Wells Unveils Parking Plan

Posted December 14, 2007 at 6:23pm

With business thriving in Southeast D.C. along Barracks Row, Pennsylvania Avenue and Eastern Market — and development expected near the soon-to-be completed Nationals Park — Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells (D) is devising a plan to combat parking problems and congestion.

If enacted, the plan should mean more on-street parking for Capitol Hill residents and higher meter fees for visitors.

The “Performance Parking Pilot,” unveiled at a briefing Friday, is designed to harness market forces by creating incentives for people to use other modes of transportation. Those who still drive would have incentives to minimize the time they occupy parking spots.

It’s necessary, Wells said, because the city is unlikely to find significant new parking on Capitol Hill. Instead, the District must better manage the space it has now, he said.

“Parking is potentially a third-rail issue,” Wells said. “It can be very threatening to people. We’re trying to be very careful about this.”

The plan would expand meter enforcement on Pennsylvania Avenue, Barracks Row and Seventh Street (Eastern Market) to nights (until 10 p.m.) and weekends.

And visitors from outside Ward 6 who voyage off the main drags for parking would not escape meters.

The first residential block off of the business strips would have metered, short-term (perhaps two-hour) parking on both sides of the street. Two blocks or farther out, meters would remain on one side of the street. Ward 6 residents still would be able to park on either side for free anytime.

Those steps, Wells said, should correct the current situation in which it is too easy for visitors to park in residential areas.

Wells’ office is being guided by a quotation from Donald Shoup, an urban planner at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies parking:

“Under-priced curb spaces are like rent-controlled apartments: hard to find and, once you do, crazy to give up.”

Non-Ward 6 vehicles now get two free hours during the day in residential areas and unlimited free parking after 7 p.m. and on weekends.

Wells’ plan also would address a potential problem identified in advance of the new Nationals stadium in Southeast — that of fans parking for free on the Hill.

With short-term meters, fans couldn’t get to the game and back in time.

Along with those reforms, the city would do away with some of its traditional meters, opting for a new system where an entire block’s parking can be handled by one machine.

Those machines, which have sprouted up in other cities and elsewhere in the District, would allow for easier money collection. They also would create additional parking, as spaces would no longer have to be drawn, and give the flexibility to automatically change rates via computer if, for instance, the city wanted to charge different rates on weekdays and weekends.

Wells’ plan also addresses the area near Nationals Park. It would create four-hour-plus metered street parking in nonresidential areas by the stadium, but at prices similar to the rates for stadium or lot parking.

That means if a lot is charging $20 for game-day parking, the meters might run $6 an hour. That would eliminate the incentive for fans to circle the park looking for metered parking. And, because the new machines accept credit cards, fans wouldn’t have to load their pockets with change.

In residential areas by the stadium, metered parking would be limited to two hours — not long enough for a fan to take in a ballgame.

But, Wells emphasized, that would depend on the city actually ticketing violators.

“Can the government really do enforcement?” Wells said. “We need to convince folks that enforcement will happen.”

Before the plan can move forward, the City Council must first give the District Department of Transportation the authority to act. Wells said he intends to finalize his legislation and introduce it at the council’s next session on Jan. 8.

A DDOT official who attended Friday’s briefing on the plan said that with a probable three-month turnaround, it is unlikely the proposal can be in effect by Opening Day in April.

But DDOT appears to be on board. “We’re excited about Councilmember Wells’ proposal,” said the official, deputy associate director Rick Rybeck. “It certainly will work better than the status quo.”