Should DC allow more angle parking on Sunday mornings?
Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. (D — Ward 5) introduced a bill to ease Sunday parking tensions by permitting angle parking for religious institutions with ANC and DDOT approval. The councilmember held a forum on the bill and its companion commercial district bill last week.
In DC neighborhoods where street parking is at a premium, few things raise a resident’s ire like church congregants who park illegally on Sunday mornings. Congregants who drive from other parts of the District, from Maryland, and from Virginia have been known to double-park, park in alleys, block crosswalks, and block fire hydrants.
After receiving numerous complaints from residents, Mr. Thomas introduced the bill to primarily allay residents in Bloomindale and Eckington. Since these neighborhoods are among Ward Five’s most densely populated, they, like LeDroit Park, suffer from high street parking occupancy. Last week in Eckington, Mr. Thomas hosted a forum on his bills and took questions from residents.
Mr. Thomas acknowledged what residents have long known: parking enforcement around churches is intentionally lax on Sundays. Though Mr. Thomas admitted the unique challenges to transportation on Sunday mornings, he also decried congregants who park illegally, block residents in, and hinder public safety.
Transit service reaches its nadir on Sunday mornings, and churchgoers often travel to churches in residential neighborhoods with light Sunday service. Since transit service and car traffic are relatively low on Sunday mornings, Mr. Thomas thinks DDOT will be able to find instances of roadways wide enough to accommodate both angle parking and through traffic on Sunday mornings. In each case, though, DDOT will make the final determination of what is safe and permitted, even if an ANC supports the petition.
We asked Mr. Thomas why he singled out angle parking and not other non-traditional parking arrangements and he admitted that the bill was just a first draft and could be expanded to include other measures.
For instance, DDOT permits parking beside the median on Sundays on the 1300 and 1400 blocks of New York Avenue NW downtown. This arrangement works since there is still one lane available for through traffic and since Sunday morning traffic flows are small. A similar arrangement might work along other multi-lane avenues in the District, including Rhode Island Avenue.
In other cases, solutions could be less radical. The congregants of several churches on Florida Avenue park in the right lane on Sunday morning even where parking is never permitted at any time. DDOT may be able to simply change the signs and permit curbside parking in such places on Sunday mornings. The extra parking can act as a traffic-calming measure, though, as we know, easier parking can induce more driving.
No matter what happens, the Department of Public Works, the primary agency in charge of parking enforcement, needs to end its practice of lax Sunday enforcement near churches. Only DDOT, not pastors and not congregants, should make the determination as to what constitutes safe Sunday morning parking. Mr. Thomas acknowledged that the law needs to be enforced uniformly as it is unfair to overlook, as one resident noted, illegal parking in residential neighborhoods, while actively ticketing illegal parking downtown on Sundays.
Though residents expressed frustration with some, though not all, neighborhood churches, Mr. Thomas rightly advised residents that parking tensions need not be adversarial. In fact, he called attention to instances in which neighborhood residents and churches collaborated to resolve parking problems. This can include urging pastors to rent unused lots for their congregants or to provide shuttle service from satellite lots or from congregants’ homes. He even touted bikesharing several times but said it is not practical for everyone.
Whatever the solution, Mr. Thomas admitted the bill was in its infancy and that he wants to provide a template for cooperation; angle parking may be one of many possible solutions.
Mr. Thomas was eager to mention the companion bill to allow permanent angle parking in business districts. Though most meeting attendees were there to complain about church parking in residential neighborhoods, Mr. Thomas said that many Ward 5 businesses depend heavily on customers arriving by private car. However, when he asked a local business owner how much of his business is from outside his neighborhood, the owner said that very little came from elsewhere.
The business corridor bill is significantly different from the Sunday parking bill. The former would permit businesses to seek diagonal parking at all times, regardless of transit service, or if the street space could be reallocated to bike lanes or wider sidewalks.
The Sunday parking bill carries more merit than the business corridor bill because of the unique circumstances of church locations and Sunday transit service. The business corridor bill, in contrast, too hastily and disproportionately prioritizes parking to the detriment of other road uses.