Car belonging to DC Councilmember Jack Evans by Adam Fagen licensed under Creative Commons.

DC’s parking immunity law for councilmembers is back in the news again, thanks to Ward 2 Councilmember and Metro Board Chair Jack Evans telling a concerned citizen on Saturday that “if I park illegally, that opens up a spot for you.” It’s not the first time that Evans has made headlines for flouting parking rules.

For the better part of the decade, he’s parked in bus lanes and commercial loading zones, blocked curb cuts and fire hydrants, broken several parking rules at once, and attracted attention for parking in no parking spaces by his house.

During Evans’ latest parking exploit, he asked Eric Kmetz, the man who noticed him parked illegally, “why do you care?” It’s an answer that Evans has deployed in the past when asked about his parking habits, but it comes the same week that activists are rallying to demand solutions to DC’s traffic fatality crisis, and six days after a cyclist was killed in his ward.

Thanks to a 2002 law, DC councilmembers can violate parking rules

In 2002, the DC Council unanimously voted to exempt themselves from certain parking rules, a privilege previously only reserved for members of Congress. Under the law, members of Congress and the DC Council can park in “any available curb space” that is not “in violation of a loading zone, rush hour, firehouse, or fire plug limitation” so long as they are using the vehicle “on official business” and displaying a Congressional or Council registration tag.

Since then, councilmember use of parking perks has inspired a now-dormant Instagram account from the Washington City Paper, many a thread on Reddit, and talk on virtually every local DC blog.

Evans is not the only councilmember to park in no-parking spaces. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and At-Large Councilmember David Grosso have been caught doing so as well, as have several former councilmembers.

Parking rules protect people, boost access, and reduce traffic

It seems obvious, but there’s a reason why no-parking zones are designated as such. Curb cuts improve accessibility for people with disabilities, bike lanes protect cyclists and pedestrians, and bus lanes reduce congestion. When people park in these spaces, they reduce access, increase traffic, and put people walking and bicycling in danger.

The District government has a stated commitment to Vision Zero, which calls for eliminating traffic fatalities in DC by 2024. Parking improvements are critical to Vision Zero. This week DDOT permanently removed four parking spots at the intersection of M St NW and New Hampshire Avenue after a cyclist was killed to make it easier to see all road users. Improved visibility through parking regulation can increase safety.

It’s critical that councilmembers not only work towards implementing the specific goals outlined in the Vision Zero action plan, but also ensure that they themselves are parking in a safe and legal manner that does not impede cyclist and pedestrian safety.