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Parking in DC: Sign Language

by Borderstan.com March 14, 2013 at 10:30 am 3 Comments


The secret language of parking signs. (Dito Sevilla)

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

If you drive a car in the District of Columbia, eventually you’re going to have to find a place to park it. As a longtime DC resident I have learned when and where I can and cannot park. I know where hidden spaces are located and the best times to park in them.

I have also come to know other less than legal spots, and relish in their convenience to risk of ticket ratio. Expert though I am, there are some streets so mislabeled and jumbled, signs so confusing, redundant and contradictory that the risk of getting ticketed is incalculable.

Usually, my car — like so many others belonging to non-commuters — remains safety parked in the same space for weeks, sometimes months. However now that city street cleaning has resumed I am forced to move it at least twice a week.

Mondays and Tuesdays in my neighborhood mean that between 9:30 and 11:30 am there is no place to park at all. So I often use the time to visit a Target, or make a Costco run, picking up enough toilet paper to last all year. Incidentally, if anyone is making Chicken Picatta, I have several gallons of capers left.

Meanwhile, if I am lucky enough to get back into the city before noon I can find a space close to my house with relative ease. Unless three homes on Q Street are under construction… along with interminable renovations on Church Street… and another home on 17th being moved into, or out of at that time. Parking becomes impossible as residents kindly abuse their “Emergency No-Parking Signs” — but more on that in another article.

I return into the city, do a couple loops around my block and suddenly my understanding of legal, illegal, convenient and possible becomes very muddled. Really, is that what that says? When, where? I read the signs as if I have never been to Washington.

I try to make sense of the alien math used to limit times and distances from curbs, intersections and crosswalks. Everywhere I look another regulation discourages the act of parking altogether. It’s as if the city itself wants me to remain in perpetual motion.

“No Parking,” that’s clear enough, but why is the red arrow pointing directly at a green arrow advertising “2-Hour Parking, Zone 2 Residents Exempt.” Does that mean that if I live in Zone 2 I can park there?  Doubtful. I’ll just keep circling.

It is then that I realize: no two streets are labeled the same; it’s a complete mess. I took pictures, of course, because who could believe me. The president lives but nine blocks away, and we can’t agree on where and when we can and cannot park? Really? I’m well acquainted with the District’s third-world mentality in all things regulatory, but I think that even they could draft parking guidelines that exhibit a modicum of equanimity to all drivers.

So I ask, readers, am I wrong? Is your street clearly labeled? Has every ticket you’ve received been fair? Did it make sense to you? Was that meter really expired? Was the posted sign you ignored really “clearly posted?”

I have included some of my photographic findings (above), and rather than try to explain them, I will let you decide what they each have or do not have in common. In a city where inches matter, who rules?

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  • AJ

    I totally agree that the street signs are very frustrating. Even more challenging is that there is essentially no “guest parking” or parking for people without DC tags for more than 2 hours 24/7. Given that I have visitors from VA & MD not being able to a host a guest at night or on weekends for over 2 hours is absurd.

  • TK

    Thankfully, I live in DC now, but before I moved here (while my wife lived here), I would have to drive down and be at the mercy of the 2 hour parking signs. It meant on the rare occasions I was down on a weekday, I would be moving my car a block or two to avoid getting a ticket. Or at least that was until I got a ticket that indicated that my car had been sighted on one street at 9:09 and a different street at 11:09. It took six months of fighting with the city before they overturned the ticket — they actually had the audacity to claim that it was illegal to be parked in the same zone for more than two hours, even if your car had moved, proving that in fact, at least some of that time you weren’t parked.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, TK, that is the law (according to the signs posted) that cars without the proper zoning parking permit can park in x zone for 2 hours. So, even if you move your car a couple of blocks away, if your car was sighted in one spot in x zone and then on a different block in the same zone, you will be ticketed (and correctly so) unless the parking sign says something different. It’s very tricky. I learned this last year and admittedly, it really surprised me about the 2 hour limitation parking within same zone for “guests.

    Some of the DC parking signs are really tricky; you have to read every single word and on both sides of the meter. Trust me, I say this from experience. Anyway, you can get visitor parking passes, which act as residential parking permits (as far as I understand) but that works better for a little bit longer than 2 hour parking guests. Check again to be sure regulations haven’t changed in the meantime. I suppose if guests are coming in from MD or VA, they could use metro, which might work better in the event that guests are also imbibing. But that’s a discussion for another day.


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