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.


Anonymous said...


Seriously though, if you could get these reforms past the business associations and churches, you would be an urban zoning saint.

Luis Gomez said...

Great post Ben!

14th & You said...

Who you calling Ben, Luis? The Missus blogs again!

Matty said...

You nailed it.

Lance said...

I remember once making the same point you have about the hours being all wrong with the RPP because there wasn't a problem during the daytime ... And that maybe we should consider reversing the hours. It was pointed out to me that there wasn't a problem during the day because the RPP regs had been successful in keeping out all the out of state and out of ward cars previously using the downtown areas as free parking. (RPPs started with Georgetown and originally only were in downtown neighborhoods). Based on that thought, I'd suggest that what we need to do is make them 24 hrs ... if the objective is to make curbside parking available for residents.

Anonymous said...

What we really need is dedicated spots that are only for residents? For example, we could make 50% of the parking in Logan only for Zone 2 permits and increase the fines if you are caught parking in one of these spots without a permit. Enforcement really needs to be 24 hrs.

Finding a spot within a 10 min walk of my house in Dupont is next to impossible Fri or Sat after 4 PM.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. what if one side of EVERY street were always ONLY for RPP holders, and the other side had the two-hour restriction which ran until 10:30 pm. That way those of us sometimes working late on those nights where there's a show at the Black Cat (I always say to myself that I'm going to post their schedule on my fridge so I know not to come home late those days) will know there's a better chance of a spot.

Anonymous said...

Seems like pretty parochial and small-fry issue to me. Parking hassles are part and parcel with city living, especially in desirable neighborhoods like yours. I have the very same issues in my neighborhood (14th and U), but I would prefer my elected leaders to focus on other things. In fact, parking headaches can be a good catalyst for folks to ditch their cars in favor of mass transit and car sharing, etc.

Steve said...

You can have your RPP hours extended as late as you want. Just get a petition from DDOT and have the majority of neighbors on your block sign it.

Also, there is ERPP coming to ANC 1B if they approve it. This would dedicate half of each block to resident-only parking 24-7.

Two other ways to reduce parking pressures are to improve signage that directs visitors to the paid parking in the neighborhood and to ask DDOT to limit the amount of curbside parking they give away to contractors with the Emergency No Parking permit system.

Otherwise, you can petition local condo buildings to rent you a space.

Alex said...

I agree many part of Capitol HIll especially near 8th st one side of the street is dedicated for people with that neighborhoods RPP at all times. If they can do it there why cant they do it for us?

Alex said...

I tend to agree with Anonymous (1:26pm) - when you live in a neighborhood like Logan, you signed up for this, and you're lucky that so many people around you actually DON'T have cars, because it would be a lot worse if they did. With every place one chooses to live, there comes some sort of sacrifice. If you want guarenteed parking, you have to pay extra to get an off-street spot, or pay extra to get a house with a driveway, or worse yet, sacrifice your commuting time and get a suburban house with a nice spacious driveway and two-car garage. Your sacrifice happens to be lack of parking during some nights and weekends, but you're incredibly convenient to dining options, entertainment and nightlife, jobs, etc.

I certainly empathize with your frustration, as I live in an area near a metro station which tends to fill up during the day with people from my ward who don't live within walking distance to the metro stations within the ward, or are just too lazy to walk. Admitedly it's not as bad as you experience over in Logan, however, I accept this as something that comes with the territory of living in a big city with limited parking options. I understand that I can't always park directly in front of my house or on my block, even though that would be ideal.

The only thing I'd like to change is the ability to "check out" multiple guest passes at a time, so we don't have to go to the police station every time...but I suppose that could easily be abused.

Henry on Swann said...

Get over it already. I have traveled 1/2 way around the world and urban areas have parking issues. They all are the same. Areas with night life always have the same issue. For urban dwellers you deal with it or get rid of your car or rent a space if parking is that precious to you.

Your attitude towards "out of DC license plates" is neanderthalic! Come on, DC is an island city that caters, serves and employes its metropolitan neighbors. Businesses day and night exist based on this reality as does our government.

I have about had it with complaints about parking. Entire idiot neighborhood groups have rallied to stop all progress it its tracks over "what to do with their 3,000 lbs of carbon eating steal". These people should just leave the city if they are so set on basing all of their neighborhood decisions on their precious little parking privileges.

You know exactly what these idiots will do, they will eventually have governments charging everyone, residents included, outrageous fees to park their car anywhere.

Then the same groups will be all wining again and reminiscing about the "good old days" when parking for residents was free and all you had to do was fight for a spot from time to time...

Just leave it already!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Can we start a movement to change this system??

Renee said...

Like it or not, 14th and U streets would not be what they are today without out-of-state and other ward patrons. Some already people completely refuse to come to the area on the weekends because of the parking situation. If you further restrict parking, it will have a direct impact on local businesses and future growth.

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convexhull said...

Urban liberals want everyone * else * to give up their cars. Move to a less desirable place and I'm sure you'll have no problem with parking. Then you can call the blog "14th and You, SE"

I personally would love to see a multi-level parking garage in the hood (with first floor retail space). Knock down the Mission at 14th and R or the public housing on R st, which would serve two purposes: (1) reduce parking hassles and (2) eliminate some of the riff-raff from the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Steve mentioned renting spaces from local condo bldgs. In our W.1neighborhood the residents of the local condo bldgs are the problem. The condo bldgs have parking spaces for their residents & some refuse to pay and take up space from homeowners who have no recourse. Or do we have recourse? Can the fee for condo residents be automatically included in their rent/mortage so they will use their garages and free up street space for residents who have no garages or backyard parking?

Anonymous said...

What the hell happened to this blog? Were the 14th and U's kidnapped? Call the FBI!

You know a parking garage like the really nicely designed one in South Beach isn't such a bad idea. There is also parking in the Reeves center. Maybe an underground pkg garage would be better like under the 14th and U project slated to break ground. It will never happen though.