Thursday, August 25, 2011

You down with RPP?

(Yes, we're all about the puns here. And perhaps the earthquake added to my naturally loopy nature.)

Readers, prepare yourselves for a Mrs. 14th & You rant. Having recently celebrated my eight-year Logan Circle anniversary, here are my long-marinating thoughts on our dysfunctional parking system.

Residential parking restrictions protect parking at times when it least needs protecting.
Residential parking restrictions presumably function to preserve parking for residents. In most neighborhoods (including ours), these restrictions exist only during the business day. During regular business hours, most employed DC residents have either left their cars parked near home or driven their cars to work. In neither case do residents need the protection that residential parking restrictions provide.

Yet, during times when floods of out-of-ward drivers do park on residential streets, there are no parking restrictions. The most frequent challenges are created by out-of-ward and out-of-state restaurant, bar, and club patrons. (I always kick myself for working late on Thursday and Friday nights only to end my day by fighting for parking.) Other challenges to residential parking, such as weekend shopping or religious services, also typically fall outside of the days and times when residential parking restrictions are in effect.

RPP is ward-based.
With my RPP I can park in any legal street space in Ward 2 for an unlimited length of time. Indeed, I have used residential parking in Georgetown, and I once left my car in Kalorama for a few days following a breakdown. Not only may residents of other Ward 2 neighborhoods dish it right back by parking in Logan Circle, Ward 1 residents can also park in much of Logan: Parking within a few blocks of the ward boundaries at S and 11th Streets NW is zoned for both 1 and 2 permit holders. Such flexibility in parking takes the “residential” out of RPP.

Evening enforcement is lacking.
In Logan Circle residential parking restrictions are in place until 8:30 p.m. on weeknights. A casual stroll around 14th or U Streets early on a Thursday or Friday evening will reveal plenty of Maryland and Virginia license plates as well asa lot of out-of-ward registration stickers on vehicles parked well before 6:30. And why not take the risk of parking illegally on a residential street? Presence of parking enforcement officers on residential streets is exceedingly rare after 8:30 p.m. Besides, if one is ticketed, the cost is not prohibitive; it’s comparable to two evenings of paid parking in one of the lots along 14th and U Streets. As well, with all sorts of lore about whether or not parking fines follow one across state lines, some out-of-state drivers feel free to ignore non-moving violations.

RPP creates hassles for residents.
Though evening enforcement may be rare, daytime parking enforcement is efficient. Though it is not very common, I do sometimes have weekday daytime guests who drive to my home. They range from out-of-state family members coming to visit to contractors making repairs to our apartment. In such instances, I hate having to think about parking on behalf on my guests. It’s particularly crummy when my husband or I are taking time from work to see friends or family. Are we really going to use this time to go the police station to get a visitor’s parking permit? No. Are we still going to be bummed out if our loved ones are fined? Yes. On one particularly memorable day, my mother drove from Woodbridge to care for me after a surgery. I wasn’t really feeling like accompanying her to the police station to get a parking permit, nor did I really want her to go home after two hours, but a $25 ticket also seemed like a bad option. We ended up just rolling the dice on that one.

[Edit: In an earlier draft I stated that one needed a valid vehicle registration in order to obtain a visitor permit. While cleaning up some gnarly HTML gone wrong, I double-checked that. My eyes had skipped the words "one of" prior the the list of documents accepted as proof of DC residency.]

Issuing RPPs creates an expectation of parking availability.
When one has paid extra money at the time of registration for the privilege of parking on residential streets near his home, it implies that one be able to park on those streets. This is particularly true since the entire purpose of RPPs is to “increase access to on-street parking for residents in their neighborhoods”. The RPP brochure available online states further:
Our neighborhoods are the city’s greatest asset. That is why we developed the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) to help protect them. In the mid-1970s citizens were concerned about the increasing number of out-of-state cars parked on residential streets. Residents could not park on their own block. Commuters were turning our neighborhoods into parking lots. I would argue that it’s no longer commuters turning neighborhoods into parking lots, but the residents themselves. I also imagine that many RPP holders have given up on the 1970s dream of guaranteed parking on their own block. (I have.)

I ran a quick test of parking availability on my block and the four contiguous blocks. I estimate that there are about 0.67 parking spaces per existing household.* The current rate of parking availability is probably about right, particularly considering the number of condos with off-street parking. Yet, with residential density increasing within a two-block radius, parking will likely get tighter, even if vehicle ownership rates decrease.I make this point because DDOT is working with Glover Park residents to ease parking congestion in their neighborhood. The blunt instrument that seems most favored by residents is increasing restrictions on out-of-neighborhood vehicles. As Glover Park households are quite affluent and probably more likely to have children than Logan Circle households, their rates of car ownership are probably higher than our neighborhood's. Yet, Glover Park does not enjoy the same level of access to CaBi and Metro as we do, so I don't foresee anyone dumping those cars anytime soon. I don't think this story has a happy ending.

It's time to create a new system.
If we're going to insist on keeping RPPs, then I wish that DDOT and the DMV would take steps the make it more likely that the residents with RPP stickers can get parking. We'd need to look the the hours that the restrictions are in place and at the ways we enforce the restrictions. If spaces are tight, maybe residents who own off-street parking wouldn't be issued RPP stickers for their vehicles or would be limited in the number of vehicles per household that could get an RPP sticker. If residents would rather not have such restrictions put on vehicle ownership or where they can park, then I'd argue we need to consider going the other direction -- eliminating RPP altogether. After all, for as little good as it does in keeping parking spaces available for the few of us who drive during the weekdays, it causes some headaches.

*Admittedly, this is a rough estimate: I measured the block lengths using Google maps, subtracted alley entrances, parking meters, hydrants, and the areas near intersections to obtain the parkable street lengths (using both sides of the street, of course). I then divided that distance by 13.5 feet, my estimate of an “average” parking space. To count the number of households, I consulted the real property database.

Friday, August 5, 2011

MPD enforcement priority: Dupont Circle jaywalking?

Snapped this photo this morning of an MPD officer writing jaywalking tickets to pedestrians crossing against the light at Dupont Circle and New Hampshire Ave. During the 45-or-so seconds I stood there, I witnessed the officer write no fewer than four tickets to unsuspecting jaywalkers. (Not to worry: this blogger escaped the wrath of the vigilant MPD officer by crossing legally.)

Periodically, it seems that MPD goes on a jaywalking ticket spree, posting officers at "high incident" intersections and generating some serious revenue for the city in the form of $20 tickets. But it does beg the question: is this part of a larger effort to clamp down on "minor" crimes like jaywalking throughout the city, or is this nothing more than a one-day spurt that will bring in a few thousand dollars to the city's coffers and annoy a number of pedestrians--most of whom will go right back to jaywalking on Monday morning, when the MPD officer is gone?

This isn't to completely excuse jaywalkers, but one does have to wonder what ends are being achieved by haphazardly ticketing a handful of pedestrians one or two days a year in a location where tens of thousands of people jaywalk every day? This episode also brought to mind the time several years ago when MPD officers started ticketing bicyclists who were riding the wrong way on New Hampshire Ave., just south of 16th Street. of course, we know how that ended.