Photo by DennisSylvesterHurd on Flickr.

The District’s pilot program of visitor parking passes recently expanded to Ward 1 and the Howard Theatre area of Ward 6, but contrary to some recent press reports, it isn’t yet expanding the program citywide. DDOT is, however, currently studying what to do for the long term with visitor parking and other parking policy questions.

A few years ago, DDOT tried a pilot program where residents of a few wards, where on-street parking is generally plentiful, get permanent placards that let visitors park during the day in Resident Permit Parking (RPP) zones. The pilot has never become permanent, and DDOT officials have long said they want to study other long-term approaches before establishing a final program or taking it citywide.

Recent legislation expanded the program to Ward 1 (Columbia Heights, U Street, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant), and DDOT issued a rulemaking giving them the authority to set up some kind of citywide program.  “This authority is important,” said spokesman John Lisle, “as DDOT is initiating a comprehensive parking policy review.” The rulemaking led to some mistaken press reports which claimed the pass program was rolling out across the city. Lisle said, “Nothing has been decided at this time.”

Residents who want to weigh in on visitor parking, and other parking issues, can participate in DDOT’s policy review at 1 of 5 Parking Think Tanks or through an online survey.

Lisle noted that placards in DDOT’s pilot are one of many potential approaches to visitor parking. Some cities provide residents a book of day passes, half-day passes or hour passes to give to visitors.  Other jurisdictions provide placards that are good for 2 weeks or a month.  Sometimes, the passes and placards are free; sometimes only the first several are free; and sometimes each pass costs money.

In the District, all residents can currently get free 2-week visitor passes, one at a time without limit, from their local police station. In addition, residents of Wards 3, 4 and 5, along with portions of Wards 1 and 6, receive year-long visitor parking placards. 

This placard system has some pitfalls, especially in areas with higher parking demand. Giving many more privileges to park in crowded areas makes it harder for those already parking there to find spaces. Some people who get placards don’t need them for themselves, and may either give or surreptitiously sell them to commuters or other people who aren’t exactly visiting. DDOT officials monitor sites like Craigslist for placards for sale, but can’t stop more private transactions.

In the lower-density wards where the pilot started, this doesn’t harm existing parkers much and the black market demand for placards may be small, but in busier areas like Wards 1, 2 and 6, there is more incentive to abuse placards, with more deleterious effects. Meanwhile, places like Ward 2 have more bountiful garage parking and more plentiful transit, either of which commuters should use instead of parking on residential streets.

Clearly, the District needs a coherent citywide visitor parking program that will take into account the lessons of the placard pilot, as well as practices in other jurisdictions and, of course, public input.  Towards that end, earlier this year, DDOT hired its first parking manager, Angelo Rao, to guide the formulation of parking policies that meet the particular needs of DC and its many neighborhoods.

Just expanding the program isn’t the answer. In Ward 2 (downtown, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Dupont, Logan), commuters currently pay hundreds of dollars per month to park in garages near jobs. If DDOT made Ward 2 visitor placards widely available, this could lead to a black market for the Ward 2 visitor parking placards. A flood of visitors with free placards and commuters with illegally-purchased placards parking on Ward 2 streets would make it much harder for actual residents to park near their homes.

Give DDOT your parking ideas by attending one of the Think Tanks or filling out the survey. They have two Think Tanks scheduled in wards 7 and 8 on September 19 and 20, and promise to announce more soon in the northern and western portions of the District.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son.  Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.