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Fight brewing over handicap parking in D.C.

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Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

A fight is brewing on the D.C. Council over whether disabled drivers should have to pay for parking on crowded city streets.

D.C. Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, D-Ward 4, plans to introduce a bill Tuesday that would effectively end the city's new red-top meter program, which reserves nearly one of every 10 of the city's on-street parking spaces for disabled people, costs as much as regular meters but allows twice as much time.

Drivers with handicap plates or placards used to park for free at any of the city's metered spaces.

But the city started charging handicapped drivers to curb the use of fraudulent placards and is now installing red-top meters to accommodate the disabled.

According to a draft obtained by The Washington Examiner, Bowser's bill would allow disabled drivers once again to park for free in any spot, making the new red-top meters useless and ending the program before it's even fully operational.

"My residents have expressed some worry about how the new policy will be implemented, where it came from, and why they weren't involved in its development," Bowser said. "I share those concerns and want to make sure that the policy is delayed at least until those concerns are addressed."

The District Department of Transportation rolled out the red-top program after hearing complaints about people who were not disabled but using handicap placards to get free, unlimited parking. DDOT has accelerated installation of the red-top meters and expects 1,500 installed by mid-April.

Councilmember Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, chairwoman of the council's transportation committee, is also a vocal critic of the red-top meters.

"I said to them, 'What the hell are you doing?' " she told The Washington Examiner. "They seem to have done everything backwards. ... There hasn't been any sort of public vetting of this in a material way."

Cheh said DDOT assured her it would not ticket cars with handicap placards if they're at an expired meter in a regular parking space until the end of May, a delay from the April 17 start date.

Still, Cheh doesn't support Bowser's emergency bill, saying it could significantly reduce D.C.'s parking revenue.

"We have never officially advertised openly that people could come into D.C. with a disabled placard from any jurisdiction and park all day long wherever they want. And by passing this [bill], we're saying that," she said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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