For many years, Alexandria has had the 72-hour rule for parking. You can only park a vehicle on the street, whether or not it is in a residential parking district, for three days. After that a citizen can complain and the police will appear and put a notice on the vehicle that it must be moved within 72 hours or it will be towed to the impound lot.
The origins of this rule are unclear. Some believe it implemented to prevent people from undertaking long term auto repair and restoration projects on City streets. Others think it was a precursor to parking districts that prevented nonresidents of a neighborhood from parking the cars there for a prolonged period of time while they did other things. Think of Fairfax County residents parking in Old Town and then catching a bus or cab to National Airport for a week’s business trip or a two week fun vacation.
As with any piece of legislation, there are unintended consequences. In some neighborhoods feuding neighbors use the 72-hour rule as a way to harass their supposed antagonist. The police point to the fact that many of the calls they receive under this rule come from the same people in the same places about the same cars. The police would like to concentrate their attention on more pressing issues like real crime.
There is another nasty unintended consequence. People do not know about the rule because there are no signs anywhere that tell you. Perhaps it is in the fine print when you register a vehicle in the City but that does not help those, like active duty military, who may not need to register or those who are here only temporarily. Bad things can happen to those truly ignorant of the rule.
Finally, it is tough for a resident to leave his or her car and go out of town for a vacation or business trip. Even with a parking district sticker you still must move the vehicle. This is a burden on all residents and has nothing to do with the reasons for enacting the ordinance in the first place.
Also, when parking is discussed, citizens of Alexandria usually assume it is Old Town but this is not a particular problem in Old Town because almost all of Old Town is in residential parking districts. If you don’t have a residential parking sticker you just can’t park for more than a couple of hours. While Old Towners occasionally feud, the problem is much more severe in other sections of the City. Old Towners just have to cope with the unintended impacts like everyone else.
The City government has conducted surveys to determine people’s preferences and this is somewhat helpful. The problem is that removing the law will lead to unintended consequences too and surveys are not very helpful in discovering these. For example, without the rule, nonresidents could leave their cars on the street in neighborhoods without residential parking districts for extended periods of time while they leave on business or pleasure trips for weeks. It is a lot cheaper to park a car on the street in Del Ray and Uber to Reagan National Airport than to park a car at the airport.
The 72-hour rule also helps in other ways as it can alert police to stolen vehicles left on our streets or to people who are parking for a long term unlawful purpose such as living without permission in a house while the owners are out of town.
It might help if Alexandria residents could have a seven-day parking rule for City residents and a 72-hour parking rule for nonresidents. There are flaws in this approach, however, as it is not clear that such a law that treated people differently would pass constitutional muster. Moreover, individuals who are here for temporary reasons or military service will not have auto information that easily identifies them as Alexandrians and confusion will continue to arise.
There is also a concern in areas with limited parking that removing the rule would result in households having more cars. Residents would not have to be concerned with moving an extra car. Streets that have extra parking now would become parking lots for these extra vehicles creating issues for the residents on those streets. At least in parking districts the City can charge more for extra vehicles. In wealthy areas, and most of Alexandria seems to be wealthy these days, an extra $50 or $100 for a third parking district sticker would not be a major deterrent to owning the additional vehicle.
Many public policy decisions involve tradeoffs and the 72-hour rule is a great example. Some of the impacts can be mitigated. For example, residents could obtain or purchase cards that gave a temporary right to park longer on the street in cases of travel or illness the way they can obtain visitor permits for guests in a parking district. We could also establish parking districts throughout entire City but the costs of so doing would be large and the City is not flush with cash. No matter what the City does there will be some negative impact.
Clearly all the discussion is helpful with publicizing the 72-hour rule and whatever alternative is chosen there needs to be substantial ongoing publicity so residents know the outcome. Beyond that the City Manager and City Council must weigh the issues and ultimately make a decision. As usual we urge you to get involved and make your voice heard so that the best decision, or at least the one most acceptable to our residents, can be found.