Playing the parking game on city streets


Alexandria is embarking on a new parking strategy in the Patent and Trademark Office area south of Duke Street as the city continues to view parking as an important issue that affects businesses and residents on a daily basis.

Instead of the business-as-usual approach with quarter meters at each space, the city is examining computer based systems where motorists can pay with plastic, paper or change. The systems the city is looking at have one computer per row of spaces, and motorists pay by individual space on a central meter or a system where motorists buy the paper tickets at a roadside computer and display them in the windshield.

In the PTO area, officials have identified about 500 spaces that would use the advanced equipment. City officials and the parking enforcement squad, led by Tom Culpepper and Lt. Paul Story, are looking at the options.

Thats the first place [PTO area] were going to try it, said Culpepper.

The city is looking at parking systems by Duncan Solutions, Road Traffic Technology, Cale Parking USA and Digital Pay Technology.

With the paper ticket system, a traffic enforcement officer would have to walk up to the car to see if there is a time overrun, but with the other system, there are lights on the box so they can tell if there is a violation from afar. Its a big step forward, Story said.

According to Story, the idea was proposed before by the transportation division earlier but it went nowhere, and he reintroduced it this past winter. Story expects some kind of action by the city this year or early next year. With this system in place, prepaid parking cards can be used in a variety of ways from employer perks, gift cards and advertising.

On the street
The citys parking woes are nothing new to both businesses and residents alike. On the streets of Old Town, there are meters on the first block away from King Street, and then a few blocks of two hour limits, followed by a few blocks of three hour limit parking. According to Culpepper, there are 900 to 1,000 parking spaces on the streets of Old Town depending on the type of cars being parked. That includes metered spaces and time zone parking. Residents of certain blocks can get permits from the city to park anytime in the time zone parking, but not the meters. Even if residents have a sticker, there is a city parking ordinance limiting parking on the street to 72 hours in one parking spot, said Story.

One resident challenged this ordinance in the past because he walked to Metro when he commuted to work, and did most of the rest of his local travel by bike or walking, so his car stayed put most of the time. The city considered extending the time to 5 or 10 days, and held a public hearing on the issue, but stuck with the 72 hours in the end.

The community overwhelmingly supported the 72 hour rule, Story said. Again, any enforcement on the 72 hour rule is complaint generated. We do not proactively enforce that, Story said.

Marg Peterson is the owner of the Prince Royal Art Gallery on the second block of South Royal Street. Peterson and the owner of the Scarlet Fox Antiques beneath her share one spot, but its available on a first-come, first-serve basis. When one has a car in the spot, the other parks in the curb cut, blocking the way but its a mutual understanding. Theres one space for this building, whoever gets there first, said Peterson. Story noted that parking enforcement officers do not ticket if a car is in front of a curb cut for this reason. We do wait until we get a call from the homeowner, they have a perfect right to block their own driveway, he said.
Even though there are several pay parking lots available, Peterson feels parking could discourage business. People are discouraged from coming down here because they dont like the hassle, she said.

Enforcing the parking laws in Alexandria isnt an exact science. If a car is in a metered spot and the red violation flag comes up, its a no brainer, but there are other situations, especially in Old Town. Couriers, tractor trailers and emergency vehicles cant always stay within the rules. If a truck needs to deliver food or perishables to one of the restaurants on King Street, they can go to a yellow curbed no parking spot temporarily and make the delivery. Story looks at the danger factor, or the surrounding handicapped spaces.

If hes encroaching into a handicapped spot, and prevents someone to use it, Im going to write a citation, he said. He recommends his officers to use good judgment and discretion, Story said.

There are 25 full time parking enforcement officers on the force, working various shifts in cars and the three-wheeled Go For vehicles. There are four Go Fors on the city streets and they are the most effective when it comes to parking enforcement, Story said. A brand new Go For costs around $30,000, Story said. With all the computers and other equipment needed by the parking enforcement officers, it would not be possible for an officer to use a bicycle or a Segway.

In the two and three hour timed zones, the officers monitor it by chalking the tires using a clock method, where the tire is a clock and the mark is on a certain hour. It is illegal to wipe away a chalk mark. People have gotten wise to the time restrictions and they watch us like hawks, Story said. Sometimes, the police send out plainclothes officers to monitor the parking, so those that are watching out do not see any officers monitor the timed areas until its too late.

Disgruntled motorists have accused the police of using parking ticket quotas or as a money generator, but Story said this is not the case. We dont ticket for revenue. Tickets are for compliance, he said. There are 40 different parking violations in the city code. Most of the tickets are a $40 fine except meter violations, and violating the 72 continuous hour rule, where the fine is $25.

Curb cut appeal
Parking can be a factor in buying decisions too, said Sally Harper, a real estate agent from McEnearney & Associates. Harper has a townhouse listing in the 600 block of Lee Street and the house has no assigned parking. When showing the house, some asked about curb cuts so they can park in the yard, she said. Getting a curb cut requires approval from the city and takes away one street parking spot for the general public. Its not easy to get a curb cut, Harper said. Some clients wont look at a listing if it doesnt have a garage, and other houses in Old Town are priced a little higher with a parking spot. It could be as much as $50,000; parking can be a big deal, said Harper.