Our View: The three-day parking rule needs changes

Our View: The three-day parking rule needs changes
(File photo)

(Photo/Erich Wagner)

Access to parking, or the lack thereof, is an issue that angers Alexandrians like few others. We saw evidence of this last year when King Street residents blasted the city and bicycling enthusiasts after spaces in front of their houses were eliminated to make way for bike lanes.

The issue also sometimes pits neighbor against neighbor. Some Alexandrians have used the city’s ban against parking in one spot for more than three days as a way to get back at the annoying guy next door or to vent their frustration at the city’s parking paucity.

The Times has long deplored this ordinance against parking for more than three days, for a variety of reasons. Our first objection is on the basis of plain common sense: the law’s raison d’etre is to protect the city from becoming a dumping place for abandoned vehicles. Yet receiving a ticket feels like some city official, somewhere along the way, decided that a car left in one spot for more than three days is abandoned.

We also object to this law on the basis of fairness. It is outrageous to be subject to ticketing for parking in front of your own home for more than three days, given the level of taxes and fees residents pay to have a car in our fair city. Alexandrians pay a yearly 5 percent tax per $100 of value on their vehicles, before discounts. If your car is assessed to be worth $20,000, you pay the city about $400 that year. Plus, residents pay to register their vehicles in Alexandria and for city parking stickers — in addition to Virginia registration and inspection requirements.

And any ordinance that has the effect of encouraging residents to rat out their neighbors, particularly for something as trivial as parking, is ripe for abuse.

Fortunately for Alexandrians, City Councilor Justin Wilson has taken aim at eliminating or modifying this obnoxious ordinance, as part of his ongoing effort to rid the city of outdated laws. Wilson has instructed city staff to provide alternatives to the three-day rule. Council will examine the issue this fall.

Simply eliminating it might be the simplest route, but it would require careful monitoring. A good argument can be made to do a one-year trial with no resident parking limitations and revisit it in 12 months to see if abandoned vehicles have become a problem. That way, we can determine whether the city’s other enforcement mechanisms surrounding the issue are sufficient on their own.

If the city does not want to go from one extreme to the other, we suggest a hybrid approach with a generous grace period. Allowing residents to leave their vehicles in place for 21 days without hindrance strikes us as fair. Three weeks would cover most instances of residents being away on vacation, business travel or family emergencies. If someone knows they will be gone for a longer period, then they could pay a nominal fee for an extended parking permit.

Our hesitation with the pay-for-permit approach is that setting it up might encourage some future iteration of council to view the permit system as a revenue stream. We think being able to park in front of your home is a right, not a privilege with an extra fee attached.

Once Wilson finds a solution to the three-day parking rule, we hope he will train his eraser on the equally offensive four-cat, six-pet law. Sadly, there’s no shortage of obnoxious ordinances.