Photo by dipdewdog.

The Council’s twin bills to reserve one side of every residential block for residents only are well-intentioned, but overly simplistic solutions to the complex problem in DC’s Residential Permit Parking (RPP) system. How could we do better?

  1. Change higher RPP fees for more cars. The bills already contain one good element, which the Council should retain: they increase the fees for the second, third and subsequent cars each household registers in the RPP program. The current provisions make the first permit cost $15, as today, but then charge $50 per year for the second and $100 per year for the third and additional permits. Why not go a little further? Let’s make the first sticker per household completely free. $15 is already almost free, low enough that few people seriously consider whether to get an RPP sticker when registering a car. Some lower-income households do say that this is a burden. A charge of zero for the first permit, $50 for the second, and $100 for the third would bring in about the same amount of revenue as today. This system does contain some complications. Does a townhouse divided into four apartments count as four households, each entitled to one permit at $15 or zero? What about a group home with four bedrooms, each rented out separately but not classified as separate units in the tax records? What about basement apartments, some of which are official and some aren’t?
  2. Expand the Daytime Parking Pass program. As Jack McKay explained, the DPP program is a good solution to allow employees of local businesses to park in a neighborhood. The proposed cost is only about the same as the cost of commuting by bus. We should expand this system to the neighborhoods affected by this bill.
  3. Meter more spaces, and let businesses use the revenue. If store and restaurant patrons can’t use half the spaces in any neighborhood, even during daytime hours when demand is low, then we need to manage the remaining spaces better to increase turnover and ensure some available spaces. A shopper wouldn’t care if there were fewer spaces as long as they could get one of them. With meters, they could. If residents have one side of the street for themselves, plus free parking on the other side, visitors have guest passes, and employees can get daytime parking passes, then the only remaining people who need parking are patrons of businesses. Therefore, let’s allow the businesses to set up performance parking on their own. Let any official BID or Main Streets organization buy their own meters and place them on blocks in their territory. Residents with a sticker for the appropriate zone could park at those meters for free, as could anyone with a visitor or daytime parking pass. Everyone else would pay, and the BID or Main Streets group would get the money directly. They could spend that money to clean up the streets, install new trash cans, or fund DDOT programs like street resurfacing or new streetlights. Petrons of those businesses would be the ones paying, and so the revenue should go to the businesses to offset any deterrence effect of having meters. If a BID doesn’t want to do it, they don’t have to. The non-resident-only side of every block can stay free, and most likely overcrowded. Patrons of their businesses can park for free if they’re willing to circle for a while. Or, they can let everyone get a space fairly quickly by paying. Or, a neighborhood could have a mixture of the two. The local business association knows the occupancy level better than DDOT, and could adjust meter rates without having to wait months or years for studies. Most of all, we could manage parking while ensuring, as much as possible, that it doesn’t hurt businesses.
  4. Allow neighborhoods to choose smaller RPP zones. DC initially instituted the RPP system during Metro’s construction, to prevent people from driving in and parking next to Metro stations. However, this still happens in some of DC’s larger wards, like Ward 3, where some people from the edge of the District drive and park for free in Woodley Park or Cleveland Park. The purpose of the program was never to give some people, like Georgetown residents, special privileges to park in Logan Circle near their jobs just because they happen to be in the same ward. Some neighborhoods would oppose changing this system. Therefore, let’s allow each ANC to decide to opt out of full-ward RPP zoning. If ANC 1B (U Street) chooses, they could vote to change their zone from 1 to 1B. All car owners registered in 1B would switch from Zone 1 to Zone 1B, and all RPP blocks in 1B would become 1B-only.
  5. Extend RPP hours. Most RPP zones restrict parking until 6 or 8 pm. That was great for the original purpose of stopping commuters, but doesn’t deal with the shoppers who come to a neighborhood at night. Councilmember Wells’ bill contains a provision that if 51% of the households on a block petition, they can extend RPP to a later time, up to midnight. In addition, they should be able to extend it to apply on weekends as well. I’d also suggest that the ANC, rather than a 51% petition, make the decision. Parking on each block doesn’t only affect the residents on that block, as people frequently park one or two blocks away. An ANC single-member representative would effectively balance these needs, and ANCs as a whole could consider the needs of one representative against the rest of the neighborhood, usually deferring to the local representative as they typically do.

What do you think of these options? What else would improve DC’s residential permit parking system?

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David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.