D.C. waging war against drivers

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Photo - Mayor Vincent Gray's Sustainable D.C. initiative is trying to get commuters to avoid driving. (Photo: Graeme Jennings/Examiner file)
Mayor Vincent Gray's Sustainable D.C. initiative is trying to get commuters to avoid driving. (Photo: Graeme Jennings/Examiner file)
Local,DC,Transportation,Eric P. Newcomer,Metro and Traffic

Driving in the District is a high-price hassle: burning gasoline while stuck in traffic, feeding hungry parking meters and now tracking the ever-watchful traffic cameras waiting to make you pay up if you slip up.

If it seems like city leaders want to get cars off the road in the nation's capital, that's because they do -- and it starts at the top. Mayor Vincent Gray's environmental initiative, Sustainable DC, has a stated goal of cutting in half by 2032 the number of D.C. commuters who drive.

The mayor's spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, summed up the city's position in an email to The Washington Examiner.

Sell your cars?
Among the transportation targets of the D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's Sustainable D.C. initiative:
» Reach a total of 100 bike lanes, with priority for bike lanes east of the Anacostia River
» Add 200 bikeshare stations
» Develop 37 miles of street car or premium bus service
» Raise the number of D.C. residents who commute via public transit to 50 percent by 2032

"What we are doing is laying the groundwork for a city where residents and visitors won't need a car," Ribeiro wrote. "A city where walking, bike riding, and public transportation will meet the vast majority of transportation needs."

About half of the approximately 800,000 people who commute into the District drive a vehicle. The city's director of planning, Harriet Tregoning, said increasing costs can encourage drivers to reconsider their transportation choices.

"One of the ways to manage a scarce resource is to use price as a signal," she said.

And new expenses for drivers could be on the horizon.

» In the near term, the District wants neighboring governments to join it in examining the idea of a "congestion tax," a toll for commuters who opt to drive during peak hours.

» Facing scarce parking, commuters could pay even more for new "performance-based" parking spaces with prices that fluctuate with demand.

» "Zero tolerance" anti-idling zones could bring in new revenue to the city when drivers are caught with engines running at a standstill.

"Motorists are seen as the ATM machines of the District of Columbia, but they're the unwelcome ATM machines," said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic's managing director of public and government affairs.

Already, the city has found ways to make large sums of money off motorists, many of whom live in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

» The District collects an estimated $40 million a year from parking meters.

» In fiscal 2011, the city collected $92.6 million in parking fines.

» Automated-enforcement fines brought the city $85 million in fiscal 2012.

» A report last year estimated that the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles was owed $380 million in unpaid tickets, fines and fees.

Those who are able to afford driving in the District might find it more difficult to find a place to park: The city is weighing making the creation of parking spaces optional for developers in some downtown areas.

Residents already are sensitive to parking shortages. Some Adams Morgan residents are upset over a new development because the city might let the builder get away with providing seven fewer parking spaces than typically required.

"Parking is incredibly difficult anywhere in Adams Morgan," said Mindy Moretti, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner.

Under the mayor's Sustainable DC plan, the city wants 50 percent of commutes by its residents to take place on public transportation and another 25 percent by bike or on foot.

The American Community Survey found that in 2011, just 3.15 percent of D.C. residents typically biked to work, up 58 percent from 2006. Bike lanes are popping up around the city -- D.C. has about 56 miles of them -- which often means less room on the road for cars.

"They're rearranging how streets are used," said Martha Roskowski, director of the Green Lane Project, a bike advocacy group. "It's all still for moving people."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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