that the city has become too aggressive in writing parking tickets.
Although many support the overall objectives of the red meters, several council members said they feared that the administration was pushing for too much change too quickly.
Under prior rules, disabled drivers could park at any meter in the city for free for up to double the maximum time. But the free parking has led to a proliferation of fraudulent disabled placards used by commuters who evade daily parking fees, according to city leaders. A DDOT study said that 91 percent of the parking spaces in the 300 block of L’Enfant Plaza are routinely occupied by drivers with disabled placards.
Under the new program, disabled motorists would have to pay for parking, even at the red meters.
Many activists for the disabled have protested the change, arguing that it is unfair to make disabled motorists pay for parking, particularly those who are unable to reach meters from their wheelchairs.
Council member Jack B. Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents downtown and Georgetown, said some business owners are concerned that the city is taking away too much parking from non-disabled motorists. Last year, the District collected a record $92 million in parking fines.
City plans call for about 9 percent of the city’s 17,000 parking meters to be converted to the red meters, dozens of which are already in place downtown. In the 800 block of 12th Street NW, four of nine meters are now red.
“We need an analysis not only of reserved parking but of what’s going to be available for other uses,” said council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who sponsored the emergency legislation. “This represents a significant policy change that hasn’t been adequately debated by this council, and it amounts to a fee.”
Administration officials counter that the city is trying to abide by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, recommends that one in eight parking spaces “be van-accessible.”
In other news, the council dealt a setback to the city’s medical marijuana program when it agreed to prohibit cultivation centers from opening in high-profile commercial corridors. Under the medical marijuana law approved by the council in 2010, the city will license as many as 10 cultivation centers where marijuana can be grown and five dispensaries where it can be sold.
After a dispensary announced plans to open near Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE in Fort Dupont, council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) sought to block it by proposing the new restrictions.
The legislation bans dispensaries from “high-priority retail areas,” including parts of the Minnesota Avenue corridor, Georgia Avenue in parts of Petworth and Shaw, H Street in Northeast Washington and Pennsylvania Avenue, Martin Luther King Avenue and South Capitol Street in Southeast Washington.
Dispensaries and cultivation centers were already prohibited from opening in residential areas or within 300 feet of a school or recreational center.
“In Ward 7, we want to attract additional, well-deserved development,” said Alexander, noting that the city will help the applicant for the Fort Dupont dispensary find a new location. “The community desires something more appropriate, such as family-oriented restaurants . . . outdoor cafes . . . gyms.”
Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) opposed the emergency legislation, arguing that it could severely curtail efforts to launch the city’s medical marijuana program.
“It’s just really growing plants,” said Mendelson, who questioned how a well-secured cultivation center would hamper economic development.