- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

A plan to charge off-street prices for on-street parking spaces around a new shopping mall in Columbia Heights is paying off for the city, transportation officials and a D.C. Council member say.

“I’m having a positive reaction from residents, who finally are able to get a parking space,” said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “We’re watching it very closely. It’s the first time in the city system that it’s being done. … It’s a great neighborhood asset.”

The Performance Parking Pilot Zone Emergency Act of 2008, created in large part to address parking problems around the Washington Nationals stadium in Southeast, also targeted parking problems around the 540,000-square-foot retail complex DC USA and two other Ward 1 neighborhoods in Northwest.

In Columbia Heights, where the District’s first Target store opened last month as the anchor of the new shopping mall, new signs and meters are in place and traffic-control officers have been deployed to monitor the area.

With 1,200 new employees at the shopping mall and a constant flow of visitors, the parking program was meant to encourage more drivers to use the 1,000-space underground garage on Park Road.

“The main reason is the protection of the residential neighborhood parking areas. It’s hard to find parking for the residents in the neighborhood, so we enhanced the RPP [residential parking permit] zone, which is in conjunction with the performance-based parking,” said Karyn LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for the District Department of Transportation.

Under performance-based parking, officials try to adjust the prices of curbside meters to deter enough motorists from parking on the street so that some spaces always will be open.

“The performance-based parking allows for more turnover for the businesses while keeping people from feeding the meter,” Ms. LeBlanc said.

The meters, at $1 an hour, are the same price as the garage rate for the first four hours. The rest of the rules are more complicated.

For example, visitors are allowed to park in unmetered residential zones — but only for two hours. And residents with a $15, Zone 1 residential parking permit can park without paying at meters — but the parking privilege does not extend to all of the Zone 1 streets near the shopping mall.

Some visitors say the new regulations — and the dizzying array of signs attempting to explain them — are hard to understand.

“It’s confusing. … It doesn’t make any sense. I just hope I’m not getting a ticket,” said one woman, after parking her vehicle on Harvard Street last week and analyzing the array of parking signs.

One resident complained that extending the residential parking zone could restrict the number of spaces available to neighborhood guests.

“If it’s RPP everywhere, then there is not an opportunity for guest accessibility. … You don’t want it to be so restrictive that you can’t have friends over,” said Anne Theisen, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area.

Ms. Theisen said the garage option for guests just doesn’t cut it.

“It’s a little difficult to ask friends to pay four bucks a visit. It feels a little awkward and not so hospitable — I hadn’t heard of it as a viable alternative,” she said.

The legislation that authorized the performance-based parking plan also called for a guest-pass program for Mount Pleasant similar to one operating in Ward 4. Each household is eligible to receive a placard that guests can put on their dashboard allowing them to park in an RPP zone for more than the usual two hours.

The legislation also incorporated some relief for the Adams Morgan neighborhood, which often suffers late-night traffic congestion from taxis cruising 18th Street looking for customers. The legislation called for setting up a taxi stand from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

The performance parking pilot programs will conclude in two years, then the D.C. Council will decide whether to make it permanent, Mr. Graham said.

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