City council to examine three-day parking rule this fall

City council to examine three-day parking rule this fall
(File photo)

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

City residents heading on vacation will no longer fear the sight of a parking ticket on their car when they return home, if city councilor Justin Wilson has his way.

Current city law dictates that residents with vehicles parked on city streets must move their car every 72 hours, excluding weekends or holidays. But Wilson said the rule is unevenly enforced — tickets are only issued after a resident complains — and he has instructed staff to examine how best to change the ordinance before council returns from its summer recess.

“It’s become kind of a ‘rat out your neighbor’ rule and kind of an unfortunate one,” he said. “The original idea [behind the rule] is to prevent abandoned cars, but there are plenty of other ways to address the issue of abandoned vehicles. Eventually there won’t be a valid inspection, registration or tax sticker, so there are other ways to deal with this.”

City spokesman Craig Fifer said that over the last three years, officials have performed around 4,600 checks on cars and have issued about 400 tickets. He said staff hopes to balance the concerns of residents both in favor and against limits on long-term on-street parking.

“We have not seen a problem with abandoned vehicles on public streets, and we have other enforcement mechanisms in that case (e.g. whether the vehicle appears operable and has current tax, inspection and registration stickers),” Fifer said in an email. “Some residents feel that public streets should not be used for long-term parking, and others feel that the 72-hour rule places an undue hardship on motorists who frequently use public transit or travel for business.

“Residents across the city face different levels of competition for street parking, and different levels of access to off-street parking such as driveways and public or private garages.”

And Alexandria police Capt. Shirl Mammarella, head of the department’s traffic division, confirmed enforcement is driven by residents’ calls for service. She said such calls are likely the result of living in a city with finite space for parking.

“I think part of the reason it’s utilized is because parking has become just a strain,” she said. “We live in an urban environment, and especially in some areas there are tighter streets, so parking is at a premium. It’s just getting more and more difficult to find parking, and it comes to people’s attention when they see a car parked near their house and they can’t find parking themselves.”

Wilson has a couple of ideas for tweaking the rule, including getting rid of it completely.

“I didn’t limit [staff] to that, but as a starting point: One, look at the implications of totally repealing the ordinance altogether and have no time limit,” he said. “Two: Look at a scenario where we extend the period, maybe not 72 hours but 10 days or 21 days or whatever. And the third scenario would use the same technology we have today for guest and visitor permits in our parking districts, where you can go online, say ‘I’m going on vacation for two weeks,’ and print out a permit and put it in my window.”

But Fifer said one potential complication to changing the rule could be instances where residents request temporary no-parking zones.

“A given parking space may also be subject to temporary or emergency parking restrictions as the result of moving, construction, road maintenance, tree work, special events,  emergencies or other circumstances,” he said. “It is the responsibility of a motorist to move a vehicle if a temporary or emergency parking restriction is posted, which poses a problem when cars are left for long periods of time without the motorist or his or her representative checking on it.

“When this happens, we often have to relocate the vehicle with a tow truck to keep it from interfering with the purpose of the restriction. The longer the maximum parking duration normally permitted, the more often vehicles will violate unexpected restrictions.”

Fifer said officials are still studying the issue and have not yet come up with a recommendation for council. But for Mammarella’s part, she said the number of calls about cars breaking the rule far exceed complaints about having gotten a ticket.

“I haven’t really had to field that many complaints about the enforcement,” she said. “When you compare the numbers, it’s not even comparable.”