Monday, September 20, 2010

Parking Meters--Extended Times a Good Idea?

WTOP news reports that the Fenty administration's extended meter hours may be one of the first policies that Vincent Gray attacks. Gray has not yet won a general election for mayor, but in cinching the Democratic nomination he only has to bide his time in the staunchly blue District.

The revised meter regulations state that driver's must pay to park until 10:30 pm (instead of 6:30) in the "premium demand zones" that WTOP identifies as:
  • Adams Morgan
  • Georgetown Historic District
  • Penn Quarter/Chinatown
  • U Street, NW Corridor
  • Downtown Central Business District
  • Maine and Water Street, SW
  • The National Mall
  • Wisconsin Avenue, NW (from Van Ness Street to Western Avenue)
The parking revisions will not affect residential parking, and DC residents may freely park on non-metered streest in their residential zone with a parking permit.

The meter debate is the typical tax debate--extending paid parking hours (essentially, taxing parking) will raise $6m in revenue that the District badly needs. But, some local business leaders fear that the revised meter hours will harm their bottom line. One example I've heard is that a couple in a restaurant may elect to skip dessert, instead of running out to the car to put another quarter in the meter.

While this is true--and I'm usually anti-tax--I would remind folks that one generally conceded use of taxation is to help mitigate externalities.

An example of a driving and parking externality? Adam's Morgan is well-traversed bar district that provides business owners with an extremely profitable nightlife. However, it is extremely dangerous to walk or drive through 18th street on a weekend night because of the intense congestion on this strip of road. It's not uncommon for pedestrians to be hit, and I've personally seen several close calls between multiple drivers, and drivers and pedestrians. While 18th street is pending some future renovations (including removing the diagonal parking spaces and widening the sidewalks), I think that any regulations that might help reduce the extreme weekend traffic here would be helpful.

I'd also venture that most of the people who are parking in these neighborhoods at night are not local. While certainly many District residents do drive, many more take public transportation or walk to their destination. I think it's much more likely that NOVA and Maryland residents who live farther out/have less knowledge of the metro system will be driving in for dinner, nightlife, etc. By virtue of our central location, DC frequently sees non-residents enjoying our many offerings...admittedly a boon to local business owners.

While we certainly don't want to discourage out of towners, I do think increased paid meter parking hours help compensate the city for road wear-and-tear, etc from drivers who don't necessarily pay income tax to DC for this type of maintenance. Personally, I think that people will continue to drive into the city no matter what...and while I do give some merit to the hurting business argument, I think that can easily be mitigated by making the meter system simpler for users. If meter fees are clearly communicated and charged in easy to pay increments (including the new credit card parking kiosks), I think people will easily account (and pay) for an extra 30 minutes to eat their dessert. 

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