Some residential neighborhoods in D.C. are developing a jagged skyline as row house owners build up -- adding on vertically to create so-called "pop-up" houses with more floors than their neighbors. We consider the practical, aesthetic and zoning issues created by pop-ups buildings.
The District is in the process of implementing new parking rules that would limit visitor spots in some of the most densely populated neighborhoods and promote alternatives to driving. And a change taking place amidst broader zoning debates that reflect a philosophical clash over where cars fit in D.C.’s future. We talk with the parking manager of D.C’s transportation department about the ideas behind the city’s plans, and what they mean for future of D.C. neighborhoods.
- Angelo Rao Parking Manager, D.C. Department of Transportation
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. If you could just hover above and look down at the District of Columbia, you'd probably see a lot of people scrambling over one of the city's most treasured and fast-disappearing commodities, available parking. New programs are under way that are designed to encourage Washingtonians to ditch their cars and walk or ride, adjust parking rules for market demand and make it a little easier for residents who do drive to get reasonable access to parking space.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut something of a philosophical war has emerged from this transition. One between people who love to walk and ride their bikes and hop the metro who basically see cities as places for people and suburbs as places for cars, and those who depend on their cars and are worried they'll have no place in this vision for a new, livable, walkable city.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us today is the man with the unenviable task of stopping this parking war, the DDOT's new parking manager, Angelo Rao. He is, as I said, parking manager for the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation, and he joins us in studio. Angelo Rao, thank you for joining us.
MR. ANGELO RAOGlad to be here, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have comments or questions. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. The city has launched new efforts to manage one of its fastest-shrinking commodities, available parking space. The MO seems to be opening up parking opportunities for people who drive by encouraging public transit and alternative transportation like walking and biking. How would you describe the regime that the city is in the process of putting into place?
RAOI think you got it right on the money, Kojo. The department and the city and the mayor is really on a sustainability front in terms of transportation. So it does sound interesting that we're talking about parking and sustainability. Well, they go hand in hand because we're trying to use a more multimodal approach to transportation.
RAOFor example, nationwide, almost -- there are almost two cars per household, 1.9 to be exact, while in D.C., it's about .6 or .7 vehicles per household, so a dramatic reduction in the number of vehicles. So we're really trying to use a more holistic, more multimodal approach to transportation.
NNAMDIWhat are the specific issues that have gotten us to this point? We have been batting around the idea of parking reform for years. It seems we are at critical mass now. Is it because of that figure you just cited, .6 car per residence? Or is it that the residential parking issues that have been bubbling up over the course of the past few years now have to be solved?
RAOI think it's all of the above. In fact, let's face it, everybody wants to have a free parking space, 24 hours a day, right in front of their home and right in front of their business, all the time, guaranteed, almost like a limo service, to and from home and business. Well, we can't have that with all the competing needs. What's interesting -- and I get kind of in trouble for saying this -- it's a great problem to have, in a sense, D.C., is growing fabulously compared to the rest of the country or many other cities in the country.
RAOSo what happens with growth and the desire to want to frankly be there is everybody wants to be at the exact same spot at the exact same time. So it's kinds of a symptom of, frankly, growth and, dare I say, prosperity, in a sense. It's quite interesting.
NNAMDIDo we need to view our parking differently? I have neighbors who routinely place orange cones on the street in front of their home because they seem to have the -- and enjoy the concept that the parking space in front of their home on the street is theirs. To what degree is it that we do not see parking as a commodity? Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh pointed out in a hearing the other day that current residential parking fees do not reflect the market or do much to pay for asphalt maintenance and things like that. How should we see our street parking differently?
RAOYou hit it exactly on the money. We got, what, about 160 square feet of spaces that we're talking about. And it is a commodity when you think about it. The residential permanent parking program right now charges $35 a year, that's 9.6 cents per day for parking in a residential area, actually, in your zone, and some zones are quite large.
NNAMDISo I can't own a part of my street for 9.6 cents a day?
RAOThere you go. Exactly. So it's an interesting statistic. So, you know, a number I heard, anecdotally -- I didn't research this, so it's just an anecdotal number -- someone had told me once that it costs $150, maybe even $200 a year just to maintain that space. Just from maintenance perspective, roughly $150, so -- 'cause you mentioned maintenance, for example.
RAOSo it's kind of interesting that these numbers are real and yet there's a disproportionate approach to the cost of that commodity. You know that off-street parking, let's face it. Gosh, I've heard numbers as much as $150 to $300 a month for a parking space. So I'm not saying, of course, that we wouldn't -- we'd want to charge those kinds of numbers. Obviously not. The point is it's an issue of, indeed, is it a true commodity that everybody wants? How should we market it in a more appropriate way to make it more accessible to as many folks as feasible?
NNAMDIWhat does make this commodity free is the visitor parking space -- parking pass. Now, if I have residential parking in my neighborhood, I can get a visitor pass for up to a year, I think, for somebody who is visiting me. And it is my understanding that there has been some, well, abuse there. What, like -- what changes are we likely to see in the visitor parking program?
RAOGreat question. Indeed, we're looking at specifically the visitor parking pass program in terms of alternating it. In terms of -- right now, it's not quite widespread. There are specific pilot areas that it started in a few years ago. Now, we're looking at a more District-wide approach, and we're looking rather carefully at perhaps the notion of an online system where one would purchase it, probably for some fee -- we don't know what that fee is -- dependent on the amount of time one would want it for. So we're trying to put a value on it.
RAORight now it's like candy. Let's be honest. You got this card. It's basically flat candy that hopefully isn't edible and basically given to folks, like you say, on a free basis in most wards and ANCs. So we have to try to commoditize it so that folks can see that there's a value to it and almost ask the question, are you pass-worthy, in a sense?
RAOIf a visitor -- gosh, do I really want to give up my pass? Maybe you just want to stay for five minutes and move on, or not come by car at call -- come by Metro or some other mode, so definitely looking at a visitor permit parking program that is widespread, most likely chargeable and likely online and on a consumable approach. Those are the thoughts we're thinking of. Nothing's been confirmed, of course.
NNAMDIOur guest is Angelo Rao. He is parking manager for the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you live in a neighborhood in the District where street parking is a rare commodity? How do you get by? Do you keep a car at all? Do you drive in the city?
NNAMDIWhat trouble have you had parking near home or work? 800-433-8850. Can we talk about Columbia Heights, a neighborhood at the middle of the changes in residential parking? Exactly what is being proposed for Columbia Heights, and what are some of the other parts of the city where people are going to start seeing changes?
RAOWell, certainly in Ward 1, where Columbia Heights resides...
RAO...a law was passed by the City Council to require that residential permit parking, which, by the way, the standard operating time, if I may say, is 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, two hours exempted by the permit, of course. In Ward 1, in ANCs A, B and C -- 1A, B and C -- a law was passed to change that, such that on one side of the street, what I just said applies, the two-hour exemption.
RAOAnd on the opposite side of the street, it's for residents only during those same times. And that was to afford a little bit more protection for residents in the neighborhood. So that's one example of what is happening.
NNAMDIAre we likely to see similar moves in other neighborhoods?
RAOI believe so, dependent on the proximity to, say, commercial zones or other venues. Of course what we try to do as best as we can is to try to formulate a partnership so that particularly in locations with other venues, that there may be some conflicts that may arise with other users. So we're trying to work together with those folks to try to reach some kind of agreement.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We start with Ronnie in Washington, D.C. Ronnie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RONNIEGood afternoon. Hi, Angelo. I went to your parking forum, and I want to say what a great public servant Angelo is. He's very responsive, very open to citizen input. He's a rare breed, and we need more like him.
RONNIESo I'm exactly what you're talking...
RAORonnie, the check's in the mail. Thank you. Appreciate that.
RONNIEGreat. So I'm like the perfect example of what you're talking about. I'm a longtime resident in the 16th and U area, bought my condo more than 25 years ago when, you know, parking was a lot cheaper and there weren't meters in effect on Saturdays, and we didn't have bike lanes, which are a great thing. I mean, I walk or use public transit most of the time.
RONNIEI work for an organization that promotes energy efficiency, so I'm not opposed to a walkable, livable, unpolluted city and all that stuff. But we do have to recognize, I think, that there have been increasing pressures that are taking away the actual number of spaces and the availability of spaces to residents who simply want a legal, safe space within a reasonable proximity of their home when they drive and come home. There are times...
NNAMDIWhat do you see as the problem, Ronnie, and what would you suggest to solve it?
RONNIEWell, there's been a ton of new housing. More and more people are simply living in these areas. Meters are in effect on Saturdays and until 10 p.m. six days a week. The enhanced residential parking, like you were just talking about in Ward 1, I'm afraid, is going to push more and more out-of-area parkers to my ward. I'm just below U Street, right on the border between Wards 1 and 2.
NNAMDISo what if your ward were to initiate the same kind of thing?
RONNIEWell, I would say I -- that's what I've been lobbying for, and so far I've gotten very little support, if any, from my ANC representative, the current one and the newly elected one and, in addition, from the one who chairs the whole Dupont ANC. So...
NNAMDIIs that how the process has to work, Angelo Rao? It does have to come from locally elected officials?
RAOThere are a couple of ways. One is, for example, the law that I mentioned earlier...
RAO...could be done legislatively. Another way is by petition. There's a petition process on the DDOT site, parking services site. And there is also an opportunity by ANC resolution to do that. Obviously, we need to be cautious. ANCs carry great weight, as the term applies in law, so certainly we want to respect what the ANCs offer for us for suggestions.
RAOI will say that given this approach to dealing with parking management, all those three methods are certainly appropriate. But I do say that we want to have partnership with other users. You want to make this sort of a partnership approach to parking, not a separation approach to parking.
NNAMDIRonnie, thank you very much for your call.
RONNIEThank you for listening.
NNAMDIOn to a break. We are going to have to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If the lines are busy, as they seem to be, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, if you have a comment or a question for Angelo Rao, or you can simply send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Angelo Rao, parking manager for the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, who just informed me that he is also responsible for streets and alley lighting in the District of Columbia. But, Angelo Rao, there has been a complaint that in terms of residential parking, the zones are too big. The zones are the same zones that make up the wards in our city. Is there any attempt to look at the zone system and to maybe alter it somewhat?
RAOYes. It's a -- that's a great question. That comes up all the time. You're right. Right now, just to clarify for all the listeners, if you have a zone sticker, that you, indeed, as the name implies, you can park on any residential street in that zone, from one corner to the other corner no problem, totally appropriate. Right now on the table is a conversation about this. I stress the word conversation because there are equally and opposing opinions on this. I've heard specifically that folks are saying, oh, my gosh, break it up into smaller subzones.
NNAMDIWell, there are a few smaller subzones. I attempted to park near a Metro in my zone, which is 4, and as I was attempting to do so, I saw that there was 4A, 4B, 4C.
RAOAs an RPP resident, you can park in any 4 zone...
RAO...not visitor parking, but the zone for your actual sticker. So...
RAO...so right now on the table, any residential permit parking sticker holder can park anywhere in their zone. So right now, as I say, I've heard many of my think tanks and the summit completely in opposite views, one view being, oh, my gosh, yes, keep it one zone, please. I want to go from one corner to the next corner as I please. The exact opposite view: No, no, we need to break it up into subzones so that folks can't do that -- exactly what you just said about potentially parking at a Metro.
RAOSo we're -- that is on the table for conversation and discussion. We have not, I could stress, not made any decisions on this. It's very controversial. We want to make sure we do the right thing. And we're going to -- whatever we recommend in draft will be obviously vetted through our public outreach system, of course.
NNAMDIThe Metro station that I was trying to park near was in my zone, though not in my immediate neighborhood.
NNAMDIThat what's I was trying to say. Here is Dory...
NNAMDI...in Washington, D.C. Dory, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DORYHi. My daughter -- we live in Ward 5. My daughter goes to a charter school in Ward 1. And because it's not a traditional school building, there aren't loading, unloading zone areas in front of it. I'm wondering if these new parking regulations in Zone 1 -- if you're going to go through and figure out where all the charters are and then create some safe spaces for children to get in and out of their school.
DORYShe's only 4, so we can't just drop her at the corner. We do need to walk her in. And I just feel like some of the new regulations don't take into account families who have children who are in car seats or toddlers who you have to, you know, push in strollers, so...
NNAMDIDory's daughter is too young to play in traffic. What would you advise?
RAOYou know, it's a great question. And because the -- some of these new regulations are widespread, typically, they're not just one block face. For example, in Ward 1, we converted over 500 block faces. I think we set something like 2,000 signs were converted just in one program and one subset of the city.
RAOSo because of that, frankly, Dory, we don't have the applicability to look at specificity of issues like your school. However, I would be happy to take an email from you, if you'll be kind enough to do that, and provide me with the exact location. And what I'll do is we'll look at the feasibility of providing a pick-up, drop-off zone of some form.
NNAMDIHow can Dory email your office?
RAOPlease email me personally at -- I'll say it and then spell it -- firstname.lastname@example.org. That's A-N-G-E-L-O.R-A-O@dc.gov. I'll be happy to take that email and work with you.
NNAMDIDory, thank you very much for your call. Let's get back to the philosophical question for a second about looking at parking as a commodity. The city has launched a performance parking program that manages street parking based on the demand for it. What have you learned from the places where you've implemented the pilot program thus far?
RAORight. For example, around the Ballpark -- it's a great example. What we learned was that it's again -- I keep using the word partnership over and over again 'cause it really is. It really is a partnership. And that is a partnership between the commercial needs and business needs and the residential needs 'cause we're that kind of a city. We're that kind of a city where we live and shop relatively close to each other.
RAOSo, for example, in the Ballpark area, we realized that we needed to provide some assistance to our residents because of performance parking. Let's say there's a ball game, for example, and the price is adjusted for, on meters, for a game. If you really, really, really need to be within walking distance over the Ballpark and you feel like you don't want to take the Metro, which is beautifully positioned actually right almost in front of the Ballpark -- let's say that you must drive for whatever reason.
RAOThe prices become escalated during a ball game. Well, what happens sometimes is folks think, well, gosh, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to go infiltrate into the neighborhoods and park there. So we must work with them, learning through that. And we work with them to provide some extended RPP help so that they could have some protection within the neighborhoods. So that was one huge sort of learning curve with performance parking zones.
NNAMDIHere is Laura in Washington, D.C. Laura, your turn.
LAURAHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I love your show.
LAURAHi. So I just had an incident -- and I visit friends quite frequently in Capitol Hill and they loaned me their digital parking placard. And when I came back to my car, I noticed that it has been broken into and the placard was stolen. And I've been sharing that information with neighbors. They had similar experiences. So I'd just be really curious to know if you're aware of the sort of a black market developing for these parking passes that...
NNAMDIThe zone sticker black market is their word.
RAORight. I'm not aware of one, but certainly, I cannot dispute that it's probably happening. There are two things that we're concerned with. One is the potential of actually breaking the window and taking it. And the second one is photocopies. Of course, we -- there's a laminate on it that sort of like a dollar bill that you cannot just photocopy. You can tell that it's a bad photocopy. There is no real good way that we're aware of to do that. So, yes, those concerns exist.
RAOWhat -- with our new program that we're formulating and hopefully have a draft report, I'm hoping in the spring, is to not look at -- not only look at its operation but also look at the ways of reducing any of that type of situation. For example, I mentioned earlier to Kojo that we're thinking of an online system of VPP, a visitor permit parking, so that you won't actually even need a hard copy to put in your dash. The license plate would give it away, and we have the technology to be able to do that sort of thing.
RAOSo that's one way of trying to stem that. You're absolutely right, Laura. I cannot deny that it's happening. Of course, it is. I just -- I wish I had some numbers for you and statistics. In fact, that question was asked just a couple of days ago of me, and I asked some law enforcement folks. And that number just isn't handy just right now, but you make a great point.
NNAMDILaura, thank you for your call. On to Gary in Northwest Washington. Gary, your turn.
GARYYes. I'm disabled. I have a severe disability from multiple sclerosis and pretty much isolated to a wheelchair, although I can get around limited with a cane. I was looking for a disabled space in front of my home so I can get access to a cab or, you know, an ambulance to ride to get to the hospital, but mostly a cab. And when I tried to apply for it about a year ago, they said I could not get a space because of that off-street parking. But I don't even own a car, you know, I can't drive any more.
NNAMDISo you're trying to get a space essentially made for you in front of your home so that if you're trying to use a cab or Metro access or some sorts of thing, it will have a place to park?
GARYYes, yes, oh, yes. So I can get that -- yes.
NNAMDILet me see what Angelo Rao thinks about that.
RAOYeah. That's -- thanks for calling, Gary. I appreciate that. We are committed -- and I've said this at -- and most of my colleagues over and over again -- I've said this over and over again that we were committed to when we say access, we mean access for all, including mobility-challenged persons. So I certainly respect what you're going through. My mom, she's 92, and she is mobility-challenged, so I totally understand your situation.
RAOYes, indeed, there is a requirement that if there is off-street parking, then indeed that's a challenge. However, every case is different. And I'm going to ask you also to email me, please, and let's reinvestigate and see if there's possibly another way to look at this. What we try to do is look at things more holistically and say, gosh, yes, there may be an off-street spot.
RAOBut it's so challenging to get to that or maybe even impossible to get to for whatever reason. There may be steps or there may be some other configuration that really makes it quite tough even for an ably motion person. So please email me, and let's see if we can do something. I can't make any guarantees on the radio, of course, but I promise to take a hard look on that.
NNAMDIAnd your email address again.
RAOAgain, it's Angelo, A-N-G-E-L-O.R-A-O@dc.gov.
NNAMDIGary, thank you very for your call. We don't have a lot of time left. Aside from encouragement to a car-free life, what can DDOT do to make some of its admittedly difficult to decipher rules more clear? It's my understanding that signage is an issue where you're looking to make improvement.
RAORight. Exactly, Kojo. The last thing you want to do is have to think, oh, gosh. I wish I had my attorney with me so I would know how to park. I mean, that's just not the kind of message you want to hand out there. We want -- we want to make it sort of a positive experience. You know where you're going. You get there. You see a spot. You yell out eureka because it's wonderful that you found a spot.
RAOAnd now you want to know, oh, gosh, why is it available? What am I doing wrong? You know, it shouldn't be that way. So what we're trying to do is have a multifaceted approach. We're having a systemic approach of looking at the combination of signs to see if we can condense them, first of all. And then secondly, we're doing an inspection process to make sure that they are appropriate.
NNAMDIFortunately or unfortunately for you, half of the people who'll be looking for parking spaces in D.C. will be attorneys. Angelo Rao is parking manager for the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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