What happens when government aid doesn't go where it's supposed to?
The introduction of parking meters often sparks debate. But when meters were installed in Anacostia recently, the community’s outrage focused on the fact that the meters they got were older coin meters handed down from a wealthier area of town. The District’s Department of Transportation quickly took the meters down, citing issues of miscommunication. We explore issues of perception and politics when it comes to delivering city services East of the River.
- John Lisle Director of Communication, District Department of Transportation (DDOT)
- Nikki Peele Author, "Congress Heights On The Rise" blog
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIntroducing parking meters anywhere in the city is bound to spark debate. But when parking meters were installed recently on MLK Boulevard, Martin Luther King Boulevard and Anacostia, local outrage focused not on the loss of free parking along the area's main street but rather on the fact that meters were old coin meters handed down from a wealthier part of town. Although the District Department of Transportation says meters are routinely recycled throughout the city, they quickly took those meters down.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThose living east of the river say there's a difference in the services and amenities the city delivers east of the river. Others say that there's more -- that's more perception than it is reality in today's environment. Joining us to talk about this is John Lisle. He is the director of communications for the District Department of Transportation or DDOT. John Lisle, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOHN LISLEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone is Nikki Peele, author of the blog "Congress Heights on the Rise." Nikki Peele twice in one week. We must be doing something right. Thank you for joining us.
MS. NIKKI PEELEI feel very special, Kojo, very special.
NNAMDINikki, I'll start with you. Parking meters are rarely welcome in any community. But what was the objection to these particular meters?
PEELEI think there are several things. I think one was the perceived lack of notification to the community. I mean, I first started writing about, you know, the parking meters on Nov. 1 when the little posts started coming up. And so that was -- you know, it was a surprise to the community then, as well as the quality of the meters when they finally arrived -- to be generous -- was poor. I think the capabilities of the meters was also a concern, as well as the times for the meters to be used, that anyone who lives and works in Anacostia, you know, the idea of paying for parking on a Saturday seems a little bit weird.
PEELESo there were several things that were concerning, but probably the most was just the lack of community input or notice.
NNAMDIJohn, what's the city's policy on recycling meters?
LISLEWell, Kojo, it's actually done more than you would think. We, over the past year, have moved meters around. We don't have extra meters sitting around, so we have to use the ones we have. And, unfortunately, about 70 percent of our meters are these older meters, what we call -- well, you could call them dumb meters or vintage meters. But they're not networked. They only take coins. They don't take credit cards. And we still have about 13,500 of them throughout the city. So over the past year, we've moved meters around.
LISLEWe've put some on 49th Street in Ward 3, O Street in Ward 2 and a couple of other spots in wards west of the city as -- on the west side of the city as well. So it happens quite frequently. At the same time, I completely understand why Nikki reacted the way she did. And she's completely right. There was not enough notice given to the community about the installation of these meters.
NNAMDIAnd, Nikki, it's my understanding that you were satisfied with DDOT's response to your comments.
PEELEI was definitely appreciative of their response. In addition to the blog post that I think kind of -- I think, brought this to their attention as well as several people in the community, I -- we've also talked on Twitter. You know, DDOT is one my tweets, I guess, I could say. And so it was addressed there as well as by -- actually addressed it to the mayor. So I am glad at the response. I mean, it was a mistake that happened. And, you know, I'm sure we all would have liked this to have been avoided.
PEELEBut I do feel like, once they were made aware and the community, not just myself, really communicated that to them, they'd have had the meters removed within a day, as well as issued an apology. And I think that was a great step.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think a community should have input on parking meters? 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website kojoshow.org. Or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. John, does DDOT usually notify communities when new meters are installed?
LISLEWe do. The interesting thing about this situation is I think the reason why it wasn't done was that there were meters on this avenue.
NNAMDIMartin Luther King Avenue. It's my understanding that there were meters there in the past.
PEELEThere were no meters. There were no meters.
NNAMDINo. At some point in the past, it's my understanding, Nikki, that there were meters, even though I, like you, can't remember them. But here's John.
LISLEHere's my understanding, is that maybe as long ago as seven years ago, there were meters there. But the meters were often broken, and the city was not making any money off the meters, so they were taken out. And some of the poles, I believe, were still in place. However, that's -- you know, that's a flaw on our side. I mean, if there haven't been meters there for a long period of time, then you should tell the community.
LISLEThere were some stakeholders in the community who had actually forwarded some requests or complaints from some of the businesses along MLK, that some of their customers couldn't find parking in front of their businesses. And I think that's where this all began, is that we decided that we would put the meters in based on those requests. But we should have come back and notified the entire community that that was our intent and gotten their feedback.
LISLEThe other thing that didn't happen on our standpoint was better internal coordination. We were actually just getting ready to start a streetscape project along MLK, which is, you know, we're going to be redoing the sidewalks and the curbs and do -- you know, really spiffing up the avenue there. It didn't make sense for us to put meters in before we started that. So what we are going to do is finish that, let that project take its course.
LISLEWe do plan to still install meters along Martin Luther King, but what we are going to install will be the newer networked solar-powered meters, the IPS meters that also take credit cards. So that's our intent, and we will do that, but only after coordinating and discussing it with the community.
NNAMDIHere's Ben in Falls Church, Va. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENThanks, Kojo. I'd like to say, first of all, long-time fan and appreciate letting me on the air today.
NNAMDIThank you. You're welcome.
BENI just wanted to comment on the DDOT representative there. I'm not entirely familiar with the debate and the discussion with the D.C. residents there. However, I was very surprised to hear that -- taking ownership of the mistake and being publicly and willing to apologize for that and coming out so forthright and honest with the public, I think, is excellent. And I wish we could hear more of that from public representatives.
NNAMDIBen, thank you very much for your call.
BENThank you. Bye.
NNAMDINikki Peele, do you have any objection to having meters on MLK Avenue period?
PEELEI think that -- my thought on that is that I'm not totally against having meters, period. I think that I totally can appreciate the concept of having meters for more turnover during the day, but, that being said, we are still growing -- very much in the beginning stage of growing our business corridor here. We don't really have a lot of private retail options here. In fact, we have a lot of social services agencies here, as well as D.C. government agencies here on the strip. So we're still trying to nurture our business district.
PEELEBut, with that being said, you know, it goes back to talking to the businesses here. I myself work with the businesses. I -- you know, I'm lucky enough to work with them on several projects, one of them being under ARCH Development Corporation with the Storefront Improvement Program. And we talk to the businesses, and, to be quite honest, from what I've spoken to them about, they really were not a fan of the meters.
PEELEOne of the draws to coming to their business was having free parking. But, you know, we can have paid parking here as long as it's the perception that the quality is what we would see with the rest of the District. And it's hard to be in Anacostia and go across the bridge to Barracks Row and see -- you know, they have paid parking there -- but see the quality of what they have for equipment. And we're getting...
NNAMDIJohn, explain to us a little bit about parking meter economics. Why do some areas have modern credit card-operated meters while others still have coin meters only?
LISLEWell, first of all, part of it is just, you know, a budget issue from our standpoint. We'd love to replace all of our meters if we have the funds to do so, but then it gets down to a return on investment. If meters -- the single-space meters, the newer ones, cost up to $1,000 to install. Multi-space meters cost about $7,000. So if you're charging 75 cents an hour in -- which is what our -- what we charge in our normal demand zones, which is what this -- what we would charge on Martin Luther King, then it's going to take a while to get that money back.
LISLEEspecially with the rush hour restrictions, you may only be charging for parking for six hours a day. So that's less than $6 you're getting back each day to pay for that newer technology. And so if you just look at the return on investment, it's hard to make the argument for putting the newest technology there. So when we get new meters, we tend to put them in our busiest commercial areas.
NNAMDIOkay. Got it.
LISLEAnd so that's really the economics of it.
NNAMDIHere's Greta in Washington, D.C. Greta, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Greta, are you there? Greta -- I can't seem to get Greta on the phone, but...
GRETAOh, yes. I'm here. Can you hear me now?
NNAMDIYes, we can, Greta.
GRETAOkay. Hi. My name is Greta, and I actually live in Historic Anacostia. And I am the ANC commissioner. First of all, I'd like to say thank you to Mr. Bellamy and everyone involved who actually did respond to us in a timely manner. Going forward, I know that DDOT said that they will work with the community to let us know exactly what you're going to bring and how you're going to bring it.
GRETABut one of the things I was concerned about was the weekends. If you're going to charge the weekend, I just don't see the point in that at the present time since we don't really have businesses and establishments to support that, which is I consider waiving the weekend rate and perhaps just having meters Monday through Friday.
NNAMDIWe'll do that after we have a community meeting and hear more people than Greta say that. No, I'm sorry. I'm speaking on behalf of John Lisle. John, go ahead, please.
LISLENo. I think the bottom line is we need to have more dialogue with the community to talk about whether, you know, the meters are supported and what the hours should be. You know, Saturday enforcement of the meters was something that was -- there was a moratorium against that that was listed by the county council -- I mean -- excuse me -- the D.C. City Council, so we would need to make sure that we were within the law. But I think that's something that's open for discussion, and we certainly want to talk to the community.
LISLEAnd, like I said, there were some stakeholders that knew what our intentions were. But, obviously, Ms. Fuller didn't know, and there are a lot of other people that didn't know. We want to make sure that we talk to them before we do anything else.
NNAMDINikki, are you with Greta on the no parking rates on the weekends?
PEELEA hundred percent. I mean, that goes back again to what we're saying about we have to have a dialogue here because anyone who lives and works in Anacostia knows that we might have three businesses that are open on the Saturday, and I say might on -- you know, almost none on a Sunday. So the idea of having paid parking from 7 a.m. to, I think, it was 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday just didn't make any sense, especially if DDOT is trying to recoup some of their money from the installation. It just didn't make any sense.
PEELENow, saying that, I think it goes back to the bigger issue -- and this isn't just with DDOT, and I give them their credit for absolutely, you know, taking care of the situation and owning up to the mistakes. A hundred percent, I give them credit on that, but I think it would be unfair just to blame DDOT for this. I think this probably highlights an issue in general with city agencies and, you know, private people and organizations.
PEELEThey have to be willing to find a better way or a new way to engage East of the River, Ward 8 and Anacostia. We're online. We're in the streets. We're at meetings. You know, outreach is more than a flier, as I say on my blog, and we really need to look into that.
NNAMDIAnd, Greta, I guess that's one of the reasons you ran for ANC.
GRETAExactly. It was to bring some cohesiveness between the community and the government agencies. We have seen a little bit better response than when I first moved to the ward over 10 years ago. So I do see improvement, but, like Nikki said, there is still room for improvement.
NNAMDINikki Peele is the -- and, Greta, thank you for your call -- Nikki Peele is the author of the blog "Congress Heights on the Rise." Nikki Peele, thank you for joining us.
PEELEThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIJohn Lisle is the director of communications for the District Department of Transportation. John Lisle, thank you for joining us. The next time you come around, we'll see if we can find people to be more critical of you than they were this time.
LISLEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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