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What Should be Done About All Those Cars?

First, let me state that I have absolutely zero personal interest in the issues affecting car owners here in DC for whom parking (especially) is a matter of perpetual frustration. Also, I should note that our associate editor shares my thought on this perplexing issue.

On December 5th, The Washington Post reported that the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) is “urg[ing] the city to impose stricter speed limits, crack down on distracted driving, increase the ‘absurdly low’ residential parking fee, require drivers to be retested before their licenses can be renewed, and ban all right turns on red.”

Of the five matters mentioned, we can say without hesitation that we are in 100% agreement that absolutely all right turns on red should be prohibited. As we understand the current status of things, the Mayor is floating the idea of imposing restrictions at selected high traffic intersections that are to be identified as especially dangerous for pedestrians. That limited approach, however, strikes us as vastly flawed.

It’s not just at such intersections –- presumably in dense commercial areas -– that are regularly dangerous for pedestrians; we see and experience ourselves near-misses in mixed-use area residential streets well outside of downtown.

This right turn on red idea started with the big oil/gas shortage crisis back in the 70’s as a way to save gas while vehicles were idling at stop lights. Maybe there was and still is some degree of fuel savings, but we do not think it is of enough consequence to put pedestrians who are crossing with the light to be subject to careless drivers zipping around corners where they should otherwise be stopped so as to allow for pedestrian right of way. The costs borne by our local society stemming from injuries and even deaths caused by this supposed money-saving policy may very well outweigh any benefits from saving a few gallons.

On the other hand, the idea of increasing the residential parking fee which WABA flippantly dismisses as “absurdly low,” strikes us absurd and without taking into account the real needs of taxpaying residents who live in row house streets, especially where, unlike apartment buildings with garages and homes with driveways, for the most part the only option is to park on the street. True, most row houses appear to have a parking space in the rear, but such a single space does not serve others in those houses, especially tenants who occupy one or two small apartments in addition to an owner’s premises.

Yes, $35 is not much but it is for the purpose of meeting the administrative cost to process an application; to turn it into a form of penalty fee with the expectation that it will induce residents who actually need their cars is very bad policy. Those same residents who pay huge property and personal income taxes to the District should not have to take another hit from what in effect would be an unwarranted tax increase.

Of course, the proponents of this idea cite alternatives to using cars, like Metro, bikes and scooters, and even walking. All well and good, but our  public transportation system does not adequately blanket the city and leaves too many areas out of its reach. Further, what about residents whose jobs are out in the suburbs which are only minimally served by public transit? And what about the elderly and infirm, can we expect them to be tooling around on bikes and scooters without a care in the world? Of course not.

But DDOT might not jump on this idea, especially in light of it’s proposed regulations to make it easier for residents on a block to petition for longer hours and to extend to weekends the two-hour limitation on non-resident vehicles and also make it possible –- as already in effect in other neighborhoods — to go on line and download visitor parking passes rather than having to take time out to go to a police district headquarters to spend time there obtaining a one-day visitor pass.

Unfortunately for residents within the borders of the Dupont Circle ANC, its chairman, like this writer, has no car, recently announced that he is “philosophically opposed to having any residential parking zones.” Instead, he wants to abolish free parking for residents and establish a so-called “merit parking” scheme. This would mean that residents wouldn’t be able to park for free in front of their own homes or on the streets they live — all parking spaces would become pay spaces. We think it bizarre that an ANC commissioner who is supposed to be supportive of those he or she represents is not meeting that responsibility.

One final word: Nowhere in all that we read or hear from no-car advocates or even DC government is any concern about the urgent need to protect pedestrians from those riding bikes and scooters on sidewalks to follow even the city’s already minimal pedestrian safety requirements. We addressed this issue just five months ago and we suggest reading that earlier commentary.


Reader Comments

I think this is one of the most thoughtful pieces on this explosive subject. How quaint for some to think that homeowners should pay more than the required residential parking permits to park in front of their homes; our property taxes should cover any increase! I smiled at your thoughts on the Dupont ANC commissioner’s proposal. And wobbly scooters speeding down sideWALKs or just left stranded in public spaces needs city action. Wheels (except for wheel chairs) belong on streets. I have saved this and will pass along when this subject comes up. Thank you!

Charlie Gaynor
<em>Logan Circle</>


I agree with much of what you say, but what is also a huge problem as regards cars and bicyclists and scooter riders is the absolute disdain by almost all of the non automobile operators for any and all stop signs and traffic lights. Somehow, the traffic laws don’t seem to apply to them . I have never seen a police officer pull over one of them, and they create regular confrontations with cars and worse still, collisions. I am certainly not giving cars a free pass here, but somehow this other issue is not even mentioned. I saw a woman with a very young child in a bike carrier go through multiple lights and stop signs while traveling up 18th Street. I wanted to scream at her for endangering not just herself, but this young child. Ah well. This whole parking and interaction of various modes of transportation is not a simple issue.

Andrew Lasky
<em>Dupont Circle</em>


I am a 79 year old resident of Bloomingdale. I was given doctors orders for handicapped parking outside of my home. However I was denied because I have a basement aptartment. Sometimes I now have to walk quite a way after I eventually find a place to park, because everyone else & his brother / sister / cousin, etc. parks outside my house. We need community parking lots.

Elizabeth Wilson