- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Notorious for its steely resolve to pick the pockets of motorists by enforcing iniquitous parking regulations, the D.C. government is facing a near-crisis situation for on-street parking. The question is whether the Fenty administration can and will meet the challenge to increase free parking opportunities for the city’s primary stakeholders — its taxpayers — while assuring that commuters and tourists don’t run away as demand rises and supply falls way short.

Mayor Adrian Fenty’s predecessor, Tony Williams, convened a parking task force that issued a report in 2003, and while that report based its conclusions on solid data (such as census and DMV numbers), much of that data is now outdated. Since that report, the city has become home to thousands of new residents and office workers, while some neighborhoods have lost large housing developments but gained new commercial and residential projects. Although Metro is a constant in the lives of many who move to and fro, residents and commuters still find themselves in constant competition for parking spots — even illegal ones.

As Jim McElhatton reported in Monday’s front-page article: “D.C. parking officers have been allowed to get away with flouting the laws they’re paid to enforce. Many officers have been leaving their private vehicles parked illegally in front of the city’s public works complex in Northeast… [N]one of them had tickets on the windshields.”

That’s a stark contrast to ordinary motorists, who, even on Sundays, risk having their windshield “pinked” by parking tickets. It was a setup from the very beginning of home rule.

Parking enforcement is one of the city’s most effective moneymakers, and the the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) is its most effective tax. Established in 1974, the RPP is a lopsided tax that betrays the original intent of the program, which was to take a swipe at federal and regional commuters by prohibiting them from hogging on-street parking spaces. What the parking-permit program has become is an annual $15 tax on residents who want to avail themselves of on-street parking on their own block.

Something’s got to give as the obvious growth around the city — from downtown to Woodridge and Center City to Takoma and Cleveland Park to Hillcrest — proves that, while the city continues to grow its residential and commercial tax bases, its overzealous parking enforcement and failure to produce more on- and off-street parking will eventually hurt the city’s bottomline.

Knee-jerk solutions would be to increase parking fines and taxes to build public parking lots or develop a more convoluted parking-permit grid that would eventually call for an increase in RPP and parking taxes. But those aren’t solutions at all. And the ubiquitous calls to “Ride Metro” or “Bike to Work” simply don’t work for 21st century motorists who “do” lunch and tea on K Street but don’t live near Metro.

With all the D.C. parking signs — both literal and figurative — pointing in different directions, one of the first problems to be tackled is the many agency chiefs — public works, motor vehicles and transportation — dipping into the parking/transportation coffers at the same time. It’s incumbent upon the Fenty administration (especially for former transportation chief now City Administrator Dan Tangherlini) to face those and other facts: Motorists want convenient parking. Carol Schwartz managed to get lawmakers to exempt themselves. Now’s the time to reciprocate.

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