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D.C. delays handicapped parking program

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Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

Disabled drivers can once again park for free at any meter in the District until June 18, thanks to legislation passed Tuesday by the D.C. Council that halted the city's new red-top meter program.

The council unanimously approved an emergency law that delays the installation of new red-top handicapped meters and prohibits city police from ticketing handicapped drivers until the District Department of Transportation presents a detailed report on how the new parking program would work.

The new law protects drivers displaying a disabled placard on their car from getting any sort of parking ticket until June 18, provided they are legally parked.

The District has already spent at least $200,000 on the red-top meters, which are reserved for disabled drivers and provide twice as much time for the same price as a regular meter.

The city used to allow handicapped drivers to park in any space for free, but decided to start charging to crack down on widespread use of illicit handicapped placards.

Advocates for disabled complained that the new charges amounted to a tax on the handicapped. Others criticized the city for setting aside nearly one of every 10 parking spaces in the city for the handicapped, making an already difficult parking situation worse.

"I think it's fair to say that DDOT's handling of the red-top meter program has been disastrous," council member Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, said Tuesday.

DDOT tried to get ahead of the council Tuesday, announcing before the legislative meeting that it would extend its prohibition on ticketing the disabled from April until May 1, by which time 1,100 more meters would be installed.

But some disabled drivers complain that they have already received tickets, despite DDOT's promise.

Eugene Meacham said his wife, who is disabled, received a ticket March 7 for not feeding the meter even after Meacham confronted the parking enforcement officer about the delayed enforcement.

"The parking enforcement people are under the impression that it doesn't matter if you're handicapped," he said.

Despite complaints about the red-top program, council members said they're still concerned about the continued abuse of illicit handicapped parking placards.

Council member Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, said a recent inspection of one street near L'Enfant Plaza found that 31 of 34 parking spaces were taken by cars with placards allowing them to remain in those spots all day for free.

"There is a problem," Wells said. "We've got people that are using our metered parking all day that are commuters -- all across the District."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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