In July, the Department of Public Works (DPW) announced a moratorium on meter-feeding on Saturdaysan initiative championed by At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz to boost downtown merchants. “The [D.C.] Council was interested in putting District businesses in competition with suburban shopping areas that have free parking,” says Art Lawson, DPW’s deputy director of operations.
Not all District businesses, however, got in on the program: DPW slid in a coy exemption from the free-parking policy for Georgetown and the area around the MCI Centerin other words, two of the few areas where the moratorium would have made a difference. Now the department is considering exemptions in eight other neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, and Logan Circle. Those exemptions would effectively limit the moratorium to Palisades and Anacostia.
For most of the District, the policy makes sense: it’s a cost-effective way to tidy up DPW’s fascist ticketing reputation on the one day of the week when ticketing isn’t extremely profitable. Schwartz and DPW Director Cell Bernardino hoped to smooth downtown businesses through weekend slumps and give DPW’s infamously efficient ticket-writers a more “customer-friendly” public image. As the folks who make these kinds of decisions like to say, it was a win-win situation.
Any rule is defined by its exceptions, however. The powers that be in Georgetown and old downtown, as it turns out, insist they’ll do just fine without DPW’s economic development package. DPW, of course, puts a more creative spin on the decision to exempt the two bustling districts from the moratorium, insisting that their “unique mix of commercial, cultural, retail and residential attributes” requires business as usual.
“Quite frankly, the decision to create exemptions was a result of us trying to create a parking program to protect restaurants near the MCI Center,” says Lawson. “The restaurant owners were concerned from the beginning that the arena would eliminate curbside parking for their patrons.” Under the new provisions, DPW ticket-writers continue to encourage parking-space turnover near MCI Center Monday through Saturday until 9:30 p.m. In Georgetown, the conditions are slightly differentnobody there wants the place to become more like a suburban shopping center than it already is.
Daisy Voigt, a spokesperson for Schwartz, says that the exemptions were not made at the councilmember’s request. “The authority to exempt was introduced at the urging of the mayor and was made by the Department of Motor Vehicles,” says Voigt. “I mean, you get a good parking space in Georgetown, and you don’t want to give it up. I think that probably has something to do with it.”
In the exempted areas, money whispers its persistent protest amidst their purportedly one-of-a-kind hodgepodge of bold urban malls, quaint corporate coffee joints, cutting-edge mega-bookstores, and affordable bohemian real estate. The “unique mix” is a laughable point: The only thing unique about these areas is that on Saturdays business is good, parking is scarce, and DPW’s meter-maid cadre doesn’t care to lose its happiest weekend hunting grounds.
As it stands, the ticketing moratorium does cut a break for weekend museumgoers and restaurant patrons in Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, and elsewhere. But if business groups in those neighborhoods squawk as loudly as their counterparts in Georgetown and old downtown, the moratorium will collapse altogether. Then city officials will learn that turning D.C. into a shopping destination entails a lot more than tinkering with parking regulations. CP