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D.C. kills $700,000 parking program, asks what next

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Photo - A vehicle parked displaying a handicapped parking sign outside a Giant grocery store in Washington D.C., Fri, May 11, 2012
A vehicle parked displaying a handicapped parking sign outside a Giant grocery store in Washington D.C., Fri, May 11, 2012
Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

The District invested more than $700,000 and hundreds of man-hours creating a handicapped-parking program that it then abruptly canceled -- leaving officials to bicker over why it went down and with few clues about what to do next.

The D.C. Council earlier this month voted down the red-top meter program, which would have forced disabled people to pay for parking at city meters but would also have reserved as many as 1,800 on-street spaces for them, marked with red-topped meters. The changes were part of an effort to crack down on the fraudulent use of handicapped placards by people who aren't disabled but want to park for free in the District.

About 400 red-top meters are already installed in the District, at a cost of $750 each; more are in storage.

A source in Ward 3 D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh's office, which sponsored the bill, told The Washington Examiner that the program collapsed after Mayor Vincent Gray withdrew his support of the bill at the last minute.

But a spokesman for Gray disputed that account.

"I have no idea what you may be talking about. Our priorities haven't changed," said Pedro Ribeiro. "The woman is obviously confused. Today has been my day dealing with the ridiculousness pouring from her office."

Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser led the charge against the program on the council, telling TV station WTTG she was concerned elderly drivers would be inconvenienced by paying for parking.

Councilman Michael Brown, D-at large, tried to revive the red-top program late last week, deciding to switch his vote to support the program after he was assured by AARP that older residents would not be hurt by the initiative. But procedural rules blocked reconsideration of the bill, Brown said.

Unless the council or administrators find a way to revive the red-top program, hundreds of red meters that were already installed on D.C. streets will probably be painted gray to match the regular meters, though District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle said the costs would be negligible.

"We still hope to provide more accessible parking for people with disabilities," Lisle said. "We've got to go back to the drawing board somewhat and figure out what we do from here."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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