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Parking Illegality

Ashley Halsey III has an article about the millions of dollars that were generated in DC last year via parking tickets. Here's the money quote:
Not counting Sundays and holidays, AAA calculated that the District issues an average of about 7.3 parking tickets each minute.
This is incredible, not because of how many tickets are being issued, but because it shows just how rampant illegal parking is. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that for every one person who gets a ticket for illegal parking, dozens more get away with it. 

(from thisisbossi on Flickr) 

A lot of the violations are from people who simply don't pay their meter (which is what it is), but another chunk come from people who park illegally because there isn't a legal space on the street at their destination. So instead of finding a legal space, they double park, park in bike lanes, loading zones, handicap spaces, tow-away zones, or wherever else they can squeeze their car, regardless of whether it's legal. Sometimes they throw on their hazard flashers, as if that makes it OK (though I've never seen that stop a parking enforcement officer from issuing a ticket). 

To some, the problem is too few parking spaces. This is a stretch. DC has plenty of parking spaces, but many of them are in garages. And garages often charge market prices, and people don't want to pay market prices when a much less expensive option is out there. Sometimes garages are a few blocks or more from people's destinations. Often the available legal spaces, even on the street, aren't right next to where people are going.

In this sense, what they really mean is that there aren't enough free or under-priced spaces directly in front of their destinations. What's the solution then? More government subsidized municipal parking lots? Lax enforcement that lets people double and triple park wherever they want without consequence?

Government could build more parking spaces, but the simple fact that those spaces won't all be right in front of where everyone wants to go all the time, illegal parking will continue.

The reason this is such an incredibly difficult issue is because illegal parking is enough of a "victimless crime" that any punishment greater than a monetary fine seems inappropriately harsh. But at the same time, the fines and current enforcement system clearly aren't enough to actually deter people from doing it. The result is that the city rakes in a ton of money, and it's extremely easy for people to cry "extortion" or "scam" when the numbers come out and show that parking enforcement generated $92 million in revenue. 

As Martin Austermuhle writes, nothing that the city will do can ever make everybody happy:
Townsend complains that D.C. charges too much for parking and enforces too aggressively, but at the same time motorists aimlessly circle the block looking for parking. In AAA's ideal world, parking would be (all but) free and enforcement (all but) nonexistent, which would obviously resolve the city's on-street parking woes by...allowing drivers to park all day and without paying a dime?
Of course, there is a world where exactly this exists:  the suburbs. DC has plenty of suburbs in all directions where parking is like heaven (though driving to that parking can be like hell). The great thing about DC is that it's a city and not the suburbs. The other great thing is that people have a choice between whether they want to live in the city and patronize businesses in the city or not. From what I can tell, despite many of the threats and much of the outspokenness, DC's central neighborhoods are doing just fine.


Frank Proulx said…
Clearly the solution is to raze all the buildings and put in parking lots.

In all seriousness, one of the most fascinating things about all of this to me is a logical contradiction (maybe) that you half point to- people are willing to risk paying a ticket (the "free" option) over paying for parking, i.e. they prefer the uncertain option. Either there is some serious fallacious reasoning here, or it really does work out to cheaper on average (or both). Fascinating.

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