Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

In neighborhoods with streets restricted to resident-only parking, how can visitors and household workers park when they need to? The Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2F) recently endorsed giving residents a “coupon book” of passes to give visitors.

This is the best solution for areas of DC where parking is tight. Logan Circle joined the growing number of neighborhoods where one side of every street is reserved for residents only. This makes parking much more available for residents, possibly at the expense of local businesses and houses of worship.

But this arrangement also creates its own problem: if a family member is visiting by car, or a home health worker needs to drive in to care for a resident, what do they do?

In some other neighborhoods, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) mailed out placards, one per household, which the resident can give to the visitor to display on the dashboard. But for neighborhoods like Logan Circle, this would represent an enormous temptation: if you don’t need your pass, sell it to someone who works downtown and they can suddenly park in residential zones.

That is why ANCs in Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, NoMA/H Street, and other mixed-use neighborhoods vehemently objected when DDOT tried last fall to expand the visitor placard system citywide. Earlier this month, Logan’s ANC instead endorsed the idea of a booklet, where people get a limited number of passes:

Commissioner Cain moved that the ANC endorse a Visitor Parking Program for all residents living within the boundaries of ANC 2F and at a Resident Parking Permit (RPP) eligible address. The proposed program shall consist of a coupon booklet containing 10 individual coupons for temporary visitor parking. Each coupon shall be valid for seven (7) days and may not be reused. Residents must opt in to the program. Each program participant may receive one coupon booklet per year (through the end of FY14). The motion was seconded and approved by the Commission (7-1).

This is a much better idea than the all-year visitor pass. Over a year ago, DDOT parking manager Angelo Rao said he thought the city should set up some kind of visitor pass system, and he was under the gun to implement something by fall 2013. For whatever reasons, which almost surely include internal agency policies and bureaucratic inertia, instead nothing happened. Maybe now there can be some momentum for a real solution.

There are still some questions to work out and some ways to improve the plan.

This proposal would make passes each good for one week. That’s not so bad, though it would make more sense for passes to work for a single day, and simply offer more passes. Some people have a housecleaner who comes once a week all year. Under this plan, they would get 50 days’ worth of passes, but couldn’t use them once a week for 50 weeks. Why not? How about a book of 50 day passes instead of 10 week passes?

One big question: what do people do if they need more passes? Some people might get passes from their neighbors, but it also would make sense to let people purchase more booklets. The rate can be low enough that it’s not extremely expensive, but high enough that it keeps the numbers of cars parking in the neighborhood from overwhelming the resident-only space, and also deters a resident from selling booklets to a commuter.

The ANC did not work out a way to get more passes; Matt Raymond, a member of the ANC, said that they, Councilmember Jack Evans, and DDOT have to work out details like this.

Another question is who gets the passes. Do people with cars and people without cars alike get them? Does a household with 2 drivers get the same number as an apartment of a single person? What about basement rental units? What about illegal basement rental units?

Raymond said the commission was split on this issue, and said, “When we discussed restricting it to Ward 2 permit holders, we admitted it was somewhat arbitrary, but there was sentiment (I among those who felt this way) that there needed to be some way to restrict them rather than a no-holds-barred approach.”

"Ward 2 permit holders” are people who have a car registered with a residential parking permit in the area. That is probably not a good criterion, because a person who has no car will have visitors just as much as a person who has a car. On the other hand, it’s a dense neighborhood with a lot of people, and ten week-long parking passes for every person could bring in a lot of cars.

If people can buy more coupons, then one good way to deal with this is over time to lower the number of passes in the first, free book, while letting people buy more. That would discourage over-use, and DDOT could adjust the size of the initial book and the price for more until the demand doesn’t overwhelm the neighborhood supply of spaces.

Will this program (or an even better day pass version with the chance to buy more books) become reality, and even expand to other mixed-use neighborhoods? DDOT has had a years-long track record of promising to do something about parking and then failing.

Walt Cain, another ANC 2F commissioner, said, “My understanding is that the new crew at DDOT is not in favor of visitor parking generally, so it will likely be an uphill battle to actually get the program put in place.”

DC Councilmember Mary Cheh’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment is holding a hearing on parking Wednesday, January 29 at 11 am. Perhaps this, and the opportunity to apply it to more neighborhoods, will come up for discussion then.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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.