The D.C. streetcar line is still months from carrying its first passengers down H Street, but the city’s parking authority hasn’t held back when issuing tickets to those who get in its way.
The Department of Public Works began ticketing vehicles parked in the streetcar’s path when testing of the system began in July. Officials say from July 24 through Aug. 21, parking enforcement officers have written 143 tickets — at $100 a pop — for parking in a manner that obstructed the streetcar. Another eight vehicles have been towed for blocking the 2.4 mile route, which runs from Union Station to the Anacostia River.
Warning notices were issued for two weeks before parking enforcement officers began writing the $100 tickets, D.C. Department of Transportation spokesman Reggie Sanders said. By comparison, new speed cameras operated by the Metropolitan Police Department issue warning notices for one month prior to the issuance of real fines.
Mr. Sanders said ticketing during the testing phase is necessary in order to get motorists used to sharing the road with the bright red streetcars before they begin carrying passengers, hopefully before the end of the year.
“We sort of have to get people used to the streetcar being out there,” Mr. Sanders said. “It’s a tight space already and we have to have people park consistently within the white lines.”
Streetcar track laid in the right-hand lanes of H Street in Northeast allows for vehicles to pass on the left and to park on the right, with the width of parking spots defined by a strip of white paint. But parking is a tight squeeze. If a car hangs over the white line just a hair, it will bring the entire streetcar system to a halt, Mr. Sanders said.
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On Monday morning, the bevy of barriers that the streetcar operators face was on full display.
A tow truck roared ahead of one streetcar and circled the block as its driver scanned for any cars jutting out over the white lines.
The tow truck came to a stop behind a U.S. Postal Service vehicle, which idled on the streetcar track while mail carrier Charles Webb collected envelopes from the mailbox at 5th and H Streets.
“Usually they wait for me to pass,” said Mr. Webb, hurrying to collect the mail so he could move on and get his truck out of the way.
Mr. Webb said he tried to be courteous about staying out off the track and noted he hasn’t been issued any tickets.
Moving down the track to the next obstacle, a produce delivery truck was parked snugly along the curb leaving mere inches for the streetcar to pass. Though the truck’s passenger-side tires pinched the curb, the driver’s side wheels sat atop the white striping. The passing streetcar had to slow to a crawl so the operator could gauge whether his shiny trolley would fit. It eventually did, only after the operator stopped and folded in a side mirror so it wouldn’t ding the truck.
Bystanders paused to watch the spectacle, remarking on the close call and wondering aloud how efficient the new mode of transportation will be once it begins carrying passengers.
Darryl Pounds, whose construction company office is on the block, believes the streetcar is partly responsible for the surge of development the corridor has seen over the last several years.
“I think it’s going to be a positive. They are going to be good for the neighborhood,” he said.
But he said it has also created new headaches for motorists trying to navigate the area or for businesses who want spots for their employees or customers to park.
“I won’t park on this street,” Mr. Pounds said.
Marcus May, a contractor with an office on the block, also weighs in. He said he advises his own clients to “take the Metro and go to Union Station and walk from there” in order to avoid the parking drama altogether.
A little while later, the tow truck driver took a break up the street. He said that while he may patrol the block like a hawk, he doesn’t write very many tickets.
“I tell them to move on,” said the man, who declined to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak with a reporter.
The ticketing seems to have fallen off since enforcement first began, said John B. Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic, noting that he hasn’t received the volume of complaints from motorists recently that he did at the outset.
Mr. Sanders said the aggressive ticketing and enforcement has meant that drivers quickly became familiar with the regulations and are more frequently complying with the law.
For now, streetcars are only hitting the track during the day for testing. But Mr. Sanders said ticketing is “ongoing and will be ongoing forever.”