Officials unveil 72-hour parking rule replacement options

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By James Cullum (File photo)

After more than a year of study, city officials hosted an open house at City Hall last week to get feedback from residents about the future of Alexandria’s longstanding 72-hour parking rule.

Currently, residents whose vehicles are parked on city streets must move their car every 72 hours, excluding weekends or holidays. The rule is intended to prevent people from abandoning vehicles along city streets.

But some have noted that the rule, which dates back to 1963, is unevenly enforced,
since tickets are only issued after a resident complains. In June 2015, city council requested a staff review of the ordinance as well as options to update the rule.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson first proposed taking a look at the rule in 2015. He noted Monday
that around 800 people participated in an AlexEngage survey on the issue, with a majority
favoring the creation of a permit system for residents that need to leave their car when they go out of town.

“If we can get 800 people to respond on the 72-hour rule, we have to get people to weigh in on more of the weightier issues in the city,” Wilson said. “I think the biggest concern is that this is used as a way to rat on your neighbor when they go out of town. It is a very popular tactic in neighbor-on-neighbor disputes, and the government shouldn’t be used as a tool in those kinds of disputes.”

According to data submitted to the city traffic and parking board at a subcommittee meeting last month, from 2010 through 2015 there were 7,520 reports of cars violating the 72-hour rule. Of those reports, 87 percent began with a complaint, compared to 13 percent noticed by an officer on patrol.

During that same time period, 83 percent of cars had moved or were gone upon an officer’s arrival on the scene, and 17 percent of vehicles had been issued a citation or impounded.

Among the changes city staff floated to residents are repealing the rule, extending the time period before a vehicle becomes in violation, requiring residents move their car ahead of regular street sweeping, and creating a system for residents to secure long-term permits in case they need to go out of town for work or vacations.

Mayor Allison Silberberg said she is still looking at the issue and wants to hear more from residents before she comes to a decision.

“I want to hear what the public has to say. I haven’t made up my mind,” she said. “We can look at the pros and cons. Maybe it needs tweaking or it’s fine the way it is. I welcome the public’s input.”

Residents who came to staff’s open house last week conveyed a spectrum of opinion on the issue, ranging from repeal to keeping the current policy as-is.

“Either you enforce the rule or you get rid of it,” resident Gordon Speed said. “I think it’s a waste of the city’s time and resources. It’s the overflow parking that’s the problem, not the residents.”

Speed owns an antique car, which he parks in his garage, but he said he occasionally parks on the street to the annoyance of a neighbor, who calls the police whenever Speed leaves it on the street for an extended period of time.

But Bert Ely, vice president of the Old Town Civic Association, said the rule is an important tool for encouraging parking turnover, particularly in his visitor- and tourist-heavy neighborhood.

“As an Old Town resident, with its perpetual shortage of parking spaces for residents and visitors, the 72-hour rule is crucial to preventing Old Town streets from becoming a free, long-term parking lot for cars with the appropriate residential parking permit,” he said in
a statement. “[Repeal] of the 72-hour rule or creation of exceptions to the rule almost certainly will lead to an increase in the number of cars competing for parking spaces on the city’s streets, as that repeal will create a free good, i.e., free long-term, on-street parking, where that good does not exist today.”

The public was asked to provide feedback on numerous options at City Hall on February 16. The choices will be presented to the city traffic and parking board on March 27 and voted on by city council on May 13.

“Some people want to get rid of the rule altogether, and some people like it,” said Steve
Sindiong, the city’s principal transportation planner. “Right now we’re in data collection
mode.”

Erick Chiang and his wife live in a townhouse on Queen Street and said the city cannot
maintain the status quo.

“As long as you’re properly tagged and registered, the city should have no right to move
your car, especially when you have residents with no off-street parking,” he said. “The
rule has to change. It’s OK for its original intent. But there should be a procedure
where you give your tag number to parking enforcement, since there is no way to get a
short-term parking permit.”

 

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